Although it is safe for most people to continue their usual exercise routine after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, side effects may sometimes slow the return to the gym. Most side effects, such as nausea and a mild headache, resolve in a few days.

On August 23, 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. This news may be encouraging to people still waiting to receive their vaccine.

However, individuals planning to get the vaccine might wonder how it will affect them. They might have concerns about how it will influence their daily activities, what side effects they will experience, and whether they will be able to exercise after getting the shot.

Although the side effects vary by vaccine type and individual, many people experience a few mild side effects that usually resolve in less than a week.

These side effects might affect a person’s ability to work out, but most people can return to exercising within days or even hours of getting the vaccine.

Keep reading to learn about how the vaccine affects exercise, what to expect when exercising after getting the vaccine, and more.

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Many people will be eager to return to their usual exercise routine after receiving their vaccine — and for good reason.

Exercise, on the whole, is important for maintaining good health. A recent study showed that regular physical activity is associated with a 31% reduction in the risk of getting an infectious disease.

However, some vaccines, including the COVID-19 shot, can cause side effects. Although these are usually mild and resolve quickly, they could get in the way of an intense workout.

When deciding whether to exercise after getting the vaccine, there are a few things that people may wish to consider.

Paying attention to side effects

Many people report mild side effects after the first dose of a two-dose vaccine. However, one study showed that about 50% of people experienced moderate-to-severe side effects after their second dose.

It is important to note that most side effects are normal, as they are the body’s way of responding to the vaccine.

In people who experience side effects, the extent of these effects will determine whether it is possible to exercise shortly after the first dose. A person may consider waiting several hours, or even 1–2 days, after their second dose.

In very rare cases, a person may experience an allergic reaction to the vaccine. Allergic reactions typically begin within 4 hours of vaccination. People with a history of allergies may, therefore, choose to rest and observe their symptoms after getting the shot.

Listening to the body’s signals

No two people will have identical vaccination experiences. While some people may be ready to hit the gym immediately after getting their dose, others may need a few days to rest and recover.

It is important to listen to the body’s natural signals. This may mean skipping a workout or adjusting its intensity.

For example, instead of going for a run, a person could go for a walk. Equally, they could replace a high intensity gym session with yoga and stretching.

Each vaccine has slightly different side effects. However, research and anecdotal evidence have shown that the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccines share a number of common side effects.

These may include:

  • pain, swelling, or discoloration in the vaccinated arm
  • headaches
  • muscle soreness
  • nausea or an upset stomach
  • fatigue
  • chills
  • fever

Anyone with concerns should discuss the potential side effects of the vaccine with the clinic staff before receiving it. This can help them prepare for how they may feel afterward.

Health experts recommend taking an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), to relieve mild side effects.

If side effects worsen or do not resolve within a few days, it is best to contact a doctor for advice.

Learn more about the side effects associated with the different COVID-19 vaccines.

The side effects that occur during exercise will vary from person to person. Some people may find that they feel better after moderate intensity physical activity, while others may feel that it worsens their symptoms.

One recent study examined individuals who experienced headache symptoms after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Of these individuals, 50.7% reported that routine exercise did not affect their headache. However, 42.8% said that exercise made their headache worse, and 6.5% reported that exercise reduced their headache symptoms.

These findings demonstrate the extent to which experiences with headaches and exercise vary.

Another common side effect is pain and stiffness in the vaccinated arm. Pfizer recommends using or lightly exercising the arm to reduce these symptoms.

Essentially, a person should listen to their body after receiving the vaccine and expect not to feel 100% during their next workout. Some gym enthusiasts may fear muscle atrophy, but studies have shown that a day of total rest has no effect on muscle tone or fitness level.

If necessary, a short break to allow the body to recover will not derail a person’s progress.

Exercising after receiving the vaccine will not affect how it works in the body.

However, it may make it difficult to recognize the side effects. For example, an intense weightlifting session can cause sore muscles. This soreness could be hard to distinguish from the aches that many people experience after the COVID-19 vaccine. Both the vaccine and exercise can also make a person feel tired.

Although exercising does not affect the vaccine’s effectiveness, it can influence health in a number of ways:

Exercise may reduce side effects

A small 2019 study involving 46 participants analyzed the effects of moderate intensity exercise on older adults receiving a flu vaccine. The researchers found that this exercise actually lessened the severity of vaccine side effects.

However, more research is necessary to understand how exercise may influence COVID-19 vaccine side effects.

Physical activity can aid mental health

Another recent study found that regular exercise protected people from the negative psychological effects associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some questionnaire respondents stated that consistent exercise routines provided them with a source of structure during unpredictable lockdowns. Exercising regularly can aid mental health in various ways, and people who enjoy it should feel confident continuing to exercise after receiving the vaccine.


Before receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, a person may wish to contact a doctor to discuss the potential side effects and risks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend:

  • receiving a vaccine even if a person has had COVID-19
  • scheduling the second shot during the first appointment
  • avoiding taking OTC pain relievers before vaccination
  • continuing to take any current medications as usual, unless a doctor advises against it

After receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises:

  • staying at the vaccination site for at least 15 minutes for observation
  • preparing for common side effects
  • taking an OTC pain reliever for mild or moderate side effects

People who have just received a vaccine should pay attention to how their body feels before deciding when to return to their exercise routine. They should also follow the guidance of the person who administered their vaccine.

Additionally, it is important to remember to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines even after vaccination. These include exercising in well-ventilated spaces, wearing a face covering where necessary, practicing physical distancing, washing the hands frequently, and sanitizing workout equipment.

People may be wondering when it is safe to return to the gym after vaccination. Although exercising after getting the shot is safe, some people may experience side effects that make exercising more difficult.

Before returning to working out, a person should pay attention to these side effects and listen to their body’s signals. They may need to take a couple of rest days or reduce the intensity or duration of their workouts.

By listening to their body and following the advice of a doctor, a person can continue to enjoy the benefits of exercise before and after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.