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How Working Out Saved This Doctor From Burning Out During the Pandemic

Even when exhausted and overworked, Alvin Rivera never lost his conviction to help others.

Photo of Tonal Member Alvin Rivera

As an internal medicine doctor, Alvin Rivera took pride in always being able to answer his patients’ questions. That all changed when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. The novel, rapidly-mutating virus left him—and the rest of the medical field—in the dark. 

“This wasn’t anything we’ve ever seen before,” said Rivera, who works in an Oakland, California-area hospital. “That level of uncertainty was unsettling. You want to be confident when it comes down to someone’s health, but we didn’t know what to expect.”

The decisions Rivera made impacted his patients’ health, as well as the safety of his colleagues and family. “It’s a lot of weight to put on yourself,” the father of three said in an interview with Tonal. 

Over the next two years, Rivera’s emotions ran the gamut of extremes. “At first it was fear of the unknown,” he explained. “The fear was a real thing. When you see a coworker die just trying to do her job, you’re grieving, and you’re upset. That was gut-wrenching.” 

The arrival of Covid-19 vaccines gave him reason to hope, but that hope turned to frustration  when some people chose not to be vaccinated. “There were many patients doing the best they could to protect themselves from the virus, but it was heartbreaking to see people who refused to get vaccinated show up sick in our hospital,” he said. 

Dr. Alvin Rivera in PPE working at the hospital; and enjoying time off with his three kids.

Like many healthcare workers, Rivera was burned out. Between the long hours, emotional stress, and risk of getting sick himself, Rivera had every reason to give up, but he never quit. Understanding that he was in a unique position to do good during the pandemic made him stick it out; as he said, “If someone like me is not around to help, who is?” 

One constant in Rivera’s life that kept him pushing through this tumultuous time was his workout routine.  

Rivera’s Tonal arrived in February 2020, only weeks before his hospital saw its first Covid-19 patient. He was already working out on Tonal nearly every day and he wasn’t about to let the pandemic interrupt his streak. “The hardest thing to do is get started,” he said. “But once you get going, it becomes hard to stop.” 

Alvin Rivera doing a bench press on Tonal

Even with his erratic schedule—working up to 14 days in a row at the hospital—and three young kids at home, Rivera kept waking up at 5 a.m. each morning before his shift to get in a workout. “It becomes a daily thing like brushing your teeth,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like work. It’s part of life.”

While Rivera said Tonal’s data tracking and his drive to reach new milestones—he’s lifted 14 million pounds and counting—fueled his consistency, his workouts also gave him the mental strength to be more present as a doctor, father, and husband. 

“To be there for other people, you have to be there for yourself,” he said. “Tonal was that refuge for me. It was that hour a day that was for me.” 

After tackling a tough workout before a shift, Rivera knew he could take on any challenges the day had in store for him. “I would rather use Tonal’s Burnout Mode than let work at the hospital burn me out,” he said. “If you appropriately stress your body through exercise, then the outside external stresses are not going to bother you as much.” 

"I would rather use Tonal's Burnout Mode than let work at the hospital burn me out." - Alvin Rivera

Although Rivera still doesn’t have much free time outside of work, his workouts give him the energy and patience to enjoy his days off with his wife and kids. “We make it a point to just spend some quality family time together, even if it’s simple as an afternoon in the park,” he said. “We like to seek out humble hole-in-the wall places to eat. Fried chicken and ice cream are my guilty pleasures.” 

The strength Rivera has built through his workouts helps him balance his professional and family responsibilities. Rivera’s wife Boramee Douk is also a physician and dedicated Tonal member. Juggling going to the gym with childcare would have been nearly impossible for the two busy doctors during the pandemic, but having Tonal at home lets them both enjoy the benefits of exercise. 

“It allows us to be parents and doctors, and get our exercise in all at the same time without abandoning each other,” he said. “That strengthened our relationship because we could still be a team.” 

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