Should I workout when I’m sick?
You would be amazed how often I hear this question. At least once a week I will get a message from a client who are feeling a little under the weather. Saying that they are unsure if they should come in and train, or not.
And — like most things in the health industry — it depends.
Should I workout when I’m sick?
I get it.
You have finally gotten into a solid training routine. Finally gotten in a couple consistent weeks of exercise. Your feeling good, seeing progress, and making change.
And boom — disaster strikes.
A head cold, a runny nose, or even a mild cough.
But are these enough to stop you from working out, or should you just push through?
The “above the neck” rule
When it comes to working out when sick, I tend to stick with what is known as the “above the neck” rule.
This rule simply suggests that if you are strictly experiencing symptoms above your neck, then you are probably fine to exercise. This means that if you have a head cold, a stuffy nose, or a mild earache, you are good to go.
However, if your symptoms extend below the neck (think a chest cough, fever, vomiting, or diarrhoea) then you might want to give it a miss.
How do I know for sure?
Now, while the above the neck rule does provide a simple way of telling whether you should workout or not, it isn’t always 100% accurate.
See, when you are sick, your body is working overtime to get better. It needs extra energy to support your immune system, and often extra rest as well. With this in mind, it is important to remember that exercise places your body under more stress that it needs to recover from.
This can obviously impair your ability to heal.
As a result, even if all your symptoms are above the neck, there are still times when you might want to avoid exercise. These include:
- When you are feeling lethargic and low on energy, or
- If you start working out and your symptoms get worse
If you fall into one of these categories, give your session a skip and get some rest.
But what about my gains?
One of the most common reasons people want to keep training (even when they are sick) is because they don’t want to lose their fitness.
And I get it.
I mean, you have spent all this time training diligently, and now its all going down the toilet — right?
Well, not quite. See, you will be happy to know that it actually takes a decent amount of time to lose fitness.
In fact, if you stop exercising completely, you wont start losing strength or muscle mass until around your third week without exercise. Similarly, it is unlikely you will see any loss of endurance or aerobic fitness until after your second week without exercise.
Note here that I said if you “stop exercising completely”.
Positively, if you can even get in one training session per week, your loss of strength and fitness will be attenuated significantly. This means that if you have a day where you are feeling good, you can sneak in a light session to avoid any losses of fitness occurring.
In short, you have nothing to worry about!
Take Home Message
Should I workout when I’m sick? Well, I think we have answered that question pretty comprehensively.
In my mind, adhering to the above the neck rule is a great place to start. However, if you are simply not feeling up to it, or exercise makes your symptoms worse, then you should probably give it a miss for now.
And no, you don’t need to worry about losing all your gains, because that wont start to happen until week 3 without exercise — so make sure you take some time to recover if you need it!