6 Strategies For Making Your Return To Training After Illness Or Injury

March 13, 2016

03 / 13 / 2016

Anyone who has experienced illness, injury or life event, will understand the impact such a condition has on your training and ultimately your body.

The best intentions for running your next marathon, or competing in a physique show, can often be hijacked by life events, injury or illness, the arrival of which we have little control over. It is hard it imagine anyone escaping unscathed by such life occurrences. Everyone moves. Everyone has family events. Everyone has crushing deadlines. Everyone gets sick. The question is, how and when do you make your return to training.

Thanks to my recent illness and move, I understand this better than I would like. It has been two weeks since I have trained properly. Although I have finished my round of antibiotics and followed doctors orders for rest and sleep, I still don’t feel completely 100%. My lungs are still a bit congested and I feel weak. Maybe my bronchitis was made worse by the stress of moving house, which happened at the same time. Upending your life after living in one place, a house I built with Bob, after 17 years, was a monstrous upheaval for me. Emotionally I was shot. It was no wonder I got sick.

I have learned to count on life interruptions so as not to be completely derailed when they arrive. It is so very challenging to start from scratch every time. Plan for a few speed bumps. And while there is specific advice for making a return to marathon or triathlon training, there are more common strategies we can use to prepare for our return to exercise.

Now that it has been nearly two weeks, I plan to employ the following 6 strategies, that I have used before, to get back on track.

6 Strategies for Returning to Training

  1. KNOW THAT PAIN IS A SIGN TO STOP. If you are still experiencing pain or discomfort, extreme tiredness or shortness of breath, know that this is a sign from your body to continue healing. Don’t train under these circumstances as this will only lead to further complications, injury or it will prolong your condition. Pain means STOP!
  2. FOCUS ON HYDRATION AND NUTRITION. Take this time to focus on nourishing your body with the highest quality of nutrition possible. Depend on quality not quantity to heal your body. Hydration is the number 1 nutritional deficiency in North America. This would be a good time to get good at drinking water.
  3. HANG YOUR EGO ON THE DOOR. This was always one of Bob’s favourite expressions. An overactive ego prevents us from listening to the body’s own signs of wellness. None of us can make up for lost time by jamming 3 weeks worth of lost time into one day. Time lost is time lost. You can and will make it up.
  4. MUSCLE MEMORY. The body has a precise recovery mechanism. Extra heavy workouts or longer running times, interfere with this process and make us prone to injury or illness. In the time you were off (in my case nearly 3 weeks), I didn’t make gains but nor did I lose much. I know that a few light workouts will put me back in the game quickly.
  5. NO NEED TO CRY. Missing workouts can make us feel depressed. The science behind this is proof of that. We now know that exercising for 30 minutes a day at a MHR of 65% or higher, supports a healthy and happy brain. When we miss our regular training, our feel good sessions, it’s natural to feel blue. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, turn your attention to what you can do. Sleep, heal, recover, nourish and plan your upcoming workouts.
  6. DEVELOP YOUR PLAN. With extra time on your hands, use it well to plan your return to training. Decide what exercise you wish to engage in, what race you want to run, what physique goals you have and map it all out on your calendar. Look for contests you may want to participate in. This gives you a goal and plenty of planning time. When you do make your return, pare down your workout effort to 75 – 80% of normal if you have only lost one week. The first two or three workouts should be light and easy, helping you get back into your groove, particularly for the injured area. If you have missed two weeks, pace yourself, aim for 60 – 70% of normal workout capacity. With regard to weights, this means lifting lighter and performing minimal 8 – 10 reps to get the muscles accustomed to moving again. A good weight lifting workout would be to perform 2 sets of 20 reps using very light weight for the entire body. The same applies to running. Your first few sessions after illness or injury should be performed at an intensity that does not overly tax either the injury area or the cardiovascular system. Anything more than two weeks hiatus, requires that you adjust your training significantly. Take two weeks of modified training to get back on track. Use the 2 sets of 20 reps weight lifting workout for at least a week. If running, early runs should be very light, perhaps 60% of normal capacity. Include some sprints and consider doing a fartlek of 6×3 minutes for 5K. Then walk it out for 10 minutes. Follow up with a normal, non challenging run pace.

After my workout interruption I made my return to training by doing flow yoga classes and rebounding. I worried that in the yoga classes some of the poses would tax my breathing but since yoga is all about breathing and working at your own practice, I was fine. It felt grand to be moving again. With regard to rebounding, I am accustomed to doing 60 minute sessions, but felt fine doing 20 minutes. I know I can work my way up to longer times quickly. I have already mapped out my weight workouts – I can see my dumbbells from here, calling my name. I’ve got a date to train!

Remember, I am always listening.


Tell me about your illness/injury recovery training. I want to know what you did to get back. Post your comments in the Comments section below.

Tosca Reno

Author, columnist, motivational speaker, reality TV star, radio personality, consultant, mother and wife, Tosca Reno has been inspiring millions with the Eat Clean™️ Diet series and sharing the success she's had with weight loss and Clean Eating.


  1. Tosca I broke my knee 4 years ago and I am 37 pounds heavier than the day I broke it. I have tried many times to “start” again but then I feel the pain before I even step on the elliptical so I know it is all in my head. So after reading this I am bound and determined to get back to it once again. THanks for the article. I will keep you posted on my progress.

  2. I have a tear in my miniscus, its hard to do anything too strenuous lower body. Trying to find workouts to do for the lower body that won’t strain my knee more. I had that exact workout journal you have in pic and loved it and can no longer get it much to my disappointment.

  3. I have tearing on my plantar fascia and haven’t been able to train legs in 12 weeks. Have tried leg extension and hammy curls but pointing the toes aggravated the condition. Have continued to train upper body 6 days a week and infra red sauna in lieu of cardio.

  4. I’ve been dealing with a knee injury for 3 months. Normally I teach 9-12 fitness classes a week. I pushed it too much and made my knee worse which has resulted in me severely buckling down on myself. I am not doing any cardio or leg movements that cause pain. I am doing ARP Wave Therspy sessions which has greatly reduced my pain. I have seen a knee doctor and know this is tendinitis and it WILL heal. I train my upper body & core 5-6 days a week, eat clean and get plenty of sleep. I don’t think I of myself as “injured” anymore. That wasn’t getting me anywhere. Instead, I am getting stronger everyday and I know one day I will be back to my athletic lifestyle.

  5. While in the middle of training for my Ironman, over the family day weekend in February I came down with the flu and like you mine was going into bronchitis as well, ended up on medication and away from training for 2 weeks. Started back, not sure what happened, but my left calf is injured when I started running again. Finished the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington 2 weekends ago and the calf really acted up. So going for deep tissue muscle massages and haven’t ran for a week now. Been doing cycling and swimming and that does not bother. So I am still getting my cardio with the swimming and it is really easy on the body. Cycling was great as well on Saturday. Drinking about 3 litres of water and icing the calf and following my deep tissue massage orders. This week has been much better. Was able to do some strength training today with the leg. Maybe a short run will be in cards. Will wait and see, as I have a full marathon for May 1st.

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