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Should I work out while I’m Sick?

Flu season has come and for some it is still lingering.  For me this cold/flu season has been tough.  Until recently I hadn’t been sick for 2 years.  I attribute it to eating well, exercising (think you P90X and Tony Horton), getting plenty of rest and listening to my body.  Unfortunately I didn’t listen to my own advice and over did it when I should have been resting.  Getting sick twice this year already has been a learning experience.  I have been getting this questions, (Should I workout while sick?), a lot lately so I wanted to pass on what I have learned.  After researching I came upon this information below.

Steve Edwards sums it up nicely with this tip.  He is a nutritionist and has been involved in the development of P90X 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.” 

10 comments
Jeff in Chi
Jeff in Chi

i read this two days too late. i had not been sick in some time and thought my body could handle it feeling a little sick (little sore throat, sniffles) blew it out on "Legs and Back." later that night right up to two full days later, BAM! leveled. thanks for the heads up now though. i'll employ it in the future and hopefully cut down on or eliminate this problem all together!

mike
mike

btw i had a question i am on phase 2 i came down with the flu, so for 3 days i couldnt work out should i repeat the week before moving on? any thoughts? thnks

Thomasena Pacifico
Thomasena Pacifico

great site, i found it whilst searching for something else and i am glad that i have. I have bookmarked and will be back.

Jonas Tuner
Jonas Tuner

These are great. I love doing workouts from home.

Jon
Jon

Good advice. Basically my summary of your post is this: Take the time to learn how your body reacts to exercising while sick, and when in doubt, back off or stop exercising altogether until you're feeling better.

Coach Sean
Coach Sean

@George: Great! I am glad you enjoyed it.

Fredrick Doxey
Fredrick Doxey

How often do you write your blogs? I enjoy them a lot

George Sester
George Sester

I wanted to thank you for this excellent read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked your site to check out the new stuff you post.

Coach Sean
Coach Sean

@Jeff: I am glad you enjoyed the read. Let me know if you need help!

Coach Sean
Coach Sean

@Jon: I think that pretty much sums it up. :)