Growth in Recovery, part 2: 

Signs of poor or inadequate recovery


Those of you who follow this blog on a regular basis may have noticed that nothing was posted last week.  For that, I apologize, but I was in the midst of learning an extremely valuable lesson on the subject of recovery.


In planning out this series of articles on recovery, I had actually intended on saving the post discussing signs of poor or inadequate recovery until I was nearing the end of the series, but my recent circumstances have compelled me to change my mind about that. 


Three weeks ago, I started to feel sick.  You might even remember that I submitted a post about whether you should train when you’re feeling sick (see Exercising When Sick – A Good Idea?).  As it turned out, I ended up coming down with the flu.  Yes, the FLU – fever, respiratory issues, body aches, diarrhea, etc.  I really haven’t been THAT sick in a long time.  I spent several days in bed; it ended up taking me out of the gym for over a week……


….And I was pissed about that.  So when most of my symptoms had subsided, I was very eager to get back in the gym.  But something was off.  The first day wasn’t so bad, but starting on the second day, there was a noticeable loss of endurance as I went through my workouts, strength was down on some exercises (most notably on those which I had made significant recent improvement), and my energy levels were very low throughout the day.  I pushed through for several days.  I wasn’t experiencing a relapse of my flu symptoms, but I didn’t seem to be fully well, either. 


As the week went on, after about the third day in a row of debating with myself if taking a nap might actually be more valuable than training, I had to accept that I was not fully recovered from the flu.  Rather than being stubborn and emotional about not being able to train, I realized that I needed to take a hard, objective look at the situation. 


Now this is an acute and obvious example of often ends up being a much more chronic and subtle problem for some people, but the principles remain the same.  As I was not fully recovered from the flu, I was not recovering well from my workouts either.  However, these signs can be present even if you haven’t recently been ill.  Here were the signs:

  •  Loss of performance in the gym – As I stated earlier, I had both a loss of strength and a loss of endurance.
  • Poor quality of sleep – It didn’t seem to matter if I slept for 6 hours or 10 hours (this is RARE for me, anyway) at night, I was simply NOT waking up feeling that I was fully rested.
  • I had very low energy levels throughout the remainder of the day, and I was having a very difficult time staying awake during the day (this is kind of serious when you’re driving). Caffeine and other energy boosting products didn’t seem to have any effect. Since sleeping didn’t seem to be productive, this is not a surprise.
  • Loss of appetite – I was really struggling with eating all of the meals on my plan. I try to eat on a schedule, and I’m usually VERY hungry if I go more than 2.5 hours without eating.  I tried stretching out the time between meals to 3 hours or more, but I still didn’t feel like eating.
  • Frankly, my body just didn’t want to train. And I want to emphasize here that I freakin’ LOVE training.  Under normal circumstances, it’s one of the things I most look forward to in my day.  Further, this was not the run-of-the-mill case where I didn’t “feel” like training but could kick myself in the butt and get to the gym anyway (this is a topic for another day); this was a profound lack of desire to train.
  • Everything hurt. Knees, elbows, shoulders, neck.  Muscles being sore after training is one thing, but lingering joint pain is often a sign of inadequate recovery (It can also be a sign of pending injury, so be mindful of this).
  • I still had persistent diarrhea. Sorry if that’s too much information, but it’s pertinent to the discussion….If you’re experiencing recurring digestive issues, your body is trying to tell you something.


    What did I do about it?  In my case, I was fortunate to have already scheduled a week in Colorado to visit my family.  Essentially, I took another week completely off from the gym……and I didn’t feel any guilt or anxiety about it.  Could I have trained?  Absolutely.  However, I spent some quality time with my parents and my sister, ate some of my mom’s amazing cooking, and I got a lot of extra sleep.  For me, this was the right decision. 


    And I feel AMAZING.  I woke up at 5AM this morning, ready to go.  I trained legs this morning, and I had a GREAT workout.  I’m on schedule with my meals today, and I haven’t nodded off while working on this post even once (If you’ve been nodding off while reading this, I don’t want to hear about it.....but take note for yourself if this is happening regularly!!). 


    Now, not everyone in my circumstances would need to take a whole week off.  In all honesty, I probably didn’t NEED an entire week off, but certainly a reduction in the volume and intensity of workouts would have been necessary.  That’s a difficult mindset for me – if I’m going to train, I prefer to go all out.  If that’s you, but you’re experiencing some or all of the signs I’ve listed above, then perhaps try taking a week, and give your body a chance to recover more fully. 


    And if you HAVE been out of the gym with illness, PLEASE learn from my experience.  In hindsight, I probably should have taken the “extra” week off right after my symptoms had subsided.  I hope I remember to follow that advice the next time I’m knocked down with illness……

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