Training through illness…

image of poorly looking bandaged teddy bearSo today I was intending to complete day 5 in my 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge, but I have decided not to train. I'd be training through illness. As frustrating as that might be, I'm 99% sure its the right decision. I'm not sure its ever that easy to make the decision when you are motivated, even when you know its the right one. So instead of my training session, I'm going to pen this blog and talk you through my thoughts on training through illness. I hope that it will be of some use to others facing a similar decisions in the future.

What happened?

On Friday evening while coaching, I noticed I had a slightly itchy throat. Nothing uncomfortable, but just noticed it was slightly harder to swallow. I had a ride planned the next morning and at this stage thought, 'I'll probably be ok if it doesn't get much worse'. Sadly, at about 2am woke with what I'd describe as a noticeably sore throat and found it difficult to get back to sleep. I was grumpy to have my sleep disturbed, but was then a victim of my own vagueness. How much is '...much worse'.  It's a real grey area and I think always is.

I was up at 6 and didn't want to let my ride partner down, but my throat was no better. I've had sore throats like this before and on occasion, the infection has really taken hold and its wiped me out.  That said,  after some breakfast and a coffee, the discomfort lessened and as it was not a 'hard' ride planned, I decided to get on with it and bail if I needed too. I didn't feel weak, other than a little fatigue in the legs from general training. On returning from the ride, I felt ok, ate well, and headed straight off to a gymnastics skills workshop. A very active one! Although I definitely noticed the sore throat, perhaps a little worse than before, throughout all the drills, physically I didn't feel anything other than totally fine.

After another disturbed night's sleep and the throat at its worst, I've ummed and ahhed all morning about whether to train.  The tricky bit is that I actually feel physically ok, if not positively good. I still can't ignore that I was up early this morning because I couldn't get back to sleep from the discomfort.

Why I'm not training through illness

Any workout in the 10,000 swing challenge is a tough one. Vigorous, intense, etc etc. Call it what you will. If it was just light or light/moderate training, its a different question. Intense exercise does however compromise your immune system in the short term. I might already have let the infection take a firmer grip, and another bout of intense exercise will only likely make this worse! I have to be physically fit to work to earn a wage, so my health is always the over-riding priority. Its an added risk I shouldn't really take.

Hint: Consider the nature of the workout ahead. Is it likely to significantly compromise your ability to fight off your illness? If so, don't do it!

The challenge is just that. Its not supposed to be easy, and part of me feels like riding it out because I thrive on the process of overcoming adversity - it can be very rewarding. That process I think only really applies to more psychological challenges however (whether or not they are created by physical ones). This is different. There is nothing 'brave' or useful about exercising through illness, its just stupid.  If I can't complete the challenge now, I can always do it again, later, or a modified version. The purpose of the challenge is also to test my skills (physical, psychological etc) and to come out the otherside stronger. I want a training and performance benefit from this experience. Not the opposite. Not training through illness can be the harder thin As an aside, its also important to consider the very real risk (albeit small) of exercising when suffering from an infection. I know of at least one athlete who has significantly impacted their health and well-being permanently from pushing through when unwell. Not cool.

Hint: Look at the bigger picture. Why are you training? To improve, or to make yourself weaker. I think people take this for granted or don't consider the question enough.

I don't get ill very often. I gave the kiss of death to this the other week, proudly proclaiming that fact. Since then, I've had a nasty bout of food poisoning after the UKSCA conference and now this. The last time I had a sore throat like this was in 2007, when I got pharyngitis and was off work for nearly a week. It can get worse that what I'm experiencing now, with the added physical fatigue as the body fights infection. Again, I need to work this coming week, so I need to prioritise that.

Hint: Take your time to think back to when you've been ill before. It can be unimaginably bad (e.g. man flu - girls just don't get it!)  Remember those times when you feel so ill, you forget what it's like to be well. Use your experience. On balance, think about what you want and do what you can to facilitate that. If that means rest, then rest. I don't want to relive my 2007 experience again - one or two workouts is not worth it!

It can be really hard to actually know how you feel. How ill is too ill? If we stopped training every time we felt slightly sub-par, we'd get nothing done. Since getting control of my diet and organising my lifestyle to prioritise my health and well-being, I don't think I appreciated how good I could feel. This comes down to experience, and trial and error. Yes sometimes (and only sometimes) we have to do too much to know where that line is. I question the value of always pushing our limits and 'living life on the edge'.  Applied inappropriately, this approach can be our undoing. But as Julius Caesar said a very long time ago "Experience is the teacher of all things". Sometimes there is only 1 way to really find out. That is, dipping your toe in the lake to assess if its filled with flesh eating piranhas as opposed to taking a running dive with somersault to find out the same.

Hint: One thing that can be useful in knowing how ill is too ill is appreciating the context of how you should or could feel. Focus on health for a while, sleep well, avoid caffeine, alcohol, eat a nutrient dense diet. Learn what great feels like. Also understand where you are in your training. Yesterday on my ride, my legs were tired, but I'd had an active week of coaching, and cycled 100 miles mostly all fixed/single speed and completed 2,000 kb swings. I probably should feel a little tired.

So after a day of rest and nutritious food, and plenty of fluids, fingers crossed tomorrow I'll feel more confident that I'm on top of this temporary set back!


