Times have changed and gone are the days of training hard when you’re sick.
Let me cut right to the chase with this one. Your body needs rest to fight off and recover from a sickness.
For today’s sake let’s assume you have a common cold – stuffy nose, headache, sore throat, congestion from your lungs to your sinuses, lower energy levels and so on.
The good news? You’re not actually dying and you CAN certainly still workout. Can I get an amen?
Your workouts SHOULD change when you’re sick. You are not 100% therefore your body is not 100% and should not be treated as such. Could you probably push through and perform well? Hell yes, I did it for years. And my sickness stuck around for at least three times as long as if I would have backed off and swallowed my pride #lessonlearned.
Believe it or not, your body’s resting metabolic rate (RMR) is actually faster than normal when you’re sick because your immune system is working on overtime to get your cold to surrender.
This is also why you should eat as normally and nutritiously as possible when sick. Click for more info on eating when you have the flu.
So, there are three things to consider when choosing how to work out when sick:
If you can get 8-10+ hours of sleep the following night or take a hefty nap that day and days to follow, working out is YES. If you are going to get less than 8, do some light cardio and make time for a nap. Your body already needs more sleep than normal and it will likely be lower quality than normal due to being sick. Get your sleep and workout or go on a walk and don’t get sleep.
Keep this simple. If your sickness is hanging out in your lunges and five 400’s are on your workout for the day…it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine that it would be a very poor decision to choose cardio as exercise when you have a chest cold… I hope you’re with me on that one.
If your body aches but your lungs feel great, that might be the time to do a light circuit plus some cardio. Listen to your body, be open to switching up the workout if something is not going well.
You can alter your workouts depending on the answers above. This is up to your discretion + it takes a little trial and error. You are quite literally learning your body when working out while sick.
If you wear a heartrate monitor like Polar, my personal favorite, pay attention to your heartrate. You can do this easily by keeping the heart rate lower than it normally would be during workouts. For example, my high heartrate is typically in the 180’s during a workout. When I’m sick I keep my heart rate under 170bpm and the average is typically 140-150bpm or lower. You’re just moving to move and get the blood flowing when sick.
With either of these options you are essentially creating a deload week where you do 50-75% of the volume and/or intensity as your normal week demands.
Replace big compound movements (multi-joint movements) that elicit a large muscular and cardiorespiratory stress on the body with single joint exercises.
The above suggestion is based on doing more of a bodybuilding based workout.
If you prefer to keep the big compound movements in, that is a fine route as well. Just take off the heavy load OR do less reps. Make sure you are lowering the volume or intensity SOMEHOW.
With keeping the big lift, I suggest altering your accessory work in any of the following ways:
Keep listening to your body throughout your time being sick. Is it getting worse after workouts? Is your heartrate way higher than it should be for the work you are performing? Pay attention to your body’s response to the training and adjust accordingly.
Make sure you can get rest and that the training is not taking a toll on your body’s ability to recover and beat the sickness.
I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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