Some fighters who are following the Circular Strength Training® program I designed for Alberto Crane's comeback victory at the UFC have been contacting me over the weeks about a strange phenomenon. Some are experiencing flu-like symptoms about two weeks into the initial phase of metabolic conditioning (MetCon). It's not unusual, and I thought I should take some time out of my schedule to explain why.
Firstly, get everything checked by your physician. That caveat aside, there is a phenomenon known as the Herxheimer Reaction (and sometimes just as "Herx"), which happens when the body tries to eliminate toxins at a faster rate than they can be properly disposed of. High intensity conditioning can act like a furnace to bacteria, and when that bacteria dies, it can release large quantities of toxins into your bloodstream. Metabolic conditioning can release toxic stress chemicals stored in your fatty tissues at the same time. This places a toxic burden on your immune system temporarily, which is why powering up nutrition before metcon days and doubling your hydration after sessions – especially for the first few weeks – is critical!
The more toxic your system becomes, and the more severe your metabolic conditioning, the greater this event becomes, often referred to as a "healing crisis."
When the bodily systems start trying to process this sudden dump of sewage into your system it starts working feverishly to eliminate waste products through any and all elimination channels so it can start to set the stage for regeneration back to normal levels. When an intense physical exercise program causes a large scale slaughter of bacteria, huge amounts of endotoxins (stored within the bacteria) release into your bloodstream. The more bacteria stored in your tissues – and the more intense the session, the stronger their endotoxins, producing even more stronger symptoms in the body to try and process out all the junk.
When an intense physical training program (or for that matter, even fasting and detox treatments) causes your organs (such as the liver – your poison warehouse) to discharge their stored poisons, then these crisis symptoms can happen. When you have a balls-out kick-ass session which causes fast breakdown of fatty tissue (another toxic warehouse), you can experience these symptoms as your body works to process out all of the toxicity.
You often experience it as this temporary increase in symptoms in the first few weeks of turning up the juice in your metcons. About 2-4 days after a very severe session you may feel horrible, like you're coming down with the flue. But these symptoms are part of your body processing out toxic burden, impurities and imbalances.
You may feel horrible for a couple days, but on rare occasions you can feel sluggish for a couple weeks. You'll feel fantastic from your session, and then hours later, just suddenly start to have a host of symptoms like headaches, joint aches, nausea, ear ringing, etc. A lot of fighters unused to this intensity of exercise will feel a little ill during the first few days because it's then that your body "dumps" the toxins back into the blood stream for elimination.
In more serious situations, you may go through small crises like this for a longer duration, cleansing out the toxicity and restoring the purification process of stored waste by-products from high intensity exercise back into a free flowing state. For these more serious conditions, I strongly suggest working with an endocrinologist and/or naturopathic physician.
There are a wide variety of reactions that may manifest during a healing crisis, the most common are:
Hydrate in advance of a session and double your hydration afterwards. To stay adequately hydrated, multiply your bodyweight in pounds by 0.55-that's about how much water you should drink in ounces everyday. For example, a 200 lb. person needs about 110 ounces of water daily. This is about 10 to 12 glasses of water depending on the size of the glass. Juice and herbal tea also help you flush out these toxins. In addition the following will help expedite your elimination of the toxicity: sleep, bowel movements / enemas, acupuncture, massage, steam baths, dry saunas, whirlpools, lots of green veggies, naps, skip your next metcon session.
A final restatement of my first suggestion: see your doctor for a check up. It could be something worse. This isn't medical advice. I'm not your medical doctor. What you're experiencing may not be the above. It could be something that was dormant or not above the radar of your attention until you trained intensely. You may have a severe health issue. Be safe by being certain.