Should you train when you are sick?

Have good gym etiquette

For the most part, our approach to illness has always been simple: if going to the gym might make others sick, then stay away. That counts for the cough, a cold, sore throats, fevers and anything other than general fatigue. Remember, a day is just a day.

That doesn’t mean you can’t exercise at home when you’re sick (more on that below), but try to think of others when you have symptoms.

What about home workouts?

Thanks to COVID, most of us have had to train at home at some point in the last few years. The risk of infecting others is low (unlike your toddler’s daycare) and that means the temptation to exercise when sick is greater.

exercising at home

Here’s the rub: Your normal exercise routine, where you breathe hard and push your body, triggers a stress response in the body. When you are healthy, your body responds and adapts to this stress to become stronger.

But when you’re sick, your immune system is already stressed. Adding more stress with an intense workout (or a long, challenging run) can overtax the system. That means you could get sicker.

My Golden Rule? If you feel that your illness will lead to a lower intense training, then avoid your normal exercise routine. At Born Fitness our training philosophy emphasizes intensity. I’d rather you be healthy and push the limits for a short period of time, than feel like crap for the entire workout.

This doesn’t mean you have to become one with the couch when you’re sick. As long as you’re doing the right type of movement, you can continue regular exercise while you recover.

How to exercise when you are sick

First, be sure to listen to your doctor’s advice when you are sick. If they recommend avoiding any exercise, it is likely that they do so for a reason. However, if you’re cleared to exercise, low-intensity movement can help you feel better faster and recover sooner.

What counts as low intensity exercise? Think things like walking or an easy pace on your favorite cardio machine if you have one at home. Or you could do a mobility circuit. My option is long walks in the fresh air.

walking outside

The key is to keep your heart rate lower throughout the session. You shouldn’t be out of breath at any time or even struggling. And remember, low intensity can look different for each person. Listen to your body and choose an exercise with which you can maintain an easy pace.

Think of these workouts like a day at the spa. You should leave feeling refreshed and energized, not down.

The bottom line

We believe in training hard when you train, but that doesn’t mean you need PR every workout when you’re healthy. Many of your workouts will be “hard hat” days. Just put on your helmet, even if you’re sore, tired, or just not in the mood, and it makes it happen. Those days are victories.

On the other hand, the days when you force yourself to train when you are sick out of an irrational fear of the need to train are a waste. Learn to pick your battles and stay at a high level. And, most of the time, it will lead to good health.

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