After a very long 12 months (and counting, ugh), getting a shot — or, in most cases, two shots — has never felt so good. Offering an invaluable sense of relief and security, the COVID-19 vaccine can feel downright dreamy — mentally, that is. But physically? That's often a whole other story.
See, getting the vaccine can come with a symphony of side effects ranging from a sore arm to flu-like fevers, chills, and aches. But are these symptoms really enough to torpedo your usual exercise schedule? And even if you don't feel icky post-dose, can working out afterward impact your immunity?
Ahead, doctors weigh in and get to the bottom of the question exercise enthusiasts everywhere are wondering: Can I work out after the COVID-19 vaccine?
First, a quick refresher on the COVID-19 vaccine side effects.
Aunt Ida called to tell you that she's feeling fine after her second dose. Mom texted you the morning after her appointment to report that she's a bit groggy and lethargic but, in her words, "what else is new?" And your work wife messaged you Monday a.m. about her weekend spent in bed with a splitting headache and chills following her shot. (Related: Everything You Need to Know About COVID-19 Vaccine Side Effects)
The point being, vaccination side effects can vary greatly from no symptoms at all (see: Aunt Ida) to those that "may affect your ability to do daily activities," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which lists the following as common side effects:
Pain and swelling at the injection site
There have also been reports of less common side effects such as "COVID arm," a delayed injection site reaction that can happen after the Moderna vaccine, and swollen lymph nodes in the armpit that can be mistaken for breast cancer. And, in extreme — and rare — cases, some people have experienced anaphylaxis (a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction characterized by impaired breathing and a drop in blood pressure) within 15 minutes of receiving the vaccine.
Overall, the CDC emphasizes that the listed common vaccine side effects are "normal signs that your body is building protection" (how cool?!) and should go away within a few days. (Related: What Is Comorbidity, and How Does It Affect Your COVID-19 Risk?)
So, can you work out after the COVID-19 vaccine?
Currently, there are no official guidelines from the CDC or any of the vaccine makers that warn against exercising post-vaccination. In fact, none of the clinical trials for the different FDA-approved vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) say that they asked participants to change their lifestyle post-shot. With that, there's no indication that working out after you're vaccinated would make you more or less likely to have side effects, says Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of Infectious Disease at the University at Buffalo in New York.
"You can work out right afterward if you want," says Dr. Russo, who adds that there's no difference in exercise recommendations whether you want to do it right after you get vaccinated, the next day, or any other day after that. Essentially, if you're feeling up to it, you can go from getting the shot to breaking a sweat — which is something Irvin Sulapas, M.D., assistant professor of sports medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, did himself. (Related: Can the Flu Shot Protect You from Coronavirus?)
But can working out impact how well the vaccine works? There's no data to suggest that. "There is no reason to believe there would be any adverse effect or that exercise would adversely affect the development of immunity," explains David Cennimo, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
And while the CDC doesn't say anything about workouts after vaccination in particular, the agency does recommend that you "use or exercise your arm" after you get vaccinated to reduce pain and discomfort where you got the shot.
"How you will feel will vary widely between individuals," says Jamie Alan, Ph.D., associate professor of Pharmacology at Michigan State University. "Some people will feel just fine; others may feel ill." (FWIW, Alan says feeling sick is a good sign — it means your immune system is responding to the vaccine.)
When shouldn't you work out after the COVID-19 vaccine?
There are no particular health conditions, including asthma or heart disease, that would prevent you from working out after getting vaccinated — as long as exercise is a normal part of your routine, explains Dr. Russo. "Your exercise regimen should be in the framework you've developed given your known limitations."
That being said, the CDC does note on its website that "side effects can affect your ability to do daily activities" — including working out. Meaning, if you develop a fever or chills, you might not feel like crushing your usual workout until you feel better (which, as mentioned above, should be within a day or two).
Certain symptoms may be an indication that your body is working hard to mount an immune response and could use a rest, explains Dr. Russo. These include fever, headache, full-body aches, headaches, chills, and extreme fatigue, according to Dr. Sulapas.
full body aches
"Listen to your body," says Doug Sklar, a certified personal trainer and founder of PhilanthroFIT in New York City. "If you have not experienced any adverse response, I think it's reasonable to go ahead and get your workout in." But, if you're not feeling great, Sklar says it's "best to take the hint and rest up until the symptoms pass."
If you feel up to it, what should you do when working out post-vaccine?
If you feel fine, you're 100 percent okay to do your usual workout, says Dr. Russo.
Remember, however, that your arm might feel sore the day after you get vaccinated, so "it might be more comfortable to avoid lifting weights with your arms" because it could be painful, explains Alan. (But again, definitely make sure you move that arm right after you get vaccinated, as it can help lower the risk of soreness.)
If you're feeling a little sluggish but not totally out of commission, Sklar suggests modifying your workout, especially if you'd planned on doing high-intensity exercise: "It might be best to switch things up and instead go for a walk or perform some light stretching instead." That's because, again, fatigue, fever, or any discomfort is your body's way of telling you it's time to rest, explains Dr. Russo
Keep in mind, too, that you're not considered fully vaccinated until at least two weeks have passed since your second shot if you get the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or single shot if you get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. And, even once you're fully vaccinated, the CDC still recommends wearing a mask and practicing social distancing when you're in larger crowds and around unvaccinated people. So, if you want to work out at the gym, it's safest to be masked up, whether it's been an hour since your shot or several weeks. (Not yet ready to hit the gym? Bookmark this ultimate guide to at-home workouts.)
Overall, experts stress the importance of listening to your body through all of this. "If you're feeling good, go with it," says Dr. Russo. If not? Then give it a rest until you're ready — it's really that easy.