Returning to Training After Maybe COVID

To be honest, I’m struggling.

I’ve got this overwhelming fatigue. Overwhelming, literally. I feel helpless to it. No amount of rest is enough, and I don’t have enough sick leave to stay at home ad infinitum.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Officially, I don’t have COVID. Or didn’t. I’ve tested negative several times, including one PCR test. But the second week of January, I had some kind of virus with a lot of the same symptoms: shortness of breath, reduced oxygen, extreme fatigue, fever, sore throat. The fever lasted two weeks. That’s not normal for COVID or for anyone “normal” fighting a virus. And I’m still dealing with the fatigue and shortness of breath. This is week 6.

From the start of the pandemic, there’s been reason to believe that if I got sick, it could go badly for me. I have multiple systemic autoimmune disorders, and the result of one of them was the loss (necrosis and subsequent surgical removal) of part of one of my lungs. I’m high risk for pneumonia in a normal flu season. When I get sick, I struggle to get over it longer than most people.

And all of these concerns seem to have borne out, if I had COVID. Whatever I have been fighting, I’m still recovering from it. I can’t imagine going more than a month with no physical activity at all. And yet, the shortness of breath and fatigue is forcing me to slow the fuck down.

The first two weeks while I had a fever, I did next to nothing. Sat on the sofa. Laid in bed. Maybe I took a short walk once or twice? I went out to the garden once, but got lightheaded deadheading my roses and came back in.

When the fever was gone, I decided to try an “easy” lifting workout. I thought I’d cut back enough, but I was sore for the next 4 days. I went for a walk that week, too, but I only went a mile or two.

So, in an effort to slow myself down, I have purchased the Beginner Template from the folks at Barbell Medicine. I’ve scheduled lifting sessions for only twice a week. Twice a week plus one intentional walk on the weekends; that’s my goal.

I’m in week 3 of this plan, and so far it’s going ok. I’m not dealing with endless DOMS anymore, and the workouts are short enough that what would have been 40 or so minutes, even with some extra-long breaks between sets, it’s still under an hour. I’m using about 60 or 70% of the weight I was using pre-illness. One of the useful things about the Barbell Medicine template is that it’s RPE-based, which creates permission for me to cut back on load. Can I only do 2 more reps at this weight? That’s RPE 8. Stick with this weight, doesn’t matter that it would have been an RPE 6 a few months ago. I know that working where I’m at right now is the only way to get to build strength again later.

It feels good to be moving a bit. Twice a week isn’t too much to feel like a burden or to overwhelm my already exhausted body. I know that if I get back into running later, it’s going to be a long relearning process. I’m ok with that. The lifting has always been my first priority.

I think it’s a real mental health/mindset win that I’m not dwelling on all the progress I’ve “lost” due to illness. I’ve seen lots of posts from lifters experiencing so much internalized angst over what they can’t do right now, or how they’ve backtracked due to COVID. I think it’s useful to remember that those timelines and expectations are self-imposed, arbitrary. Progress is never linear. Periods of illness and injury are a part of life, and the goal isn’t to just get the most jacked as quickly as possible. It’s to be doing this thing for a lifetime; life includes challenges and setbacks along the way. I feel like I’ve really internalized this truth, and I’m proud I’m doing something, keeping lifting in my world in a sustainable way for where I’m at right now.

If you’re struggling after an illness, I hope you can do that, too! And I’d love to hear how your training is going.

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