Working Out When Sick

By George Whittaker

One of the most common questions that fitness professionals get asked is whether it is ok to workout when someone is sick. The answer isn’t an easy “yes” or “no”. Different people deal with sickness and injury very differently. What may be disabling to one might feel like nothing but a minor setback to another. That said, there are some general guidelines to follow when you’re sick to tell whether or not it’s a good idea to skip your workout or try and battle through and get it done.

If your symptoms are generally located from the neck up, including a headache, sore throat, stuffy nose, runny nose, or earache…then it is commonly accepted that you can still perform your strength training workout without much fear of causing more harm than good. Now that said, each of these symptoms can be generated from a much more complex underlying illness that would definitely preclude you from training. For instance, if your headaches are coming from viral meningitis, then by all means skip the workout and head to the hospital!

If your symptoms are from the neck down, including a fever, body aches, muscle aches, respiratory illness, etc then you likely will want to skip the workout all together and rest. When your body’s immune system is compromised, adding a catabolic workout process or stress in addition is not likely to be too productive. In fact, with such limited resources available for recovery, you might even be wasting your hard work since the priority will be illness recovery rather than piling up the lean muscle gains at times like these.

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The groups of symptoms above requires some clarifications as well. For instance, if you feel good enough to go to the gym but your runny nose is causing you to wipe your snot all over the dumbbells between sets, consider staying home! There are some great home workouts you can be doing without having to subject the other gym members to your germs.

Same thing goes with the concept of sweating out your illness. If you want to take a hot shower or even take a quick jog, do it close to home. Only one thing grosser than a guy that sweats all over the equipment at the gym is a guy that sweats germ bullets all over the equipment at the gym.

One final note about this topic. I’m referring to weight training workouts. You may be able to get away with a very low intensity walk or jog or even yoga to try and help your body get back moving again without enduring the stress of overload from a heavy weight workout. Use your judgement when deciding whether it’s time for you to attempt these other workouts.