DISCLAIMER: This ARTICLE IS BASED ON THE WRITERS’ PERSONAL EXPERIENCES. ALL SUGGESTIONS AND TIPS ARE HIS OPINION, AND SHOULD NOT BE USED TO TREAT OR DIAGNOSE ANY CONDITION. PLEASE CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN TO ASSESS YOUR INDIVIDUAL HEALTHCARE NEEDS, AS THE RELATE TO RETURNING TO YOUR RESPECTIVE ACTIVITY.
After the release of the original article (If by the way, you haven’t checked out please do so now!) many of you reached out and wanted me to give you guys specifics. What did I do personally after my ordeal with the big bad C word! Now, I originally didn’t want to get too specific as I felt that I would be making the entire piece just about myself. However, based off of your feedback I quickly realized that most of you actually need the story AND the specifics. So who am I to rob you of that information, HaHa!
That being said, I am however going to simplify this a bit in hope that it will be far more easily understood and consequently more easily implemented in your own lives. So what will we be covering in this second edition of how to bounce back?
Well, first of all we will have a quick recap of the most important factors in the previous article. And then we will turn our attention to my personal journey, plan and how I balanced everything from learning how to walk again, retraining my lung capacity all the way to getting on the treadmill and running again.
So if that sounds like something you would be interested in; stick around because it is about to get very very interesting!
Let’s recap what we discussed in the previous article…
When it comes to fitness, we all know that no matter how consistent we want to be, life just happens. And most of the time it’s out of your control. I mean you could fall ill for a few weeks, or in my case fall seriously ill and be out for a few months! You could get hurt or injured and be forced to take an unscheduled leave of absence from fitness. Your career, school or personal life might need some serious attention causing you to prioritize the things that truly matter in life.
Regardless of your specific situation, we’ve all found ourselves at the point where we need to bounce back, start over and to be honest; it kind of sucks!
Luckily, I used my personal ordeal with the dreaded VID, as an experiment. A sort of path of self discovery, a way to find out what I am truly made of. I made the mistakes, found out what works and doesn’t work and ultimately took the time to create a pseudo blueprint for you guys to use and implement in your own lives.
We did cover quite a bit in the previous article, and if you haven’t read it by now guys and girls… What are you still doing here! Okay, let’s make it easier for everyone, here is the link and go have yourself a read, trust me it’s worth it!
Anyway here are the main lessons from the previous article:
So as you can see there is a certain method to my madness, but the next parts of this article will discuss my personal experience in a bit more detail.
It’s story time! My fight, my struggle, my redemption.
Since you guys were kind enough to check out our previous article, you will by now know that this entire concept stemmed from my personal battle with the dreaded VID’. Now I am not going to get into all the detail regarding my hospitalization etc, instead I am going to focus on my physical battle with the disease. What my body went through and ultimately what I needed to do to get back on track and bounce back in my fitness journey.
But I do believe before we get into that part we need a little bit of context first. Before I fell ill I was at the peak of my physical capacity for the first time in many years. This is because I spent the previous 12 months rebuilding myself; rehabilitating old injuries, working on my mobility and flexibility all while consistently training at a very high level. I was strong, fit and quite lean. My stats were roughly 84kg in weight and between 11-13% body fat.
That being said, when I was discharged from the hospital I had lost about 10kgs of body weight in about 10 days, I had permanent lung damage and I literally couldn’t walk by myself.
Are you starting to see the picture? The reason this battle to get back to full fitness was so daunting was simply because of all the trauma my body had gone through in a very very short period of time. The implications and stress that my body needed to endure resulted in my journey back was a constant uphill battle. But don’t sweat, we did it and so can you.
Now I understand that your situation might not have been this drastic or maybe it was even worse than what I went through, I have empathy for that, I really do. I am basically just sharing this as a form of inspiration that no matter the circumstance, if you persevere, you will be successful in the end.
In my case I had two big obstacles to overcome:
With regards to the former, I simply focused on standing up and sitting down without help. That didn’t take too long as the physical therapists in the hospital had already started to lay that particular foundation for me. After mastering that, I started implementing some isometric work. By forcefully contracting my leg muscles one group at a time I started to re-establish that neuromuscular control between my brain and my limbs. This was reasonably easy as I had some form of muscle memory that sort of “kicked in” once I started doing it. This was also fairly easy to do as I could lie in bed and do it or just be parked on the couch doing hamstring flexes.
Once I did that it was now time to actually start walking again. Here I always made sure that I had help, my fiance would help me walk to and from the kitchen, sort of just hovering around me making sure I didn’t slip or lose my balance.
I do think it is important to note that my inability to walk was induced by indirect trauma from being very ill. This is a different mechanism of injury than those that might experience a direct injury mechanism like trauma to their nervous system. So if it sounds like my journey to walking again was “easier” than expected, compared to other injuries of a more traumatic nature, I guess you’re right. But that doesn’t mean that it sucked any less.
But I digress, once the walking wasn’t as big of an issue anymore I turned my efforts to my lung function and pulmonary training. Here I had great help from my physical therapists, as they gave me very specific breathing exercises and techniques that helped me significantly. I’ll spare you guys the specifics as I believe that you should consult your own health care provider in order to find out what best tools to use for your specific situation.
