Fitness JourneysGeneral HealthMotivation

Crap! I’m Sick! Can I still workout?

Despite all my best attempts at hand washing and sanitizing, somewhere 30,000 feet above the Earth between Colorado and Minnesota, a little “bug” left the snotty nose of the little girl behind me and found its home in me! Did I curse her silently while she screamed bloody murder for 75% of the flight while constantly jabbing the bottoms of her little feet into my back? You bet I did! OK, so maybe I got god smacked. I’ve since spent the last four days battling a sore throat, runny nose, cough, fatigue, and a voice like Frankie Pentangeli from The Godfather.

Every year countless fitness journeys are abruptly derailed by illness lurking silently behind the smiles of family, friends, or coworkers. Illness is something that has the power to cancel your fitness routine, and damage your fitness progress as much as serious injury. Whether it’s a cold or the dreaded flu, the question that always raises its panicked head sooner or later is “Can I still workout?” Considering the location of your illness and the source of your discomfort is a good way to assist in answering this question. “Is the illness located in your chest, or your head?

“My Head”

It’s generally fine to workout moderately if you’ve developed a head cold, which may include symptoms such as minor sinus pain, light runny nose, sneezing, etc., as long as you have a normal energy level and are not feeling overly sluggish. Keep in mind that working out has the possibility of limiting the effectiveness of your body’s immune system, since working out causes it to use resources it could have potentially used to fight your illness. Important rules to remember are to ensure that you’re drinking plenty of water (about 4 quarts/day), and getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs by still adhering to a diet that’s rich in lean meats, fruits, and vegetables.

“My Chest”

According to Stew Smith, who is a former Navy Seal, a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), and contributor to, “The rule is if your chest is congested, you have a fever, chills, (are) dehydrated, or (exhibit) any other cold ailment from the neck down, DO NOT WORKOUT.” Anaerobic activity of any kind has the potential of causing your run-of-the-mill chest cold to develop into bronchitis (inflammation of the mucous membranes of the bronchi), or even pneumonia (an inflammatory condition of the lung that often results in the abnormal alveolar to fill with fluid) by putting excess strain on your heart. The hard pill to swallow for some in this scenario, including myself, is that resting and drinking plenty of fluids is absolutely the best thing you can do for your body. No reputable study has ever concluded that you can shorten the length of a cold by exercising and “sweating” it out of you. In reality, working out too hard when you’re ill can make you even more sick, and also raises your risk of injuring yourself.

The quick little fitness rule of thumb can be summarized as: “Head, go ahead. Chest, give it a rest!”

Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Wash your hands often and use hand sanitizer, especially after visiting the gym.

Sound off 1, 2! Feel free to respond the the questions below, or say whatever rocks your socks!

Q1. Have you ever worked out ill? If so, how sick were you and what effects did you experience (if any)?

Q2. What precautions do you take to prevent getting ill and disrupting your fitness routine?

Hope your week is rocking!


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  1. I used to work out sick as long as I didn’t think I was contagious with anything. Now I’m a little more cautious and tend to take the day off or do a very light workout at home if I’m feeling ill.

    My horror story is that I once had blood clots in my lungs but was diagnosed with brochitis. They gave me medicine but it didn’t get any better. After 2 weeks I was sick of taking it easy so I went and did sumo deadlifts for reps with 365, and a couple other back and arms exercises. My sets went OK but I couldn’t breathe between sets. Soon after that I realized something was really wrong when I couldn’t walk up 2 stairs (that’s 2 stairs, not 2 flights of stairs) without having to sit down to catch my breath. Eventually I went in the hospital and was saved, but my advice is that if you can’t breathe well, don’t train.

    1. That’s great advice Steve. If you’re having breathing trouble you should at least stay home and rest, and probably should see a doctor.

      Remember that doctors aren’t gods, and nobody knows your body more than you do. Ask questions, be informed, and always be willing to seek out a second opinion.

      Your story sounds a bit like what Serena Williams is going through right now. We at wish her a successful treatment, and a speedy recovery.

      I’m glad everything worked out for you, and that you’re still healthy and sharing your fitness passion with us all.


  2. I’ve worked out while sick on many occasions. If it’s the flu, i won’t bother, as I’ll just make myself feel worse. With a cold, it always makes me feel better.

    To prevent myself from getting colds, etc. I take all my vitamins, get lots of rest, and try to take good care of myself.

  3. Glad to hear Todd.

    Vitamins, proper rest, good food, and exercise are truly the keys to great health!

    Since starting my own fitness journey I’ve definitely noticed that I’ve gotten sick a lot less. When I have gotten sick the illnesses have been far less severe, and my recovery time has been much quicker than when I was out of shape.

    Take care,