Training through Illness

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.

But still I did it.Image

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?