Should you train when you're sick?

I recently received a text from an online coaching client, who detailed to me that his training wasn't going too well. This was due to him falling ill with a bout of the flu.
It got me thinking. Winter is coming and I know that we have all become sick at one time or another, so I thought I would shed some light on the subject of training when sick, or ill.
As a competitive athlete and active gym enthusiast, I can definitely resonate with the frustration of not being able to exercise, or train--due to being sick.

It sucks!!

I'm sure you have been sick at some point and asked yourself, "should I exercise, or just rest?"

This article is designed to give you some information about what is going on and also help you decide what to do next time you feel under the weather and aren't sure if you should get active, or just wait it out.

1.   Listen to your body

You only have one body, so it's very important that you look and listen to the signs that the body is displaying. If you miss the obvious signs you could be out of action longer than you want!
Don't confuse this for just being tired, however. Think more along the lines of when your body isn't functioning as it should and when there are clear signs that something is wrong. 
Things like feeling lethargic, having no energy, feeling nauseous, constant headaches are more what we are talking about here. When you feel and can see something isn't right, it's time to listen to the body, and respond.

Fulla Strength and Conditioning

2.   Lower immune system function

When you are sick the main concern for the body is to fight the infection. It needs to preserve life (Keep you alive).
All things outside of that are secondary.

The body wants to 'protect the organism' and make sure you don't die!

That's first and foremost, and if you can remember that, you are in a good position.
With that understanding, you can imagine that the body probably wouldn't want to be stressed more than needed at a time like this. So, the main focus needs to be on helping the immune system regain strength and get you back to 100%.

Some ways you can strengthen the immune system are;

  • Eat foods that your body can tolerate
  • Be sure to intake 'nutrient dense foods' (Colourful vegetables and fruits)
  • Drink adequate water (Around 2-3L p/day)
  • Avoid strenuous exercise/exertion

3.   Gradual build up and re-introduction to food and exercise

Having common sense, especially when you have been sick is critical when returning to exercise.
Don't go crazy and think that just because you 'feel a little better' that you are back to normal. You're probably not quite there, yet.

Gradually re-introducing exercise and foods over a period of about a week is a more sustainable way to return back to full function. 

When you're under the weather, sometimes you don't feel like eating, so don't force it. Just return to regular eating as you feel fit.

Slowly does it.

There is no harm in having a build-up process to get you back to where you were, before sickness.
That, to me, is a very sensible approach and will help to strengthen the immune system to hopefully prevent the severity of infection in the future.

4.   Slowly increase the weights and intensity back into your training

Following on from point 3, don't assume that you can just jump back in where you left off. That won't happen.
Like I detailed earlier, your body has been focusing on other things, NOT prioritising strength and fitness increases. So, let's be realistic about it and take things down a notch.
Back the weights off a bit, reduce your intensity, or effort in training for a week and then gauge it from there.
Is taking a week to 'get back into the swing of things' really going to kill you or your progress???

5.   Fight your body and you will lose!

When you try to ignore your body's signs that you are not right and go full steam ahead, that's when you can get in trouble.
To have a healthy and strong immune system, we need to find a middle ground of exertion, to strengthen it.
Too little exercise, we don't strengthen it. Too much, we weaken it. (This is shown by the J Curve below)

Fulla Strength and Conditioning

Don't be a hero and try to 'push through it', because you will lose! 

 If the body can handle a light-moderate walk, then work that. If it can't handle it, back off a little. 
It's like when I have an injury. "It only hurts when I do X". Well, then don't do X! Very simple, really.
The take-away points that I hope you got out of this are that your body is looking out for you. It might just need to shut down some functions (like, exercise) for a little until it's back to full operation.
Lastly, when you do resume lifting weights, running or participating in group classes, don't go a million miles an hour. Just get through the first few sessions unscathed and then press on.
I don't wish anybody to get sick, but I know it can happen. I just want you to be prepared for it and help you strategise your return back to 100%.
Until next time,

Train smart!



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