I just recovered from the worst cold/flu I’ve EVER had. Through this 2 week process, my fellow gym-goers observed that I had changed up my routine and began asking questions about working out while having a cold. Here are some of the questions and my answers
First, I am not a doctor, and I do not play one on television, but my experience with my own body and working with many others has taught me several things when dealing with exercising with an illness. Here are my “rules” when dealing with a cold.
Should I work out when I’m sick?
Here’s my simple rule: From the neck up, LET’S GO! From the neck down, HECK NO!
If your illness is a simple head cold or allergy symptoms, let’s get some weights moving, take more frequent breaks, and keep the breathing and sweating less than normal. Yes, you can do cardio but it might be a little tougher since inhibited breathing will effect performance. But, hey, if we stopped our lives every time we got a sniffle, we’d never get anything done.
If you’re experiencing symptoms from the neck down (very sore throat, lower respiratory tightness or cough, tummy issues, or body aches) I say get back in bed and rest. Your primary fuel systems (air and food) are effected so your chances of getting benefit from exercise are low, and your chances of aggravating your cold is high. Let your body catch up and heal.
If “neck down”, how long should I wait before working out again?
Set reasonable expectations on your recovery. In my experience, neck down takes a week MINIMUM to recover from. Yes, you might not have symptoms after 48-72 hours, but “symptom free” doesn’t mean full recovery. It just means “not sick anymore”. 100% is when your condition is better than BEFORE you caught your cold. Exceptional illness requires exceptional recovery. Once the primary symptoms are better, take another day or 2 off, then ease back in with a low intensity workout and ramp back up from there. This is a great way to avoid a relapse and keep yourself up to catch the next bug you run into.
“How much progress am I going to lose by taking time off for a cold.”
Not as much as if you don’t slow down and let your body catch up! Often people with colds get very short-sighted, focus only on the progress they are losing, and jump back in too early. Get better, then get more fit. For those goal-oriented folks, make your new goal “Do EVERYTHING to get back to 100%”. Sleep more, eat colorful, vitamin and mineral dense fruits and vegetables, drink water, and REST! Do this, and it will only take a few workouts to get back to full strength.
Regardless of what I have to say, you know your body so YOU are the real expert here. You’ve had colds before so listen to your body. Check your symptoms, especially your temperature and energy level, and if you feel like exercising, then go for it. But if you’re feeling extra sluggish, the best thing you can do to improve your physical condition is REST and get 100% better!