The Art Of The Comeback!

Injuries suck! Learn what I did after recovering from pneumonia and how I gradually got back into training!
I was on a roll and every week, I felt unstoppable. Isn't it great when training flows like a river and every session feels great? Well, that is how I felt for several months and then it came to a crashing halt on November 23rd 2002. I came down with a horrible fever. I had not been that sick in over five years. Well, I did what I had to do and took a week off from training to get over the fever. Unfortunately, it took about ten days until I felt like I could resume training. After a few days of training, I came down with a cold, which eventually turned into a horrible case of pneumonia.

My left lung gradually filled up with pus and bacteria until it eventually became completely blocked. At that point I was only functioning on one lung. I tell you what, never ever take healthy breathing for granted. Having only one lung working is one of the worst experiences that I have ever had and I felt like I was literally going to die. Every task became an effort. I would go downstairs to pick up some laundry and by the time I walked up one flight of stairs, I would be winded. To make matters worse, I am not some couch potato that considers walking to the car to drive to the mailbox at the end of the driveway a workout. I was in great shape before I came down with the pneumonia. It was a horrible feeling to go from feeling strong to feeling so weak.

The story does not end there. My lung became completely blocked a few days before I was to fly to Uganda to visit my parents (father works for the IMF). I tried to make an appointment with a doctor before going, but it was the weekend and no one was available. Thus, I decided to suck it up and make the twenty-one hour flight from Los Angeles to Uganda. The flight would have been pretty bad if I were healthy. However, having only one functioning lung made it ten times worse. To make a long story short, I survived the flight and went to a doctor immediately when I arrived in Uganda.

"The doctor told me that I was lucky to be alive and that most people would not have survived the long haul from Los Angeles to Uganda."

The doctor diagnosed the problem right away and proceeded to stick a tube in my back to pull all of the pus and bacteria out of my left lung. Three liters of nasty green stuff came out that day. The next day I went back and he pulled one more liter out. I felt a huge difference right away and was relieved. I was on strong antibiotics for ten days and then some milder ones for a month. The doctor told me that I was lucky to be alive and that most people would not have survived the long haul from Los Angeles to Uganda. He continued to state that I must be in great shape and that I must be tough mentally. That was an enlightening moment that forced me to ponder about what is important in life and how being fit can save your life in ways that you might not have imagined.

After a few weeks of recovery, I decided to get back into training. I made sure to not make the mistake of jumping back into the game to fast. Instead, I took what the Buddha called the middle path and realized the art of the comeback.

Weeks 1-3: - Getting Started

It is never much fun to get back into training after having a lengthy and stressful layoff. The key is to admit that you are weaker and that it is going to take time to get back to your former level of conditioning. Nothing worth having occurs over night, including getting into shape.

I started my road back by doing simple bodyweight drills such as: pushups, one legged squats, janda sit-ups, and headstand leg raises.

I did not add any resistance to any of these exercises during the first week of training and just stayed within my limits on each exercise. Even though I proceeded with caution, I could not believe how sore I was the next day from the one-legged squats and pushups. I guess I should not have been surprised. Regardless, it was still shocking. During weeks three and four I added resistance to the pushups by using a rubber resistance device called The "Power Pushup 2." For one-legged squats, I increased the reps and did the same for janda sit-ups and headstand leg raises. By week four, I felt pretty good and felt like I was getting back into the swing of things.

Weeks 4-6

When I got back to Los Angeles in mid January 2003, I decided to resume my kettlebell lifting and knew that I would have to drop down to some lighter kettlebells for a few weeks. Before I got sick, I was doing one arm military presses with an 88lb kettlebell for three to four reps. In addition, I had worked up to singles with two 85lb kettlebells on standing military presses (I added plate mates to two 70lb kettlebells to turn them into two 85lb bells). Regardless, I decided to be smart and play it safe and train exclusively with the 53lb kettlebells for three weeks.

The first workout with the 53lb bells felt horrible. They felt heavy and my body was cracking all over the place when I did various exercises. However, by the end of week two my strength was starting to come back and I was feeling much better. Here is the program that I followed during weeks 5-8.

Monday - Wednesday - Friday

    Two Kettlebell Clean And Presses: Started at 3x6 (three sets of six) and worked up to 3x10 (three sets of ten) by week three with one minute breaks between sets. (Shown W/O Kettlebells)

    Two Kettlebell Bent Over Rows: Stated off at 3x5 and worked up to 3x12 by week three. (Shown W/O Kettlebells)

    Two Kettlebell Front Squats: Started off at 3x5 and worked up to 3x12 by week three with one minute breaks between sets. (Shown W/O Kettlebells)

    Windmills: Started off at 3x5 and stayed at that rep range for all three weeks. (Shown W/O Kettlebells)

    Turkish Get Ups (Squat Style): I started off doing 3x2 on each side and worked up to 3x5 by week three. I alternated these with windmills. In other words, I did windmills one workout and Turkish Get-ups at the next. (Shown W/O Kettlebells)

    Double Kettlebell Swings: Started off at 3x5 and worked up to 3x15 by week three. Again, I took one-minute breaks between each set. (Shown W/O Kettlebells)

The above workout is a basic conditioning program that I used to build a foundation for the heavier workouts to come. It worked very well and I was ready by week seven to train with the 70lb kettlebells again.

