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Is it ok to exercise or go to the gym when you are sick?

By September 2, 2010January 13th, 201711 Comments

Are you after the answer you want to hear or the one which will see you resting your sorry ass on the couch for at least a week.

There is a grey area involved for anyone that’s powering through their exercise routine on a 3 to 4 day basis each week. We don’t want to stop for anything. Let alone a pesky bacterial cling-on who has made it’s home in our nasal passage.

I’m sick with a chest infection as I write this, so take it from me when I tell you the following information — there is a time for fitness obsession, but this isn’t one of them.

Why do we go to the gym when we’re sick – It’s hard to let go!

The first signs that I’m sick normally slap me in the face with a large trout when i’m sweating before I’ve even walked through the gym door. Something just doesn’t feel ‘quite right’. Sure enough, 12 hours later I’m bed-ridden.

I’m not THAT sick, maybe i can train a little bit

What’s the point. If you aren’t going balls out, then you will hinder your progress. Sending negative feedback to your muscles that the 5 sets you used to do at a set weight you are now only doing 3 sets of (due to being run-down).

Your body will go “Thanks buuuurday! Now I can get a little bit weaker and still handle what you throw at me in the gym-aaaage”.

Because your body sounds like Pauly Shore when it talks.

A little bit of exercise is better than none though surely?

Not when your body’s fighting off infection. Physical exercise will make your condition worse sending you into a downward spiral of mucus-filled awesomeness. If you place further physical stress on your body through exercise, this means that you will be increasing the demand on your body’s resources, thus reducing the effectiveness of your immune system. If this demand is too great, infection can spread.

I’m gonna go to the gym and train anyway… it’s just a little cough

Your fellow gym goers will LOVE you for this. Nothing beats someone coughing their lungs up all over the nearest treadmill. Don’t be surprised if someone pulls a knife on you just to show their approval.

But my gains will go backwards!

No they won’t. You can afford to take a week or so off from the gym. You should be doing this as part of your routine anyway. If i take a week off every few months, i generally come back just as strong if not a little stronger on some lifts as the body has had time to strengthen itself.

Fatigue will be the hardest thing to combat when you return

This is one thing you’ll notice when back in the gym after being sick. It’s as if you’ve been on holiday for a month. The body has been hit pretty hard by illness, and its energy reserves are depleted. You might wanna take it easy on your first few workout sessions back, otherwise you may do yourself an injury or twelve.

So is it ok to go to the gym or exercise when you’re feeling sick and run down?

The simple answer is yes— if you don’t mind taking longer to get better, are partial to a possible injury and enjoy spreading your hate-fuelled diseases. Be smart about your health. The gym will always be there when you get back. You’re likely to hit it with even more gusto than before you fell sick.

Editor’s note: People coughing and spluttering everywhere at the gym are candidates for the Douche-Bag Top 20. Have you ever been caught training when sick? Confess your sins below.

Clint Nielsen

Author Clint Nielsen

Clint is a dad and husband trying to stay in shape. He's also a highly opinionated fitness enthusiast and author of Reveal The Steel. Follow him on: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Google+

More posts by Clint Nielsen

Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Cassie says:

    Haha. So funny. But also very true.
    I think its getting back into routine that is the hardest bit. And the fact that you feel a bit weaker once you return. But I’m pretty lazy and often have trouble staying motivated. Especially after a break from the gym.

  • Being sick is challenging if you have a fitness obsession, but I completely agree that it’s pointless to train if you’re just going to further wear your body down and exercise at half intensity. Rest up so that you can feel better sooner and get back to your normal routine.

  • You hit the nail on the head Clint! I DO NOT train when I am sick…which isn’t very often. In fact…I can’t really remember the last time I was sick other than a hangover. ;-)

    But when I am sick, I don’t train….for the exact reasons you listed above.

    Let’s hope a lot of people read this post so they get the point too!

    Hope you feel better soon!

  • Clint Nielsen says:

    Thankfully the ‘weakness’ you feel goes away after the first week or so and you return to where you were pretty quickly. Lucky it’s a speedy process, or we’d never return ;)

    Exactly. The chances of you making any progress are slim-to-none whilst you are sick.

    Thanks mate, I’m on the mend as we speak and hope to be back to Visual Impact on monday.

  • Clint,

    When you’re sick, your body is trying to tell you something: take it easy for a few days. I’m never in the mood to workout when I’m sick, so I don’t. I try to get plenty of sleep and rest so I recover faster.


  • I think it depends on how sick you are. I havent had a cold in a while, but when I did I enjoyed going into the gym and breaking a big sweat, then going into the steam room to re-charge. It definitely worked for me and I had a great sleep that day. however if you’re weak, there is no gain from going to the gym at all, it will just make the recovery that much harder.

  • Clint, I this this is a great topic. I would even take it further and split into the two questions:

    1. is it OK to workout while you are sick?

    I think the answer to this question is ABSOLUTELY as long as you have energy to do that.

    2. is it OK to go to gym while you are sick?

    And the answer to this question is far more complicated :) I would personally suggest that when people are sick they stay home and do a light body weight workout (P90X is the first thing that comes to mind) or go for a run.

    Of course being sick means different things to different people. I will not workout only if I am sick to the point that I can’t even walk and I feel like I am about to lay down and die. Others might think that they need a break when they sneeze once or twice :) Really depends how hard core (or dumb) you are :)

    • Clint says:

      Absolutely – I agree that the level of ‘sickness’ will dictate how fit you are for exercise or whether it’s even possible.
      I think it comes down to the type of training you’re contemplating on doing.

      Scenario 1 – you have a chest cold and are considering interval training – Might be a bad idea :)
      Scenario 2 – you have a chest cold and are considering an easy walk – Completely fine.

      At the end of the day, you have to use your best judgement for that.

      In the case of going to the gym with a contagious illness (flu/cold/pink eye or similar), you know where I stand on that. Stay home. Please.

      • you and I are in complete agreement on this one :) although I tried doing HIIT when I was sick (last New Year I did full Insanity workout when I was sick just because I thought I had to be tough :) ). It was not fun.

        By the way, another great topic would be how to do a recovery workouts after being sick or after a serious injury. For example, I just had a surgery on my left knee. I had to skip about 6 weeks of leg workouts because of this and gained some extra weight because I could not do any cardio. I am trying to work my way back and also trying to figure out how to push myself hard enough without doing too much. I would be really curious to hear your thoughts on this subject. Perhaps this would warrant a separate article?

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