From fat to fit: Staying the course when one is sick

Will a bout of the flu permanently derail our lifestyle writer’s grand fitness plans?

Adult man lying sick on sofa in living room. Getty Images
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Life gets in the way of so many things, I find. Just when I think I'm getting ahead, making progress with something or the other, I'm thrown the mother of all curveballs and things grind to a halt. And so it was with my training sessions at ­Iconic Fitness in Dubai, where I was three weeks into the Lower Back Fix programme, under the watchful eye and expert guidance of my coach, Hannes Loubser.

I knew it would happen, I just thought it might take a little longer for my momentum to be upset by illness. But then again, my son has just turned two, and has developed an uncanny ability to bring a whole multitude of germs home with him from his nursery group. This time, I was struck with some kind of flu lurgy that sapped me of all my energy. Oh, and a nasty bout of conjunctivitis – highly contagious, so hardly ideal for gym attendance – left me looking like an extra from The Walking Dead.

So I had a week of no exercise, which, I fear, set me back somewhat. And my inability to get enthused about returning to the gym was palpable – I simply didn’t want to do it; I’d rather have an extra hour in bed, thanks. I knew this would happen, too, which is precisely why I decided to journal the whole process.

When I do materialise in the gym, Loubser pats me on the shoulder and says “well done”. He can tell by the look in my eyes that this has been tough. “You’ve made it here, that’s a real positive,” he adds without the merest hint of sarcasm. I can’t help but feel this guy is genuinely trying to help others and that, in itself, is of great encouragement to someone like me, who is completely averse to physical effort. This particular struggle is real.

Read more from Kevin:

Sorting out the diet one week at a time

Getting started with the first workout

Facing the hard truths

Sedentary with sciatica, it’s time for a fitness fix


My back is still hurting, which is to be expected as this is no overnight transformation process. I need to increase my core strength, to help give me better posture and relieve some of the strain I’ve been placing on my lower back. Loubser, while obviously sympathetic to my plight, still has a job to do, so he gets me to warm up on the rowing machine before picking up where we’d left off last time. The exercises differ slightly with each session but are all targeted at long term gains. What surprises me is that, far from being back to square one, I’m able to finish the entire routine without let up.

One thing I will say about myself, is that when I do get to work, I give it my all. I might need to re-commission my bike, but once I’ve done that, I will use it hard – I don’t hang around. And it’s the same with these exercises. When I’m on the third and final set of ten inverted rows (your body is at a shallow angle and you pull yourself up and lower back down using either a horizontal bar or, as in my case, a couple of suspended gymnastic rings), my arms give way on the eighth. “That’s good,” shouts Loubser. “Failure – fantastic!”

I could get used to being congratulated for failure. But in this instance it’s a result of my arm muscles being worked so hard that they can’t go on any more and they “fail”. This causes increased production of lactic acid, which helps the muscles become stronger.

It dawns on me as I head for home, that I’m not exactly enjoying this process, but I’m hating it less and less with each session. And I think that’s down to me noticing results – in that my stamina is increasing, and I’m better able to get to the end of my set of exercises without feeling like I’ve been trampled on by a herd of camels.

With another two sessions under my belt before the week is out, there’s a pleasant feeling of accomplishment. Loubser says I’m doing really well despite the setbacks caused by my being ill for a week. And if he’s happy with my progress, then so am I.