Tuesday - Thursday

    Chin-ups: Ladder style. 1,2,3,4,5 (I learned this method from strength coach Pavel Tsatsouline. You start off with one rep, rest 20-30 second, do two reps, rest 20-30 second, do three reps etc) with one minute break and then another round. On my first workout, I barely worked up to three, but was up to five by week three.

    Pushups With Power Push Up: 2 3x10 with four blue bands (160lb of resistance according to Lifeline). I took one minute breaks between each set and was up to four blue bands and two red ones by week three (200lbs of resistance according to Lifeline). (Shown W/O Power Push Up)

    One Legged Squats: 5x5: Five sets of five with one minute breaks.

Mahler Killer Ab Circuit

  • Standing Ab Wheel Rollouts: 1x5
  • Headstand Leg raises: 1x5
  • Janda Sit-ups: 1x5
  • Lying Leg Raises To Behind Head: 1x5
  • Power Breathing: 1x5
  • Vacuum: 1x5

I went from one exercise to the next without any breaks and I took one-minute breaks in between each set.

Weeks 7-9

I felt it was time to add the 70lb kettlebells back into my routine. Week one felt pretty hard and the weights felt heavy. However, by week three everything was coming together and I was feeling much stronger and confident. I also, started training with Paul Chek's "Tornado ball" two times a week and noticed by week three that my rotator cuffs felt stronger in addition to noticing an increase in shoulder stability. Here is the routine that I followed:

Monday - Wednesday - Friday

    Two Kettlebell Cleans And Presses: Started at 10x1 with ninety second breaks and worked down to forty second breaks by week ten. I also started doing super negatives on these sets (taking fifteen seconds to lower the weight). By week ten I tested my strict military press with two 70lb bell and nailed five reps with perfect form and felt like I could have done seven or eight reps.

    One Arm Kettlebell Rows With Two Kettlebells: 3x5 The first week I grabbed two53lb kettlebells with one hand for a total of 106lbs and did five rows on each side. I worked up to three sets of five with a 70lb kettlebell and 53lb kettlebell for a total of 123lbs on one-arm rows on each site.

    Overhead Kettlebell Squats: Started off at 3x 3 and worked up to 3x6 by week three with one minute breaks between sets.

    Windmills: Started off at 3x5 and stayed at that rep range for all three weeks

    Turkish Get Ups (Squat Style): I started off doing 3x2 on each side and worked up to 3x5 by week three. I alternated these with windmills. In other words, I did windmills one workout and Turkish Get-ups at the next.

    Double Kettlebell Swings: Started off at 3x5 and worked up to 3x10 by week three. Again, I took one-minute breaks between each set.

I also applied a technique that I learned from strength coach Pavel Tsatsouline called GTG (Greasing the groove). For greasing the groove, you take a weigh that you can handle for five to six reps with solid form and do sets of 2-3 reps spread out over the course of the day. This is easy for me since I work at home and have kettlebells in my living room.

During week seven, I did 5-7 sets a day on one arm military presses with a 70lb kettlebell for sets of 1-2 on each side. In week eight, I went up to 3-4 reps 5-7 times a day. By week nine, I was up to five reps on each side. I tested my one arm presses that week and I was able to press a 70lb kettlebell 10 times on my right side and eight times on my left side fairly easily.

Tuesday - Thursday

I continued to do chin ups ladder style and started doing some "tornado ball" drills for my core and rotator cuff. The "tornado ball" is a fantastic product and I feel that it really enhances rotational strength and strengthens the rotator cuff tremendously.

Here is the "tornado ball" routine that I followed:

    Wall Chops: 3x12 with one minute breaks

    Kneeling Chop: 3x12 with one minute breaks

    Rotator Cuff Wall Chops: 3x12 with each arm

Check out Paul Chek's article at: http://www.paulchekseminars.com/articles.cfm?select=33 for more info on the above exercises.

After that I continued to do one-legged squats: 5x5 with one-minute breaks to keep the strength up.

Click Here To Print This Workout!

By week ten with, I was training with the 88lb kettlebell again and it felt. I was back to pressing it for reps and snatching for sets of ten without any problems. As you can see from this article, I took a very gradual approach to getting back into shape. Many people probably could have done what I did in five weeks or less. Regardless, I am in this game for the long run and decided to proceed with caution. I am glad I did as it worked out very well.

Going through the horrible cause of pneumonia was a terrible experience. However, being in Uganda reminded me that being out of shape temporarily and what I went through are really just luxury problems. I was fortunate enough to have access to a high quality doctor and was able to remedy the pneumonia fairly easily. Most of the world lives in abject poverty and that was very apparent in Uganda. A lot of people would have died if they went through what I did simply due to the fact that they cannot afford the medical attention. Don't feel guilty for what you have, just try not to take it for granted.

I hope that this article is useful for those of you that are trying to get back into shape after a layoff. However, to be honest, I hope that no one needs this article ever, ha ha.

For more information on the Tornado Ball, go to www.paulchekseminars.com.

About The Author

Mike Mahler is a strength coach and a certified kettlebell instructor based in Santa Monica, California. Mike has been a strength athlete for over ten years and designs strength training programs for athletes, law enforcement, and fire fighters. Mike is available for phone consultations and personal training in the Los Angeles/Washington DC area. For more information, visit Mike's site at www.mikemahler.com or email Mike at mahler25@yahoo.com.

Thanks,