Dan John’s 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge – Day 4

So today was pull-ups as my strength movement. My back is easing off nicely and the workout time is still decreasing. I love that feeling when your body starts to adapt.

Today's workout was

10 swings

1 pull-up

15 swings

2 pull-ups

25 swings

3 pull-ups

50 swings

Rest and repeat 4 more times.

The pull-ups did work grip though, and on the 4th and 5th set after the 25 swings, my grip was in real trouble on the last of only 3 pull-ups. Not through lack of gross strength but an ability to hold the bar. Stupid endurance sport! That said, the 3 mins rest is more than enough now, so I'll drop down to 2 mins between sets from Sunday.

image of man in yellow shirt performing pull up from behind
Last one...

I've taped up my hands the last couple of times, and they have somewhat hardened after ripping them to shreds in the first two days.

image of callusts on hand
Healing slowly...

Not sure there will be many more photos to take on the next posts. Rest day tomorrow (although I'm going for a little spin on the bike) and then back to the front squats. Conceptually I'm through my first round of 4 workouts. 4 more rounds to go.

2,000 swings down, 8,000 to go.

Dan John’s 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge – Day 3

So Day 3 of the 10,000 Kettlebell swing challenge came around awful fast. Yesterday my back was in pieces, not because I think my technique lets me down, but because of the volume through the hamstrings and glutes, they have tightened up causing imbalances elsewhere.

Anyway, a massage yesterday helped, and this morning, the tightness had faded.

Today's strength move was dips. The workout looked like this:

10 kettlebell swings

2 dips

15 kettlebell swings

3 dips

25 kettlebell swings

5 dips

50 kettlebell swings

Repeat 5 times.

two barbells in a power rack set up for dipping

Although my hands were not in a good way this was the best workout so far. My grip strength is noticeably extended, and having greased the groove of the movement, it just seemed to go quicker/easier

Time for the work is now down to 47 mins including the standardised 3 mins rest I take between sets. I think I'll knock that down to 2 mins soon though as its more than adequate. Pull ups tomorrow then back to the front squats on Sunday after a rest day.

8,500 to go...

Dan John’s 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge – Day 2 and Rest Day

Yesterday was Day 2 in the 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge, today is a rest day. Instead of squats, I performed a strict overhead barbell press with my 5RM. So it went like this:

10 kettlebell swings

1 OH press

15 kettlebell swings

2 OH press

25 kettlebell swings

3 OH press

50 kettlebell swings

Rest and repeat 4 more times.

On picking up the kettlebell for the first time it felt like a 32.....but after the cobwebs were blasted away, the workout was more manageable than yesterday. The experience of having done it before helped, but I'm not sure the overhead press requires quite as much from you as a front squat. I got through yesterday slightly quicker than Day 1, pacing myself better and requiring less rest before heading into the presses.

Image of hand with callusts and tape
If only skin was made of zinc oxide tape

The destruction of my hands continues, but a days rest will (might) do them the world of good. Although I try to take my time to be strict on form when under fatigue, the fact that my hamstrings and glutes have gone on strike from the sheer volume of swings, this has caused some subsequent tightness in my lower back. I'm off to get a massage to ease things out today. Based on how tight I feel, this could be worse than the workout!

I'm glad its tough, and although I know there is far more discomfort to come, I'm strangely looking forward to it!

1,000 swings down - 9,000 to go.

Dan John’s 10,000 Kettlebell Swing Challenge – Day 1

Today I started Dan John's 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge.

I'd been recently looking for something to kickstart my training, and although I'd read about this when the article above was published, it was reading Intervention (also by Dan John) that got me thinking about it again. Lately, my training has been very unstructured, but I've found myself with increasing motivation to do something that I can really give my all to.

Because of other commitments, I'll only be averaging 4 sessions a week over the next 5 (not 4) weeks to get it done. As a compromise I'm planning to do the strength movements every session (even on the weeks I do hit 5 sessions). I'm not fussed that its over 5 weeks, as 10,000 swings is 10,000 swings - I am under no illusion it will be easy either way!

And so today I started...

Image of 24kg kettlebell on mat with drips of sweat
My nemesis....

For an indication of what that looked like, todays session was:

10 kettlebell swings

1 front squat

15 kettlebell swings

2 front squat

25 kettlebell swings

3 front squat

50 kettlebell swings

Rest and repeat 4 more times.

It was a bit of a baptism of fire. I'm not particularly well conditioned and the whole 5 sets with a 24kg kettlebell and 50kg front squat took me 53 mins to grind through! The first set was done in 5 mins....the last one took nearly 11!

The weights will stay the same across the 20 workouts, and the other movements I have selected are overhead press, dips and pull ups. Hopefully as my fitness and strength improve, the time will come down.

But today was carnage. I've already ripped a sizeable portion of  skin off one finger, and so I'm looking forward to another 500 swings on that tomorrow. 50 consecutive swings was just too much after that first set, and so I soon started to break it down as best I could to retain form. It got ugly. But it got done. Only 9,500 swings to go.....

Image of calluses and tape on hands
I have a feeling this might be the best they look for a while...

That's all for now folks, but stay posted for more updates on my progress.