Should you workout when sick? Or is rest the best medicine?
When you're sick it's sometimes difficult to know when to train and when to back off and rest. Because you don't want to fall behind with your training. And you certainly don't want to undo all that good work with your diet. So should you workout when sick, or curl up in your bed and forget the gym? In this article, I'm guiding you through the 3 rules I live by.
First off. And probably most importantly let me say this. I am no doctor, so what do I really know about giving medical advice? Nothing is the answer to that! So this is just me telling you what's worked for me over the years and what rules of thumb have worked for me. But if you’re in any doubt, then always consult your doctor before smashing yourself stupid in the gym.
And with that out of the way, let's crack on with the main part of the article.
Should you workout when sick, or should you rest?
Should you power through your illness, man up (or woman up), and stick to that programme, so you don’t fall behind? Or should you take a rest, put your feet up, grab the Ben & Jerry’s and mope around for the next 7 days?
Getting sick is a pain in the ass!
There's lots of reasons why we get sick. And lots of degrees to the severity of that sickness. And it's these elements that can determine whether or not you should train. If you wake up one morning sounding like you've been possessed by Barry White, then training may be off the cards. Because while that might make your voice sound deeper and more appealing to opposite sex (assuming you're a guy), it also means you're sick.
For me, I usually get sick when I'm hit by a combination of different things, and I'm sure you can relate to a few of them. Travelling is a big one for me. More often than not, spending a few hours in the 'trump tube' (aeroplane) leaves me feeling rundown. Because being trapped in a flying tin can full of other people's farts and germs is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Add a lack of sleep in uncomfortable hotel beds, and limited access to high quality foods. And hey presto, you feel like crap, you've got a runny nose and feel generally miserable.
And for those of you that are parents, I feel for you. Because as much as you love those little darlings, they are a breeding ground for germs. You can guarantee that if there's some col or flu going around the school, little Johnny is going to get it. And that pretty much means you are too!
So what should you do and how should you adjust your training? Here's rule number 1.
Should You Workout When Sick? - Rule #1: Could you be an extra in The Walking Dead?
When you wake up in the morning on day 1 of feeling ill, you still feel like shit and barely wanted to get out of bed. Undoubtedly, that 6am session in the gym is looking less and less attractive. But should you drag yourself there anyway and train?
So, if you feel like death warmed up and look like you could land a part in The Walking Dead, then for god’s sake give yourself a break. In fact, ask yourself this question.
If you went to the gym would you be able to get a solid workout in? If the answer is no, then don’t bother. Go back to bed, wrap yourself in the bed sheets and work on get better instead!
One day away from the gym is not going to unravel your progress. And I can guarantee to that hammering yourself when you feel like this will do you more harm than good. And I know that you have a mental issue in taking days off the gym (I've been there myself). But breaking that cycle is the best thing you'll ever do. So, in a weird way, your sickness might actually be helping you.
Should You Workout When Sick? - Rule #2: Can you be effective?
So now it's day 2 and you feel a bit better. You're less Walking Dead and more Return of the Jedi era Darth Vader with his mask off. Essentially, you're mildly better than yesterday, but still coughing and spluttering all over the place. Your chest is tight. But again, you're not sure whether to hit the weights or give it a rest.
And this brings me on to rule number 2.
If your illness is below the neck, then don’t train.
And what do I mean by that? So, that basically means if you’ve got a chesty cough, stomach pains, joint pain, and symptoms of that nature then training is probably not a good idea. For example, let's say you have a cough. Training with those symptoms is going to but a strain on your breathing. And you don't need to be a genius to work out that's bad. In fact, it's probably going to lead to some problems or at the very least extend your recovery.
Again, I’m no Doogie Howser MD, but intuitively this makes sense. If you’ve got an illness that’s affecting your lungs, then pushing yourself hard in the gym surely makes no logical sense. And that strain on your respiratory system is going to be worse if you intend to do some intense cardio. So, you'd have to be a bit of a tool to think that a HIIT session would be a good workout when sick.
