SHOULD YOU WORKOUT WHEN SICK?
Do you know the worst thing about being sick?
It’s not the banging headaches, or the tissues stuck to the side of your face.
If you’re a gym rat like me, it’s the impact it has on your workout schedule.
Missing a few days at the gym sounds as appealing as pooing a hedgehog, when all you want to do is gulp your pre workout, flip your cap backwards like Stallone and smash seven kinds of f**k out of the squat rack… but you can’t.
… or can you?
Today I’ll be taking a look at what science says regarding training when sick. Is it a no go? Will it help you to recover faster? Let’s find out.
SHOULD YOU WORKOUT WHEN YOU ARE SICK?
If you ask this question on the gym floor, you’ll receive a selection of different answers based on personal opinions.
Some will say no, because you’ll feel weak. Some will say yes, because exercise will sweat out the virus. Heck, I recently conducted a poll on my Twitter page about this and the anwers were 50/50.
So which gym bro is correct? Unfortunately, as you’ll see below, it’s the one you didn’t really want to listen to. You should NOT workout when sick.
Let’s break it down…
YOU CANNOT SWEAT OUT A COLD
You can not do this.
Contrary to fitness memes, sweat isn’t made up of “toxins”. It’s just water.
So anybody claiming that you can rid your body of illness just by sweating is, for want of a nicer word, an atomic thunderc**t.
They are mistaking the release of exercise-induced endorphins with the feeling of recovery. Exercise always makes us feel great, but it shouldn’t be confused with a cure. Once those endorphins fade away the illness will remain.
YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM CAN’T RECOVER PROPERLY
The body’s immune system is at WAR with the illness you’re suffering from.
Our body will eventually win the war.
However, by continuing to place stress on the immune system as we exercise, all we’re doing is delaying that process.
Enter the “neck check” system.
Before deciding whether to go to the gym, a 1996 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training recommends looking at WHERE your symptoms are occurring. If they are below the neck (i.e. chest pains, coughing, shortness of breath, tightness, vomiting, etc), then you are going to be severely restricted in the weights room and it’s highly recommended that you don’t attempt to train. If your symptoms are above the neck (i.e. sneezing, headache, etc) you could probably still train but will be forced to greatly reduce the intensity of your workout. (1)
Which brings me to the next thing…
YOUR PERFORMANCE WILL DROP
If someone asks the question “Can you still build muscle when you’re sick?”, then the answer is yes.
As far as the body is concerned, the process for building muscle is exactly the same. It doesn’t know any different.
However, it’s not this simple. Rate of perceived exhaustion (RPE) would be significantly lower, and we’d be unable to provide our muscles with the progressive overload they require in order to grow stronger. We’d likely just be going through the motions, delaying our recovery time in exchange for a couple of half-a**ed training sessions.
Plus, we should probably take other gym members’ health into consideration (especially after 2020, I don’t want another lockdown!). Nobody wants to be the guy that started a merry-go-round of flu that wiped out half the gym.
So there you have it. You should NOT workout when sick. The next time Man Flu 2.0 strikes you down in a blaze of glory, you are well within your rights to grab a bottle of red Lucozade and feel sorry for your f**king self.
Uncle Russ said so.
- Weidner, T. G., et al. Sport, exercise, and the common cold. J Athl Train. (1996)