How many reps and sets with Chronic Illness?

  • How many repetitions should I do?

  • How many sets should I do?

  • How many days should I be exercising?

  • How many rests day should I have?

I get so many messages about this, both about the exercises I post specifically and workouts in general with chronic illness. It’s a difficult question to answer in a couple of lines as it varies so so much. 5 key variables when designing an exercise program are:

1) intensity 2) repetitions 3) rest period 4) sets and 5) exercise selection

All of these factors can be manipulated to make your workout easier or harder.

In the fitness industry, there are also so many different training protocols depending on the results you are after. For strength training, depending if you are trying to grow muscle size you generally lift much heavier, for fewer reps than if you are training for muscular endurance where your lift light weights or body weight, but for more reps. There are then within that various ways to structure reps and sets, with supersets, drop sets and pyramid sets. There are another million techniques for cardiovascular training, with aerobic or anaerobic interval training and circuits. Then there is the studies about how many times to train and rest periods needed. There is a lot of research into all of this, to achieve ‘results’ in the best way and many competing trainers on social media convinced their method is the ultimate one.

I have researched all this from a physiotherapist perspective and then again as a personal trainer, I agree with the principles and I understand how the science works. But then I look at those of us with chronic pain, fatigue and dysfunction and it nearly all goes out the window.

NEARLY. The same training principles do apply, but they apply in a completely different way. We are not functional able bodies looking to excel and progress, but instead we are looking for ways to move and increase our function. Our goals and needs are very different, so the requirements for how we train are also very different.

Most of my clients have pain, fatigue and had multiple injuries and operations. Pain affects how everything works, it affects how muscles are activated and how our muscles switch off too. Injuries, dislocations, procedures, operations and medication all leave their traces altering how our body moves. We have to recognise the impact this has on our bodies, we cannot expect to exercise in the same way as others.

What are the recommendations?