In my early twenties, when I didn’t know better, I would routinely turn up to the gym with a sniffle. I’d take cold medicine first, so that the sniffle wouldn’t impact my workout as much. Smart, hey? When I kept training as hard as I could, that sniffle often became an upper respiratory infection that lasted for weeks. I thought that was what happened to everyone when they caught a cold.
Over the last twenty years, I’ve studied all about training. I became a qualified fitness instructor and personal trainer in the US and Australia, trained clients in the gym, taught BodyPump. I learned exactly how to shape, change, enliven and invigorate my body, and my clients. In the process, I learned about training through illness. I learned it was dumb.
I could believe the scientists in theory, but this was my body we were talking about. And I’d worked hard to get where I was. So, sniffle; train anyway. That was still what I did.
It wasn’t until I started to notice the difference between what I told clients to do when ill, and what I was doing, that I began to change.
I began to discipline myself not to train at the first sign of illness. And believe me, for someone who loves the gym and trail as much as I do, it was discipline. I’d check my face in the mirror every few hours to see if I looked well enough to hit the gym yet, wonder if coughing counted as a real sign of illness.
To drop the belief that I had to keep training at all costs was a leap of faith – a real test of what personal training had taught me. But I did. I stopped training when ill, and I watched what happened to my body. Closely. The result floored me. Nothing changed. Nothing! Yes, I felt lethargic and slower, but I would have felt that way anyway simply from being sick. Did I gain weight? I don’t know. I’d stopped weighing myself. Weight was not the factor by which I wanted to judge myself any more. When I stayed still, sniffles lasted four days, then, like a miracle, would simply go away. I could hit the gym as hard as I wanted after the sniffles were gone, and train for my next event with gusto. My resting heart rate stayed the same; ditto for my pace on the treadmill.
Training through illness? I don’t think so.
We wouldn’t do it to a racehorse or a greyhound. We wouldn’t recommend it to our clients or our children.
Why in the world would we do it to ourselves?