As an addition to my previous ramblings regarding training and health here are a few thoughts about how it might be possible to monitor your personal training and activity level in order to make the best gains as well as avoiding compromising your immune system to the best of your ability.
This is a bit of a learning curve for me as well, I’m the sort of person who, whilst normally quite pessimistic, optimistically thinks that I can totally cope with just stuffing a training plan in on top of life without any adjustment time or repercussions… Even after several years of learning about training and some trial and error with training I still can’t get this out of my head; surely if I just keep at it I’ll adjust and be fit for it all eventually..? I suspect this is somewhat down to sky high expectations of what I can cope with alongside a fairly poor ability to judge what I’m doing compared to others and compared to what I have done in the past...because everyone can just do everything, right?!? I coped so much better than this last year, didn’t I?!? Everyone else is fitting everything in without any issues, right?!?
Whilst rationally I understand that this is compounded by social media the worse I feel the more time I spend on facebook looking at what ‘everyone else’ has achieved rather than concentrating on whether or not I’m going in the direction I would like to, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing anyway! Ok, what I think I’m trying to get at is - in reality all that matters, when it comes down to going in the direction that you want to regarding health and fitness, is that you are trying hard for yourself and doing what makes you happy...don’t beat yourself up about what other people might or might not be doing or thinking.
On this note I wanted to talk a little bit about exercise, illness and over-training, especially interesting now but also maybe useful for future training seasons too...
I guess to start with: be realistic, what can you actually, comfortably, fit into your already pretty full life? I once shared a flat with a girl who was training 1 armed pull-ups in the kitchen doorway, usually whilst I was eating cake...but I did kind of like her philosophy: it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing, you’ll improve as long as you do something.
But, for me anyway, it often comes down to: when is something too much? I try to listen to my body and mood but it’s hard to not feel disappointed when I’m tired and I usually know that I’ll feel better after training, or it’s only a slightly sore elbow - what harm can a quick climb do??
Actually quite a lot of harm - training whilst not on form due to excess fatigue, illness or injury almost certainly makes everything worse. Sometimes your body needs all the energy it's got to recover from the previous training or illness or mend the injury.
What’s so bad about overtraining? If you’re training a lot (unfortunately this is subjective because someone who is used to a high training load can cope with more than someone who is just starting out with their training), and the same muscle groups day in, day out then there comes a point during that training that the body can’t keep up with the amount of stress put on it. So instead of your fitness improving, if you do genuinely end up overtraining, your fitness will decrease. Thanks to Training for the Uphill Athlete for the following inforgraphic (pp 137).
Unfortunately training does put a physical drain on your energy levels which can have an adverse effect on your immune system for a period of time after training, making it more likely for you to pick up an illness, be that a mild snuffle or something more serious. This is quite tricky to plan for as a break in your training but if you do end up with any form of illness it’s important to stop training as you need all the energy and reserves you have to fight the infection. On beginning to recover don’t just jump straight back into training the moment you start to feel better, you should break yourself back in gently. Training for the Uphill Athlete recommends “return to training with one day of easy training for every day that you have been sick and away from training” (pp132) and whilst I appreciate that climbing is neither mountain running nor ski mountaineering it seems like a good rule of thumb during a period in which we are all trying to stay healthy.
So, how can you recognise if you are indeed overtraining or likely to injure yourself?
I turn again to Training for the Uphill Athlete in order to start answering this question… and unfortunately it’s not a simple question to answer - you have to check in with yourself on a regular basis, how are you feeling? If you’re lethargic and unmotivated or your muscles are feeling flat and heavy then maybe take a day to assess the situation, try to increase the quality of your plated meals and quantity of sleep, if possible, and maybe use a foam roller to help ease out your muscles. If you are struggling with motivation, and don’t normally, this is often your body telling you that you need some down time and you shouldn’t push yourself to train just because you feel like you ought to.
In terms of food - recently Oliver and I have been trying to follow a bit of a programme regarding food that looks at both our relationship with food, why we snack for example, and what is actually on our plates - the general rule of thumb they give is that a well plated meal should be ½ a plate of veg/salad/fruit, ¼ plate of protein, ¼ of carbohydrates and 1tbsp of fat. (Thanks to GMB for the plating tip.!) his has been pretty helpful to us in order to look at what we’re eating and when we’re eating it to try and maintain as healthy a diet as possible without actually attempting to follow any sort of diet since that always seems to lead to failure - what if we can improve our relationship with food so that, in general, we want to be eating the healthy options but it doesn’t matter if occasionally we want cake (and eat it)? To me it sounds almost too good to be true - apparently not, so long as we don’t always eat cake, a moderate amount of cake and when we’ve waited a bit just to check that it’s not just a reaction to a situation and we do actually genuinely want that cake and are willing to either bake it or (not during lockdown obviously as cake is non-essential) travel to get it then it’s ok.