Fighting Back After the Flu
Getting sick sucks and unfortunately this time of year there’s no way around it. It always seems like you get sick right when things are starting to “feel good.” You’ve bumped up in your squats or deadlifts, your swings are feeling great, or maybe you’ve added a couple reps to your pull-up. And then, BAM, like a ton of bricks you can’t get out of bed the next morning and you’re laid up for 3-4 days.
No one likes being sick but on top of that you’re pissed because you were starting to see gains in your program. So naturally once you feel better you try to hop back in where you left off… and that’s where you go wrong.
This post today comes courtesy of one of my biggest supporters and friends Mr. Michael Knox. He and his wife but got smacked with the flu recently and suggested I write about how to handle such a situation. Thanks bro!
What happens when you get the flu
Aside from feeling like crap there are a number of things that go on when you’re sick with the flu.
CNS system is depleted
Your central nervous system is what will give you energy, pep-in-your step, your cat-like reflexes, and your ability to think quick and effectively. As far as exercise goes, activities such as
- Swinging Kettlebells
- Olympic lifting
And anything that will fatigue and/or stress your grip will deplete your CNS system (pretty much any power movement and/or grip-related exercises.) When you’re sick your CNS system is already drained so keep this in mind moving forward.
I know I’m getting sick when I don’t have an appetite. As frequently as I’m hungry and as much food as I eat, I know something is wrong when I DON’T WANT TO EAT… like the world is ending or something!
Why is this? Well…
Your body is too busy fighting off whatever it is you have – eating requires energy from your body, something you don’t have much of at the moment. It’s also why you crave carbs when you’re sick – your body knows this and rather than eat something like protein or fats which require more energy to digest, it seeks something simple and easy like fruit, juice, and pizza – my personal favorite.
- You’re taking medicine
- Laying in bed all day
- Not eating
- And likely not drinking enough fluids
All this leads to an unhappy gut, a body that’s depleted, and a body full of achy muscles.
How not to jump back into the gym after the flu
Pick up where you left off
Having just gone over your current state of health, this is no time to try and set a PR and the chances are high you’re not even going to be able to sustain where you left off prior to getting sick. Don’t do it, just don’t.
“Sweat it out” – put yourself through a ringer of a workout
This is also not a good time to challenge your best WOD time or hop in on a buddy’s Olympic lifting workout. Again, you’re drained. Your buddy probably wasn’t sick and as frustrating as it may be, he/she may have even gotten stronger while you were sick. There’s nothing you can do about that so don’t try to make up for lost time.
Anything that is going to stress your CNS system severely
Kettlebell swings are fantastic, quite possibly my favorite exercise, I’m not saying don’t do them at all – but dial the intensity down a few notches. I just mentioned how important your CNS system is. It’s also a very finicky system to repair. Take it easy and try to get back on track slowly, like this…
How to get back into the “swing” of things
See what I did there, “swing” of things. I know, it’s lame, I couldn’t resist!
Keeping in mind what you’ve been doing the past few days (laying in bed, eating crap – or not eating at all – and taking medicine) here are some suggestions as to where to start in getting back on track with your workout routine. This also happens to be what I do for my clients when they come back from an extended period of time of being sick.
Make sure you’ve been able to eat something before hopping back in the gym!
I can’t stress this enough – your body is depleted, despite what you may want to do, if you have no food – no energy to fuel your workout – you’re going to feel wrecked and possibly create a setback.
Make sure you’ve had at least a full day of typical eating and hydration. Keep in mind that most people easily become dehydrated when they’re sick.
Give yourself a full day to refuel, get a good night’s sleep, and then step back into the gym.
Do an abbreviated workout
Remember you’ve just come off of a crippling illness – chances are high that going through your warm-up routine alone is going to be a lot of work for you.
For some clients, I’ll stop right here – take our time through the warm-up and actually repeat it 2-3 times. Throw in some light getups – maybe even bodyweight getups – and call it a day.
Think “move more” not “lift more”
Any movement is going to be more than what you were doing in bed.
Challenge yourself to not pick up a weight at all. Your bodyweight can be an extremely useful tool in generating strength and recovering from the flu. It can also spawn some creative ideas for movement.
Assuming you’ve had a full day of hydration and meals, you should be able to handle the following routine:
- Arms Extended Front Squat
- Pullup/TRX Row
- Lateral Squat
- Hardstyle Plank
You can also just do a bunch of light getups – 10-15 minutes alternating 1 on each arm. That would be sufficient.
I’d also throw in TON of mobility work as again, you’re probably going to be stiff and achy following your stint with the flu.
Don’t scrap your workout completely
No matter where you were in your program, you have to know that you’re not going to be able to pick up where you left off.
I usually let my client dictate the intensity, as they know how they’re feeling far better than I do.
Stick to the script but dial the weights down significantly. If you have a lot of power movements programmed, it might be a good idea to swap those out for movement or “grinding” movements (think typical strength movements such as pull-ups, pushups, squats, and deadlifts.)
Think of dialing a notch below what you KNOW you can handle. This will likely mean two notches below where you typically want to train.
For example if your client uses a 24kg for his/her swing, I’d probably give them a 16kg bell. Seems drastic but it’s best to play it safe your first day back – remember you’re not going to set any records here and you don’t want a setback.
- Hip flexors
A typical warm-up routine could look something like this:
- 90/90 Breathing – 4 breaths (diaphragm)
- Segmented Lumbar Cat/Camel – 3/ea (back)
- Kneeling T-Spine Rotation – 8/ea (t-spine)
- Quadruped Butt Rock – 8 (squatting pattern)
- Leg Lower – 10/ea (hinge/hamstrings)
- ½ Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch 5 breaths/ ea (hip flexors)
- Hardstyle Bridge – 5sx5 (hips)
- Prying Goblet Squat (hips, upper back, adductors)
- 1-Leg Reaching Deadlifts – 10/ea (hamstrings)
- Shoulder/Scapular CARs – 3/ea (shoulders)
- Jumping Jacks/Hops – 20 (increase heart rate)
Notice how you start from the ground and slowly work your way up to standing in a seamless matter. Repeating that warm-up 2-3 times would be MORE than enough for your first day back.
Your best offense is a good defense
Of course the best way to fight off the flu is not to get it in the first place. You might say, “Well that’s impossible.”
True, you really can’t prevent yourself from getting the flu altogether, but you can put up a good fight by:
- Eating like an adult – healthy foods and lots of vegetables
- Workout consistently – 5 days a week for 30 minutes a day (not an hour – 30 minutes!)
- Hydrate – drink at least 2 liters of water a day
- And wash your hands – really, are you still in elementary school? Wash your hands people – blah!
Defense wins championships (as was evident again this year by the Denver Broncos) and a healthy lifestyle is perhaps both your best offense and strongest defense in fighting the flu season head on.