As an athlete who eats, sleeps, and breathes training, nothing feels worse than not being able to do what I love doing. Training is such an instrumental part of my life that even a day missed leaves me feeling unsettled and antsy. Recently, I came down with a bout of illness and not only was I not able to train; I wasn’t even able to lift myself out of bed for two weeks! I can’t recall the last time I spent more than a few days out of the gym, let alone two entire weeks. While those 14 miserable days stuck in bed watching Netflix and dreaming about the gym were not easy, they did teach me a lot of important lessons. Here’s what I learned about training from not being able to train:
1. Appreciate everything your body can do.
While I was sick and bedridden, simple, everyday tasks seemed like an absolute dream. Forget training in the gym; just being able to get up and go for a walk was something I only wished I could do. Now that I’m fully recovered and back in action, I have a newfound appreciation for everything my body can do, both inside the gym and out. Many of us take our bodies’ capabilities for granted, and it’s not until we’re unable to do the things we love doing that we begin to appreciate the ability to lift a barbell, do a pull up, or perform a handstand. Now, every time I train, or do anything physical, I’m filled with gratitude for all of the things my body allows me to do.
2. Respect your body’s boundaries.
Though I like to think of my body as a limitless machine capable of anything I put my mind to, the reality is that my body is a human body, and therefore it has certain boundaries. At first, when the symptoms of my illness began to appear, I thought I could just train through it, even if I felt weak, dizzy, or lightheaded. Bad idea. When you’re sick, your body needs to focus its energy on fighting the illness; trying to train through it will only prolong the recovery process. The fatigue and dizziness were signs that my body was crying out for rest, and I realized that I needed to respect my body’s boundaries. Even now that I’m no longer in the depths of illness, I’ve learned to honor my body’s signals that I’ve pushed it too far. Extreme fatigue and training to the point of near collapse is not a sign of strength or willpower; it’s a sign that it’s time to take a break and give your body the rest that it needs.
3. Taking time off won’t derail you.
Ever since I began training, I’ve had a constant fear of losing progress. I’ve strived to always be at my best, and I couldn’t stand the thought of backtracking. When I realized I was too sick to train and that I would have to take a few weeks off to recover, I instantly jumped to the conclusion that the time off would ruin the progress that I’ve worked so hard to make. As it turns out, this was completely false. When I felt well enough to train again, I found that I was able to pick up right where I left off. In fact, only a week back into training after recovering from the illness, I found myself feeling stronger than ever before. I was terrified that the time I spent outside the gym would be a detriment to my strength, when in reality, the time off was actually a benefit, giving my body ample time to recover and restore itself before jumping back into training. I’d always been told that rest is a part of training, but I never truly believed it until I actually allowed myself to rest and saw the results for myself.
4. Make training a part of your life, not your whole life.
Perhaps the biggest issue I faced whilst not being able to train was that I had no idea what else to do with my time. Aside from my academic and social lives, training was my whole life, and when the ability to train was taken away from me, I realized that I didn’t have much else to fall back on. However, since training wasn’t an option, I had no choice but to explore other interests. In doing this, I was able to rediscover old passions that I forgot I even had, passions that I had put on the back burner when fitness began to take center stage in my life. Now that I’m fully recovered and able to train again, my life feels much more balanced. Fitness is and will always be my biggest passion, but it’s no longer my only passion. Fitness is an enormous part of my life, but it is no longer my entire life.
5. Your health should always be your #1 priority.
If you’re anything like me, you may have the tendency to take your health for granted—that is, until it starts to decline. Being sick and unable to train was an eye-opening experience that showed me that health comes before all else, including training. After all, without health, training becomes impossible. If taking care of your health means staying away from the gym and spending a few days or even weeks doing nothing but resting, so be it. I’ve learned that I need to do whatever it is my body needs to restore a state of good health, not only so that I’m able to train and perform optimally when the time comes, but because everything—and I mean everything—in life is dependent on health.
Editor’s note: One more take from Living Smart Girl blogger and BarBend reader Sheila Thomas:
“For those who have the “love” of the game (training/fitness), it is a hard pill to swallow when “life” happens and you can’t train. For me, when I broke my ankle I thought I would literally die! But, guess what, I didn’t. I learned that my body wasn’t going to whither away, and that when my ankle was healed I could get back into what I love… lifting heavy stuff! Yes, I eased back into my lower body workouts, but upper body I was able to do before my ankle healed. A person needs to listen to their body, and do what works at a pace that works. The body is a wonderful thing, and is very understanding when treated right. I now let my body tell me when I can push harder and when to take a day or 3 off. Living with Fibromyalgia, one learns to really be in tune with their body.”
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.