Should You Exercise When Sick?
Red Bank, Rumson, and Fair Haven are currently being torn apart by a mini cold-and-flu season, and sessions are being missed left and right.
(So please excuse me while I obsessively wipe down my studio.)
But in the meantime, clients are asking questions like:
- How sick is “too sick” to exercise?
- At what point should I cancel a session?
- How should I change workouts for when I’m not feeling my best?
Here’s a quick and handy guide in five steps for approaching workouts when you’re not feeling 100% – whether you’re truly down with the flu, or just fighting off a little seasonal allergies.
Step 1: Listen to Your Body
If you are plagued by malaise and have no energy, this is a reliable sign from your body that you should take it easy. Go back to bed.
But if you’re feeling just a little “off” but have the motivation to exercise, then you’re probably good to go. I would still advise modifying workouts to match your level of energy, but we’ll get there in Steps 4 and 5.
The human body is really great at putting a damper on energy when you should conserve it – so if you feel like you just need to sleep off your bug, then that’s probably what you need to do.
Step 2: Ask Yourself, “Where Are My Symptoms?”
In general, symptoms from “the neck up” are cleared for exercise. For example, if you have a scratchy throat, a runny nose, or itchy eyes, you’re probably fine to hit the gym. It could just be allergies or an extremely minor cold.
But if you have a deep cough or fever/chills, then you should definitely sit out exercise. Whole-body malaise is not something you should try to push through – just like a sports injury.
Step 3: Ask Yourself, “Would I Send My Child to School with These Symptoms?”
Or imagine yourself as a teacher. If you were a teacher, would you want a child with your symptoms in their class that day?
If the answer is “no,” don’t exercise.
Step 4: Consider lower-intensity activities.
If you’re cleared to exercise based on the first three criteria, then you may want to consider modifying your workouts.
If you usually run, take a walk or an easy interval run.
If you usually lift heavy, lift lighter.
If strength training doesn’t feel right, do an incline walk on the treadmill.
The idea is to decrease stress on the body, because intense exercise temporarily dampens immunity. This means that if your body is trying to fight off something, the last thing you want to do is ramp up stress and make yourself more vulnerable to viruses.
If you’re feeling just “okay” or “meh,” it’s possible that you could maintain your routine while decreasing intensity and stress, so that you keep moving but don’t overdo it.
Step 5: Focus on the “big rocks” of a workout.
I just discussed this concept with a client on Monday. If you go to the gym and feel a little low on energy, focus on the most important aspects of a workout. If it’s a workout I wrote for you, that’s probably the first 4-5 exercises.
So if your workout looks like this:
- Dumbbell chest presses
- Single arm dumbbell rows
- Single leg hip thrusts
- Lateral band step-outs
- Lateral arm raises
… Then cut the bottom 40%.
The deadlifts, pull-ups, chest presses, and rows are the money exercises – the rest are accessory exercises that help to build muscle and maintain strength, but aren’t the “growth points” of the workout.
As I frequently discuss with clients, it’s not all-or-nothing. You have choices about how you scale exercise up or down in your lifestyle, and when you’re not feeling well, it is right to scale down. Listen to your body and know that you’ll be feeling better – and able to re-focus on your goals again – very soon!
And in the meantime, boost your immunity with:
- Plenty of good sleep
- Adequate hydration
- Extra Vitamin C
Need help figuring out your workout routine? Stay healthy this fall and winter with smart workouts and nutrition. Click here to set up a call.