That being said, I had my hop in my step back and I could breathe without feeling like there was a 10kg lead balloon on my chest. Things were looking up, or so thought… As there was a major side effect of my illness that I didn’t account for… Sleep, or rather the lack thereof! You see, what essentially happened was because I was no longer as active as I was before I got sick, my body had all this extra energy, particularly towards the end of my recovery. And that directly affected not only my ability to fall asleep but also the quality of that sleep. And the same applies to you, if you remove the exercise and fitness factor from your life your body will have extra energy stores and ultimately this could affect your natural circadian rhythms.
That being said, when I did make it back to the point where I could safely exercise again, I found myself extremely fatigued by 3pm everyday. Remembering the lesson on habits and how they form, my body had adapted and gotten used to the fact that it no longer needed to use that extra energy. So when I started being active again I had the rude awakening (no pun intended) that my body wasn’t ready for this sudden increase of energy expenditure. Do you now see why pacing yourself is so important?
But let’s get back to my story, and as I was saying, things were looking up. And after getting the green flag and the all clear from all my doctors I decided that I was ready to head back to the gym and start rebuilding my fitness levels.
What did my plan look like?
To be fair, my plan was actually quite simple and straightforward, as I set out various generalized targets to hit on a daily basis. I also, as discussed in the first part of this article series, decided on breaking the process down into 21 day cycles.
At first my goals were quite simple and not very specific:
That was it, nothing more and nothing less. I think I kept these goals for about the first week. After which I gradually started increasing the goals in terms of specificity and difficulty. For example, towards the third week I was doing 45 minutes of exercise daily, while eating a maximum of 2000 calories a day.
All in all, I know this might seem oversimplified but to tell you the truth I used this as a tactic to make the entire process more manageable. And it worked for me because coming back from all of the trauma I realized this task was not going to be an easy feat to accomplish.
And what about your training?
Obviously, just jotting down “30 minutes” of exercise is extremely vague and granted I understand, but the reason I did it that way was to have an overall goal set out for myself for that specific day.
Now when it comes to the actual training side of things, I had looked at myself and what my needs were. I quickly realized that I couldn’t structure this training like a traditional resistance programing. I couldn’t have a chest and triceps day or a “bro split” or even a push, pull and legs split. Why? Because my entire body needed attention; that is why I decided on a basic template that I then increased again as I went through my respective 21 day cycles.
The template was set out as follows:
And that was really all there was to it, I didn’t over complicate it. I didn’t do too much too soon, I was structured and fairly specific and it really worked for me brilliantly. As I could chop and change different exercises, keeping things interesting. But also avoiding red flagged exercises that placed significant stress on my body.
In addition to this, as time went on and I got more comfortable, I started adding more of each exercise (upper,lower or core) to each session. Adjusting the intensity and total repetitions as needed. I did this for the first 6 weeks, so roughly two 21 day cycles. And by the end of the cycle I was doing over an hour of dedicated exercises hitting multiple muscle groups during each session. I was genuinely starting to feel like myself again.
But you didn’t mention anything about your running??
Well I am glad you asked and to be honest I did attempt to do some running, on a treadmill, during the first 21 day cycle. But boy did I quickly realize that I was nowhere close to being ready for that! So I waited for the start of the third cycle, so essentially week 7 of my training cycle.
At this point I was feeling good, not as tight and stiff and most importantly my lungs were functioning much more efficiently. This gave me a lot more confidence to start running again.
But just like the rest of my plan I decided I needed to have some sort of a plan. But at the same time I also didn’t want to over-complicate it. That’s why I decided to stick to the treadmill for the first few weeks. My reasoning behind this was:
- 1I can accurately control my pace, distance all while monitoring my heart rate and
- 2It was a safer option for me, as it was within a controlled environment with multiple staff members around to assist me in case of an emergency.
Sidenote: Be Careful when you get back into running… This is a bit of a tangent, but I do believe I need to touch on this… So please listen carefully:
“DO NOT TRY AND RUN TOO MUCH OR TOO FAST!”
Seriously, running is a high impact activity that requires a minimum amount of adaptation to have taken place BEFORE you jump into your old training schedule. Trust me, the risks far outweigh the benefits surrounding this concept.
When your body isn’t ready for the physical stresses associated with running at that level you increase your risk of developing an acute injury such as muscle strains or tears. Or even worse you could develop an underlying overuse injury, such as plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis or even stress fractures.
This is where, once again, patience will be your friend. Take it easy, build up your base and give yourself some time. You will make it there in the end.
As for my training plan, I decided to break it down into intervals of 2 minutes. So I would run on the treadmill at about 9-10km/h for 2 minutes; followed by a brisk walk for another 4 minutes. I would repeat this process for a total of 30 minutes and sometimes even a bit longer. As I got fitter I would decrease the walking interval by 30 second segments to the point where the ratio of activity versus rest was at 1:1.
It was at this point that I felt confident to attempt a steady pace run with no intervals. So I did, and I managed a solid 3km run with no intervals or breaks. Oh man what a feeling! Do you know that scene from the Pursuit of Happiness movie? Where Will Smith finally gets a break and his walking through a crowd of people and a river of emotion pours over him? Well, that’s exactly how I felt at that moment in time. Looking back, where I came from, what I had to endure. The obstacles, the mental struggles and everything in between. Man it was such a beautiful thing.
It wasn’t always easy, but I am so glad I did what I did, because in the end it was worth it! Yes, my story is very unique but I hope these two articles will give you the inspiration and motivation needed to bounce back into your life filled with awesome fitness related activities.
And that is pretty much it… This is my story.
This is how I went from laying on my deathbed to running a 3km with no pain, no difficulty just pure freedom.