Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In Sickness and in Health?

Cold and flu season is fast approaching and additionally, some of us are already suffering from the runny nose, "burning" chest and generalized fatigue that accompanies seasonal allergies as well as upper respiratory infections. I used to be someone who trained without any regard to how I was feeling physically. My goal was only to check my workout off my list for the day, rather than giving my body what it needed at that particular time.  "No pain, no gain" was the thought process that prevailed. It took some education and maturity to understand that sometimes, "less is more" can be a more appropriate model when it comes to training, particularly in times of illness.
When we train, we intentionally breakdown muscle tissue which causes inflammation in the body. The healing process (and subsequently building and toning) then occurs during our rest periods, where our body relies on nutrients to repair itself. So, you can see why clean nutrition, rest, and sleep play such a role in getting in shape. The same is true when we are ill. Sickness causes inflammation in the body by way of our immune system. Again, this process requires rest and nutrients in order to recover. So, if you are already ill or even injured and fighting inflammation in your body, you are only stressing it more when you add the demands that training creates.

How long before you start to lose the gains you've worked so hard for? According to one study in Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise, "strength performance in general is readily maintained for up to 4 weeks of inactivity" in elite athletes; that time frame will be shorter for beginning exercisers (Mujika & Padilla, 2001). Unless you are planning on taking weeks off from working out, you're not going to lose any significant ground. Even if you need to go at a lower intensity for a while, this will still help to maintain your previous gains.

So, do not fret about taking a few days off from training to let yourself bounce back from the common cold---it's likely just what the doctor (and your trainer) would order for a speedy recovery!
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