No pain, no gain? Lessons in pushing through sickness

Life is a long lesson in humility.” ― J.M. Barrie

Have you ever had plans that didn’t quite live up to what you expected? A little over a month ago, I competed in a powerlifting competition I had been training for since last year. I had grand plans of breaking personal records but it seems God had other plans in mind for me. About a week before the competition, I came down with what I thought was just chest cough.

“No big deal,” I thought. “I’ll just power through and after a few days I’ll feel better.”

A few days came and went and the cough did not get better.

In fact, it got worse.

And yet I still attempted to push through it. On the Monday before my competition, I did not complete my full workout as planned. It wasn’t until I was flat out in bed with fever, migraine and so tired I couldn’t even make myself a simple bowl of cereal that I decided it was time to go to the doctor and even that was with some prodding from loved ones.

Twenty minutes of sitting in the doctor’s office and I was walking out with an antibiotics prescription for my chest infection. Who doesn’t love a little pneumonia now and then?

There’s this pervasive notion in the fitness industry of “no pain, no gain” and “that which doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.” Athletes who push through pain and sickness are hailed as heroes:

The list could go on and on but I’ll stop there.

I had developed that stubborn mentality that I had come this far in my training and I wasn’t going to let sickness slow me down.

I will also be the first to admit that the stubbornness which makes me a competitor can also make me very, very dumb sometimes.

Did I complete the competition? Yes. I understood the risks and went anyway (see previous paragraph).

Did I do as well as I had planned? Not really. I did qualify for provincials (grateful) but I only set one 5 lb PR.

But I was happy I went to the doctor when I did. Left unchecked, I could have fared much worse. I could have hurt myself or made myself more sick.

My point is, unless you feel it necessary to consistently work at high intensity, allow yourself take a break if you feel like your body needs it. There is some evidence to suggest that the strength of the immune system can wane with high training loads.

I did not make the decision lightly when deciding to compete. I weighed a number of factors and carefully considered whether or not it was worth the toll on my body.

From Tuesday until the competition on Saturday, I was on complete bed rest. Immediately following the competition, I took another week of complete rest.

It has taken me over a month to feel somewhat normal as I’m getting back into my training. Even now, I feel my energy levels have not fully recovered. I won’t lie and say I feel great. Workouts feel hard, even at 60-70%. But I do feel like I’ve come out of this with a greater awareness of how my body feels.

Ignoring tiredness or illness and pushing through isn’t going to make you better in the long run. In fact, it could harm your progress. Instead, slow down. Take rest when you need it.

If you lift weights like me and the bar feels heavy that day, don’t get upset if you need to scale back on a few days of your training regimen.

Pay attention to how you feel and recognize when you don’t feel up to par and don’t be afraid to admit if you’re feeling tired. I kept telling myself it was just a cold and would get better the next day; ignoring the fatigue, trying to push through.

Moral of the story:

Don’t worry if you have off-days at the gym. Some days you will feel like poo and some days you will feel fantastic.

You’re human, not superhuman.

Have realistic expectations.

When your body is trying to tell you something, listen to it. Don’t let your ego override your health.

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