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Getting Sick and Working Out

Cold and Flu season is upon us.  Right around now you start to hear those around you getting sick, sneezing and coughing.  Though we can boost our immune systems by Exercising, eating well and taking the proper vitamins, (for me it’s Shakeology), it is pretty much inevitable that we will get some sort of cold/flu this winter.  For me cold/flu season used to be very rough.  I used to get sick at least 2-3 times per year.  Now, it’s not as bad.  I even managed to go 2 years without getting sick at all at one point.  But even for someone as stringent with their diet and exercises as me, the winter cold/flu usually will take hold at some point.

I attribute my lessening of illness to eating well, exercising (thank you P90X and Tony Horton), getting plenty of rest and listening to my body.  Unfortunately I was out of town at a convention in Vegas and now I am battling a cold.  Lack of sleep and being exposed to circulated air all day/night will do that.

So Before I get the question, “Should I workout while sick?”, I wanted to pass on what I have learned and what I do when I get sick….

1.  Listen to your body. This is very important.  You need to determine how sick you are.  If it is just  a minor head cold then chances are you can do a light workout while you are sick.  Basically, if you feel around 90% then you can do a light workout.  If you have something more severe, Fever, Sore Throat, Chest congestion, stomach flu, then you more certainly should NOT workout.  For me, I always way on the side of caution.  If you are unsure whether or not you should based on how you feel then don’t.  There is no point in pushing yourself beyond your limits to get a workout in.  It will only make you more sick.  For example:  Yesterday I felt over 90% so I did a light 30/15 (chest/Back) workout.  Today I am feeling around 90% so I decided to take a rest day and recover.

2.  Recover and Don’t Worry About It. I used to stress out about missing workouts due to illness but guess what?…I am still in tip top shape even though I had to miss a week or two due to a bad flu last year.  Your progress will not be hindered in the long term.  Just move your recovery week to the week your sick and move on.

I also did some research and found a great article from Steve Edwards.  Who sums it up nicely with this tip.  He is a nutritionist and has been involved in the development of P90X, P90X2 and other Beachbody products and is a well of health/fitness knowledge.  Here is what he had to say regarding working out while being sick:

“There are no hard and true rules on this but, basically, if your working out is prolonging your illness than you’re better off not doing it.

It’s said that low-level exercise during a cold is fine. I would agree to a point but the variables are huge. You need to learn what your body can handle and is capable of. Exercise can also weaken an already weakened immune system and cause you to get sicker.

As for me, some colds I exercise right through and others I completely stop. It sort of depends on what it is. Here is a protocol that works for me (usually, sometimes I screw up and make things worse).

In the initial stages when I feel like I’m coming down with something I back WAY off. When others around me are sick I try and keep a close eye on my body and how it’s reacting. Often, when you are fighting something your adrenaline goes up and you can use this to fight off an infection or get a great workout. Sometimes I don’t notice the signals, get the best workout I’ve had in ages, then wake up the next day sick. If I can read the signals and I back way off, including getting extra rest and proper nutrition (pass on drinking with buddies, etc), add extra zinc and vitamin c, I can often miss the cold entirely. Then my few days backing off allow me to get back to normal without really missing anything (as a day or two of easy training almost never hurts you).

If I blow it and get sick, then I really baby myself in the initial stages. This is when you really need your immune system. Sometimes I’ll go easy but if I feel rundown at all, I just skip my workout in favor of extra sleep or downtime.

After the initial session with the illness, when I’m certain it’s not getting worse, I’ll start exercising again. Not hard, but something. This is enough not to lose much fitness for some time.

Near the end, I usually feel a point where it’s time to hammer the cold into submission. Often, a really hard workout will wipe away the final remnants of the illness. But occasionally, I get this wrong, in which case I may relapse a bit. But I usually get it right.

Another thing that’s a gauge is your morning resting heart rate. Over the course of an exercise program, this should remain constant of go down. If it goes up more than a few beats per minute than something is going on. You are over training or getting sick, and in either case you need to back off until it drops back down.

Sorry it’s not a definitive answer but I don’t think there is one. Hope this helps.”