Should You Work Out When You Are Sick?


Should you work out when you are sick? If so, how hard should you train? How sick are you to be able to actually work out? Keep scrolling to figure it all out.

When you’re feeling under the weather, the question of whether to train or rest is a common dilemma for fitness enthusiasts. In today’s discussion, we delve into the specifics of training when sick, guided by insights from Dr. Mike of Renaissance Periodization.

Dr Mike Israetel, PhD in Sport Physiology and co-founder of Renaissance Periodization, is a well-respected professor in the bodybuilding community. He doesn’t only talk about workouts and fitness tips, he often dives deep into health and nutrition.

We’ll explore the nuances of different types of sickness and provide practical advice on how to handle your workouts during these times.

Should You Work Out When You’re Sick?

First and foremost, it’s crucial to assess the severity and nature of your symptoms. Sickness can broadly be categorized into three subtypes, each requiring different approaches to training:

  1. Mild Peripheral Symptoms:
    • These include symptoms like a runny nose, mild sore throat, and no fever.
    • Training Advice: It’s generally safe to continue training with some modifications. You can either:
      • Maintain your planned weights and exercises but reduce your sets by one-third.
      • Opt for a recovery session, halving the weight and sets. For instance, if you’re squatting 200 pounds for six sets, reduce it to 100 pounds for three sets. This approach helps decrease overall fatigue and supports your immune system in recovery.
  2. Moderate Peripheral Symptoms:
    • Symptoms are more pronounced, such as a significant sore throat and runny nose but still no systemic symptoms like fever.
    • Training Advice: Here, you can:
      • Continue with recovery sessions until you feel better.
      • Alternatively, take complete rest from training and focus on sleep and nutrition. This helps prevent the illness from worsening and supports faster recovery.
  3. Systemic Symptoms:
    • These include fever, body aches, extreme fatigue, and flu-like symptoms.
    • Training Advice: Training is strongly discouraged in this scenario. Your body needs all its resources to fight the illness, and adding physical stress can prolong recovery and increase the risk of complications. Rest, hydrate, and seek medical attention if necessary.

Can You Sweat Out a Cold?

Steps To Get Back To Your Gym Routine After SicknessSource: Sora Shimazaki on Pexels

Practical Examples

Let’s break down some practical examples and real-life analogies to make these concepts clearer.

Mild Symptoms

Imagine you wake up with a slight sniffle but otherwise feel strong. You could:

  • Proceed with your usual workout but cut down the volume. If your plan was to do six sets of squats, you could do four sets instead. This reduces systemic fatigue and allows your immune system to stay robust.

Moderate Symptoms

If your symptoms are more severe but not debilitating, such as a very runny nose and sore throat, consider:

  • Performing recovery sessions with significantly reduced weight and volume.
  • Taking complete rest for a few days to fully recuperate. Avoiding the gym when symptoms are moderate helps prevent spreading illness to others and supports your body’s healing process.

Severe Symptoms

With systemic symptoms, such as a fever and body aches, training is off the table. For example:

  • If you have the flu, pushing through a workout can lead to severe fatigue and prolonged illness. Dr. Mike recounts his own experience of lifting weights with the flu and the subsequent negative impact on his health.

Related: 5 Steps To Get Back To Your Gym Routine After Sickness

Additional Considerations

  1. Public Health: Training while sick, especially in a communal gym environment, can spread germs and affect others. If your symptoms are contagious, it’s considerate to stay home.
  2. Long-Term Perspective: Missing a few workouts is better than prolonging illness or risking severe health issues. Fitness is a long-term journey, and short breaks due to illness won’t derail your overall progress.
  3. Mindset and Recovery: Emphasize recovery through proper sleep, hydration, and nutrition. Listen to your body and prioritize your health over short-term training goals.
tired athlete holds towel to forehead

In conclusion, the decision to train while sick depends on the type and severity of your symptoms. Mild symptoms might allow for modified training, moderate symptoms suggest a more cautious approach with recovery sessions or rest, and severe symptoms call for complete rest. Always prioritize your health and well-being, ensuring your body can effectively fight off illness without additional stress.

Stay healthy, listen to your body, and remember that rest is sometimes the best form of training. Your long-term fitness journey will benefit from thoughtful and informed decisions during periods of illness.

Can I train if I have a mild cold?

Yes, if you have mild symptoms such as a runny nose or slight sore throat without fever, you can continue training with some modifications. Reduce your workout volume by cutting sets by one-third or opt for a recovery session with reduced weight and volume.

What should I do if my symptoms are more severe but I don’t have a fever?

If your symptoms are more pronounced, such as a significant sore throat and runny nose, it’s best to either perform very light recovery sessions or take complete rest. Avoid strenuous workouts to prevent the illness from worsening.

Is it safe to work out with a fever?

No, it is not safe to work out with a fever. Fever indicates a systemic infection, and your body needs to rest to fight off the illness. Training with a fever can lead to complications and prolong your recovery time.

How can I tell if my symptoms are too severe for training?

Symptoms like fever, body aches, extreme fatigue, and flu-like symptoms indicate that your illness is too severe for training. In such cases, rest, hydrate, and allow your body to recover fully before resuming exercise.

What are the risks of training while sick?

Training while sick, especially with moderate to severe symptoms, can weaken your immune system, prolong recovery, and increase the risk of complications such as more severe illness. Additionally, you may spread germs to others in communal gym environments.

How long should I rest if I’m very sick?

The duration of rest depends on the severity of your illness. For mild symptoms, a few days of modified workouts or rest may suffice. For more severe symptoms, such as fever or flu, rest until you are fully recovered, which might take a week or more.

Can light exercise help with mild cold symptoms?

Light exercise can help maintain your fitness and might boost your mood when dealing with mild cold symptoms. Opt for low-intensity activities like walking, stretching, or a gentle yoga session.

Should I avoid the gym if I have a cold?

Yes, if you have contagious symptoms like a runny nose or cough, it’s considerate to avoid the gym to prevent spreading germs to others. Consider home workouts or light exercises in a private space.

How can I maintain my fitness if I need to rest due to illness?

Focus on nutrition, hydration, and sleep to support your recovery. Light activities such as walking or stretching can help maintain some level of fitness. Once you’re well, gradually ease back into your regular training routine.

Is it better to train lightly or rest completely if I’m not feeling well?

It depends on the severity of your symptoms. For mild symptoms, light training or recovery sessions are fine. For moderate to severe symptoms, complete rest is often the best choice to allow your body to heal.





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