By Stephen Gallagher
A frequent problem we have as coaches is when our clients come up against periods of illness. The challenge then becomes the need to manipulate training and lifestyle to allow for a return back to full health and training routine without hindrance to further progress.
CRITICAL: How quickly an athlete resumes full training and competition after illness, their guidance at this time and subsequent assessment towards continuation of training gains.
A trusting coach/athlete relationship is crucial at this point. Poor advice or over enthusiastic training at this ‘tipping point’ can either send the athlete back into a relapse of illness or prolong the period it takes to resume full regular training again.
TIMING: Key consideration, timing of return to training and competition. This will have a variation from athlete to athlete depending on the severity of the illness and rate at which each athlete recovers. The most common illness we see people attract during this time of year (November/December) is viral syndromes, such as upper respiratory tract. Most viral illnesses are a strain of the common cold which everyone has experienced at one time or another.
How to best judge the return to training post illness?
There are 3 basic steps you need to complete on return to a full training routine. These basic steps were developed by the Australian Institute of Sport (Pyne et al. 1995; Young 1999) which we recommend to use as a guide when working with athletes:
Frequency of Training
Duration of Training
Intensity of Training
When resuming exercise, take care to allow the body to adapt again to the physical strain without the possibility of lowering the immune system. A gradual increase in frequency of training is the path you want to take towards full training again. E.g. a light training ride every 2-3 days, progressing to a block of riding a bike for 3 days on, one day off. This may be a 1hr to 1 1/2hr easy ride every 2-3 days until you reach a point of handling 1-2hr training rides back to back for 2/3 days in a row without adverse symptoms.
Increasing the duration too soon while maintaining the frequency can strain on the body. It requires listening to the body to ensure it is a gradual process without risking the immune system for a second time. Only once a regular pattern of training durations are accomplished pre-illness the last step in the process can then be implemented. E.g. Increasing the training to 2hrs per ride building to 3hr rides on back to back days will enable your body to handle a considerable amount of stress through prolonged durations of exercise without intensity.
Only when you feel that recovery from both frequency and duration of training sessions is back to a regular pattern do you then load your body with another step. E.g. This must be done in small increments as the body can respond negatively to an increase in intensity. Adding intensity on certain days initially, building up the intensity to handle training at a higher intensity on back to back rides. This can take from 1 week to 1 month again depending on severity of illness and ability to recover.
The above process can take perhaps a week, a month, even many months depending on the severity of the illness.
- Training – Careful management of training durations and intensities; periodised approach to training and recovery
- Environmental – Limit exposure to adverse conditions; cold, rain, humidity, heat etc
- Physiological – Teaching yourself to self manage stresses that come with training and competition and be able to monitor your body’s responses to training
- Behaviour – Increasing your awareness of how diet can affect your immune system and balancing nutrients and timing calories around training patterns along with limiting your potential exposure to illnesses and common infections
- Clinical consideration – Medication and supplementation, immunisation to certain illness. Daily pro-biotic can aid prevention along with cycled uses of Echinacea during high periods of high physical stress or exposed to others with illness. Vitamin C also can aid recovery from illness along with First Defence Nasal Spray when first feeling symptoms of sickness.
- Poor recovery between training sessions
- Under performance during competitions and training
- Elevated heart rate during training and rest
- Weight fluctuations
- Mood swings, loss of enthusiasm and lethargic feeling
- Increase pains and soreness post training that is not part of the regular adaptions to training
This time of year can be very difficult for any athlete and often leads to a great frustration and de-motivation. However, if carefully thought through and intelligent decisions made recovery will be quick and full. Coach and athlete contact is more important than ever at this time. Trust what your Coach is telling you. It is for a reason…normally because they have been where you are. They understand your frustrations and have probably made all the wrong choices to get to the point of knowledge to guide you with the right choices.
You will get back to full health. You will be able to train at your maximum and more again…to make those gains. But listen to your body, make intelligent decisions and you’ll be back fighting fit in no time.