And if you’re still in doubt, refer back to point one again. Can you really have an effective workout?
Should You Workout When Sick? - Rule #3: Don't train like a d*ck!
Now it's Day 3 and this is usually just a day of pure recovery. Medicine is ramped up to the maximum. And the main goal is to drink as much lemsip max strength as possible. All of which is followed by a few slugs of cough medicine to try and shake the worst of it.
But by Day 4 you probably feel ready to hit the gym. The cough has gone. And you almost feel back to 100%. You feel good. You feel alive. And more importantly, you feel like going to the gym would actually be productive and give you some benefit. So that’s exactly what you do. You make your way to the gym for chest day (the standard first day back workout) to get right back on track.
And this is where rule number 3 comes into play.
Rule number 3 is about what you do when you get back to the gym after a break for feeling ill. And it's an especially important rule if you're not completely 100%.
Rule number 3 is TAKE IT EASY.
Ultimately, you’re not back to full fitness and you’re still recovering. Smashing yourself into oblivion with an extra long and extra hard session is a recipe for disaster. You’re still rundown from being ill, so don't run yourself into the ground when it’s not necessary.
Ease yourself back into training gently. You can still do weights, but just dial back the intensity and volume. There’s no need to extend your recovery period by being a bit of a brainless douche bag. Treat it as a bit of a deload week. Light weights and reduced volume are the order of the day. Just think about the long game and not rushing back in to it immediately.
Should You Workout When Sick? The Final Word
And that’s pretty much it. No need to over complicate things on this one. It’s all pretty much about common sense and listening to your body. Let me quickly summarise everything for you.
The bottom line is this. If you feel sick then taking a few days off training to recover is not the end of the world. And in fact, more often than not, it’s the right thing to do.
After all, you’re not going to slip so far back in your training that you’ll turn into a fat blob. And despite what the Instagram memes say, the weights DO NOT miss you! They’ve got plenty of other people to keep them company while you’re away.
So use these 3 rules as a bit of a guide. But always consult your doctor if you’re unsure.
And if these 3 rules don’t convince you to be sensible about whether or not you should workout when sick, then think about the unwritten rule number 4.
Rule number 4 is don’t go to the gym if you're sick because no-one wants your frikkin germs! I for one certainly don’t want to be grabbing a set of dumbbells after you’ve sneezed all over your hand and wiped it all over the equipment. So get yourself back to bed and keep your snot nosed, zombie-like body to yourself and don’t spread those germs!
Hope you feel better soon...
What About Nutrition?
So now you know what to do with your training, what about your nutrition? Well this one is a lot more tricky to give you advice on because it really depends what your illness is. Because sometimes you won't feel like eating at all and other times you'll have an appetite, but maybe not for the food you normally eat.
Let's assume you're not too bad. You've got a little bit of a cold, but nothing serious. And although you're not on death's door, going to the gym feels like a bridge too far. Now, you could go to the extreme of recalculating your macros based on a sedentary activity level. But who's going to do that? Not me, that's for sure!
In this scenario, I'd take 100-200 calories off my maintenance calories and use that as a guide. I generally find that with a basic cold, eating as normally as possible is the best way. Keep things low-fat and higher fibre. And definitely make sure you get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Because you're going to want to dose up on micronutrients.
But like I said it generally depends on how you feel and what you've been struck down with. Ultimately, just listen to your body and go from there.
Need Help Sorting Out Your Nutrition?
Now, if that all seems a bit overwhelming and confusing, don't panic. I want to help you get the perfect nutrition plan that gets you to your goals and is full of foods you love. And if that sounds good then I've got a free online nutrition workshop you can register for by clicking the image below. In the workshop I'll walk you through the exact approach I use with all my clients to achieve great results. And it's also the approach I use to build my own physique.
By the end of the workshop, you'll have everything you need to achieve some fantastic results. And all without selling your soul to plain chicken and rice for every meal.
So if that sounds good, just click on the image below and register for free.
Happy training and happy eating.
Simon - IPF