Sick of Training

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:

Joint Ache



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.

Scott Sonnon

What's the difference between what you're describing and the classic "overtraining"?

You know I'm just askin'...I'd hate for you to explain it all. =)

Keep training hard,


I enjoyed reading that...but...paging Dr. Jonwell! Paging Dr. Jonwell! I don't want to steal his thunder, but I think he's gonna want to know exactly what these toxins are...can you be more specific?


Everytime there is a post about a cleanse or fasting recommendation, the discussion of toxins usually turns into an ugly debate, so I'm glad you posted this. You even covered water intake...which was another area of disagreement here in the past.

I hope this thread turns into something good and you stick around to answer questions b/c I tend to fall in line with your beliefs on the subject, but have never bothered to do enough research to adequately defend my viewpoints.

How prophetic of you, Hef :P (and I'm not a doctor)

Scott I'm just curious if you could present any evidence of a herx occurring as the result of exercise- I've only heard of it occurring with antibiotic treatment for syphilis or something like that.

"What's the difference between what you're describing and the classic "overtraining"? "

Overtraining was my first thought as well.

This is an interesting explanation of something I've experienced several times this year (including my students).

We amp it up for a couple of weeks, then before you know it these symptoms come up.

These "sick" days became so predictable that we knew when to amp up our glutamine, calories, our sleep.

These days tend to happen when we're "breaking in" a new program.

Is this based off of empirical scientific evidence, or theoretical pseudoscience?

I'm highly interested in knowing more about this:

"The more bacteria stored in your tissues ?" -are you saying most healthy individuals store bloodborne pathogens ? I was under the understanding bacteria are common on the surfaces of the body exposed to outside elements, however I did not know that we store bacteria deep within our tissues. (midichlorians? what about non-jedis?) Do you have a source for this?

If it's the latter (theoretical pseudoscience) then no response is expected, thanks for your time.

ttt for data


I know you aren't a doctor, but wasn't your SN Dr. Jonwell for awhile or am I imagining things? Sorry I didn't realize you changed it...and a mod now? Guess I've been away for awhile. Anyway...what a surprise to see you on this thread! :P Not prophetic by any means...everyone knows you are the resident debunker of and you're drawn to toxin discussions like a fly to poo flakes.


I too am curious about the toxins. These are the classic symptons of overtraining, but Scott Sonnon is obviously trying to describe the cause, not the symptons. So if overtraining is caused by toxins, then what are they (10 years ago the answer would have been "lactic acid")? Fatty acid toxins? If overtraining is not caused by toxins, then what exactly is "overtraining"? (Not, what are the symptons, but what does cause the immune system to be overloaded and subject to flus and sniffles?) Or is it like trying to explain why the body needs sleep?

Highly conditioned athletes are always on the edge of breakdown--during the American running boom of the 70's, many people noted that marathoners were the sickest bunch of fit people around. Balancing training with rest--being just this side of overtraining for certain training cycles--is a key to progress.

Also, what exactly is MetCon? I googled it with mixed results, some say its aerobic training, some say its anaerobic mixed with aerobic, I think.

And do you notice this phenomenon more with younger athletes than older? I always used to be on the edge of overtraining as a college athlete, but now I never am and I am the picture of perfect health and fitness. Maybe I've just learned to listen to my body and be patient enough to apply lessons learned. (Or maybe I'm not pushing myself hard enough, but I doubt that.)

That is what a good coach should be there for--many times, not to push the athlete harder, but to be the first to recognize and respond to overtraining, as Scott Sonnon seems to be doing.

If you're experiencing overtraining symtpons for weeks, though, as in his examples, either you or your coach really need to step back and examine your schedule. There are no program related reasons to be in an overtrained state for that long of a period. Your program is just wrong for you. You're wasting valuable training time.

I've never trained elite athletes, though, so I could be wrong about all the off-the-top of my head stuff I've written. I'm always happy to learn.


The toxins for this specific condition aren't of any particular mystery- the Jarish-Herxheimer reaction is fairly well understood- what is not understood is how it can come about when the entirety of the literature on the subject deals with it resulting from antibiotic treatment for people with serious illnesses. Really, search pubmed for Herxheimer and you won't find a single reference to exercise related problems, they're all related to treatment with antibiotics.

Not only do I have to wonder how exercise could cause this specific condition, I also wonder how Scott could accurately diagnose the condition and indeed whether or not he feels it's intellectually responsible to attempt to do so when he's not a medical professional.

If you can offer some justification here, Scott, please feel free.

TTT for Sonnon

Sounds as though Scott has a theory and was just throwing it around. This is never a bad thing in my opinion. He is not claiming to be spreading a great new medical truth, or explaining the cause of everyone's overtraining symptoms, he is simply putting an idea out there. I too am on the scientific justification bandwagon, but I am not gonna bash the guy for testing the waters. I learned a bit from this thread, but I am not gonna go tell people they "got the Herx" when they are tired, or are trying to train at a level inconsistent with their preparation.

I can't believe people fall for this stuff.

if you have that much bacteria stored in your tissues and bloodstream your septic and are about to die. Training hard wont help you, but a trip to icu with hardcore antibiotic treatment and surgical removal of said diseased part will help.

a much more likely explination would be that when you train hard your taxing your body. When you tax your body your immune system is weaker. If you train with a bunch of guys your exposing your immune system to whatever is naturally in them, or your own surroundings. Then you get sick... then your body gets better.

Thats more likely.


if you have that much bacteria stored in your tissues and bloodstream your septic and are about to die."

Maybe i don't understand the reference because i didnt read the article, but there are more microflora in your intestines than there are cells in your body. About 3 to 1 if i'm not mistaken. But maybe you meant something else.


Doug, yes there are microflora lining the digestive tract, but as far as I know they do not exist beneath the surface layers; unless Sonnon can divulge his top secret soviet research stating otherwise, we are not supposed to have bacteria internally within the blood stream, or we are ill/have infection.

Hopefully he will have a Personalized Pathology Performance Pyramid Portfolio to share with us that will better illustrate this top secret KGB research.

It's more like 10:1, and the populations are acquired shortly after birth. It's a fascinating thing, really- clickeroo

But I think Sourcheese is talking about bacteria where it shouldn't be. Syphilis for example can infect your aorta and your CNS.

(Bah, Herts scooped me)

you need that stuff in order to have a healthy digestive tract. its not parasitic in nature. its when one grows out of perportion to the other that causes a problem.