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Perform a System's Check After Long Bouts with Illness, Injury, or Not Training

stew smith

After a week or more of recovery from illness, injury, or general lack of physical training, consider giving yourself a “systems check” versus starting back up where you left off prior to time off of training. Recently, I came down with an upper respiratory infection (URI) which turned to bronchitis mainly to me pushing myself when all I thought I had was just allergies kicking up in the Spring.  This caused an immediate shut down of training, antibiotics, and rest.  So after about 10 days of relative inactivity, I started feeling better, so decided to give myself a system check.  Here is the program that tested flexibility, mobility, cardio function, strength, and muscle stamina:

 Start off with the mobility day, but add in a few elements each set:

Set 1: Easy Warmup Cardio / mobility check
Bike or elliptical 5 minutes
Stretch and foam roll 5 minutes

Set 2: Moderate Cardio / Mobility / Calisthenics Check
Bike or elliptical 5 minutes – test how it feels to get your heart rate higher than 100-120 (especially if recently congested in the lungs)
5 minutes of Back and hips Stretch and do a set of pullups, pushups, dips, squats, lunges to test out joints with moderate repetition range of 10-20 reps of each exercise.

Set 3:  Jog test / Weights Added
Jog 5 minutes – testing lungs as well as impact of running on joints and muscles of the leg, hip, lower back.
5 minutes of a variety of lifts:  bench press, rows, squats, overhead press, dead lift, leg press 5-10 reps

Set 4:  Swim Test / Tread / Mobility
Swim 5 minutes, tread 5 minutes, 5 minutes of dynamic stretches in chest deep water.
5 minutes of final stretching

  • Full body movements in zero gravity is a good way to loosen up any stiff joints and work well rested muscles when you start getting back to it.
  • Swimming and Treading water have a cardio component to it as well as helps with flexibility and mobility of stiff joints.
  • The dynamic stretches in chest deep water tops off the systems check and will have you walking out of the gym fully assessed as well as feeling pretty good that you did something and are just about ready to go depending on your assessment.

Systems Checks – What To Look For

My personal assessment:  Still a little congested, pull back on full running / swimming workouts a few more days.  Got a little winded on higher repetition calisthenics events too. Hips are tight when doing squats and lunges – stretch more.

What to look for during the assessment.  After illnesses where lung congestion played a part in you having to stop training, make sure your lungs are clear before starting again.  A few quick cardio events will typically tell you that and if you start coughing more after the cardio events, you are not quite ready to start back up with more cardio work yet.   But, you maybe able to still get in the gym and do some resistance training and stretching each day as you fully recover.  You may have seen a loss of mobility or general stiffness, especially if you were bed ridden for several days or longer.  The goal here is to take your time, work out the kinks slowly with similar mobility day workouts as above and slowly start to add in more sets and repetitions to the program.

Don’t Do This
Where most people really make the mistake is they start back up where they left off with their program.  This will for sure cause pain in muscles and joints and likely aggravate the lungs again.  The aggravation could bring back inflammation in the bronchial passages and may even lead to pneumonia if you are not careful.  Sometimes are illnesses where you are severely dehydrated from digestive disorders (flu, food poisoning, etc), the soreness of starting again is similar to having never trained before, so be gentle with your first few workouts after any time off of training.  In fact, it may take you twice as long to get back to where you were before illness as you were sick, so be a good patient - and be patient.


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