Running on Empty–Workout Fever When Recovering from a Sickness

Sometimes, even the best laid plans can go awry.

It’s been a rough few of days, folks.

Sunday was my anniversary, and my wife and I didn’t exactly have spectacular plans, but after church we were going to go out for a nice brunch and head to Disney for the afternoon, weather permitting.

Instead, when I woke up Sunday morning it felt like somebody had taken steel wool to my esophagus, a jack hammer to my head, and passing air between my nostrils and my lungs was a no go.


Instead of a fun day with my girl I spent a pathetic day on my couch. Happy Anniversary, darling.

Fast forward to today, and I’m still ailing a little bit. I’m pretty sure that it’s a combination of a cold and allergies, and my system is a little overwhelmed. I’ve been feeling progressively better every day, and hopefully tomorrow will be better than today has been.

This “illness”, however, has effected more than just my anniversary plans. It has also impacted my workout schedule for the week, and to a lesser extent, my progression toward my 728 mile running goal for the year.

When you are sick, there is a cellular battle royal going on inside of you. While you are fighting off your illness, your body prioritizes where to invest it’s energy and physical activity doesn’t exactly rate very high on the priority level of your body, even of it does for you. So working out hard when you aren’t healthy yet just drains energy from your body which slows down the process of getting better.

If you are the type of person that gets antsy about missing your workouts for any reason, you will probably be itching to get back to the gym long before you are 100%. Rush back to really tough workouts too fast, however, and there’s a good chance you might end up sick again.

Here are a few tips to help you get through those first few workouts, help you finish battling the bug, and back into your groove.

  • Don’t be a He-Man–Even though you may not feel like you’ve done much in the past few days, I bet you’ll be feeling fatigued on your first trip back to the gym or the trails. So on your first couple of workouts, lower your normal intensity a few notches. Slow down your splits, cut down your sets and reps, or use less weight. Just don’t feel like you are coming back from being sick and will be able to bring the same intensity.
  • Don’t Make Up Missed Workouts–If you have scheduled workouts from the days you missed, please don’t try to make up for them by doubling up now that you’re feeling better. For example, you missed yesterday’s pool workout where you were planning a 45 minute swim and today is a yoga only day. There is no reason to do yoga plus the swim. Just enjoy the yoga time and swim your laps on the next pool day.
  • Chill Out About the Schedule–Just because you’re feeling well enough to get back to your workout routine doesn’t mean that it is law. Adjust so that you’re not being a he-man and taxing yourself too much that you wear yourself out and get sick again. Plus, no matter what you’re training for or where in your training plan you are, a few missed workouts due to illness WILL NOT undermine your training. Promise.

If you’re a person who enjoys physical activity, taking time off when you are sick can make you a little stir crazy. The real risk emerges, however, when you are starting to feel better. But by keeping your workouts on those first few days back at a controlled level will get you back up to speed much quicker than coming out of the sick bay like a greyhound.

As for me, my run yesterday was s l o w, but I think it was just what I needed. Psychologically, it helped me to break a sweat again from activity instead of from my fever, and today has been a huge improvement. Today’s run was still a bit slower than normal, but was a marked improvement from yesterday. Tomorrow, I just need to follow my own advice and stay under control again so my body can finish kicking this cold bug for good.


Photo by JD Hancock via Flickr

What do you do when you are getting back into your workout routine after missing time due to an illness?


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