Sunday, January 29, 2012

Training When Sick: Alright or a Bad Idea?

It's that time of the year. Winter is upon us and everywhere you look is a person sneezing and coughing. We try our hardest to avoid these people to prevent ourselves from getting sick but sometimes it's just inevitable. After weeks of avoiding the germs, you finally come down with something. Now what? Should you still train?

General Guidelines

First off, if you are contagious and train at a public gym, you shouldn't train while you are sick out of respect to the other members. Gyms are already a germ infested environment. Spreading more germs around isn't helpful or considerate to the other members.

If you are not contagious, then there is a chance that you can still train. If your illness is above the neck such as a cold, you are free to train. It may be annoying to work out with a cough and runny nose but you are safe in doing so. If you have something below the neck that affects your chest like pneumonia, it is not safe to train and can actually be dangerous. I'm speaking from personal experience here. A couple of years ago I had pneumonia and attempted to come back to the gym sooner than I should have. I did a set of deadlifts and couldn't catch my breath after. I got light headed and it took me a few hours to feel normal again. Learn from my mistake and stay away from the gym with any sickness below the neck.

Just a Cold: How to Approach

If you just have a cold, the good news is that you can train. In fact, research has even shown that training while sick can help you get better faster. Exercise has been proven to strengthen your immune system to a certain degree. A person who does no exercise will generally have a weaker immune system than someone who exercises regularly. However, people who train excessively tend to harm their immune system.

What this means is that you should decrease the intensity if you decide to train while sick. You should avoid failure on all exercises and try to keep the duration of the work out under an hour. If you do cardio, avoid anything high intensity such as HIIT. Stick with low to moderate intensity cardio for no more than a half hour. If you do this, you will probably recover from your cold a little quicker. If you are someone with the mentality that you must go all out every time you are in the gym, then you are probably better off just taking the week off and waiting until you fully recover to avoid making it worse.

Preventing Future Illness

No one is immune to sickness so no matter what you do, you will get sick again in the future. All we can do is minimize the risk of getting sick again by taking a few precautions.

1) Get Enough Sleep: Getting enough sleep is essential for your immune system. Without enough rest, your body won't be running optimally and you will be more exposed to sickness.

2) Wash Your Hands: You have been hearing this since you were a kid and probably still don't always do it. Everything you touch has germs. Think about where your cell phone has been and how many times a day you touch it. Think about how many times a day you go to the bathroom, how many people's hands you shake, pumping gas, etc. Your hands are dirtier than you realize and if you touch your face after, you are just asking to get sick.

3) Get Your Flu Shot: There is no reason to risk getting the flu when a simple shot can prevent it. It won't prevent other illnesses but the flu is pretty intense. If you can eliminate the chance of getting it, you should do it.

4) Supplements: There are certain supplements that if taken regularly, can help strengthen your immune system. These include both vitamin C and vitamin D3. These won't really do anything if you are already sick so it's best to take these year round for the benefits. NOW Foods Vitamin C and NOW Foods Vitamin D-3. is what I use.


To sum everything up, if you are contagious you should stay out of the gym out of respect to the other members. If you are not contagious, then you can train if you have a sickness above the neck like a cold but you shouldn't train with something below the neck like pneumonia because it can be dangerous. If your sickness is indeed above the neck, then training can actually help you get better a little faster. However, that is only if you back off the intensity since going too hard can just hurt your immune system and make it worse. To help prevent future illness, you should get enough sleep, wash your hands regularly, get a flu shot, and take both vitamin C and vitamin D3.


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