Training When Sick? Learn How To Listen To Your Body
On one of those days in particular, even though I was resting at home and had gotten enough sleep the night before, I felt tired and kept procrastinating instead of just getting up and going to the gym. Being someone who loves going to the gym and working out, that is very unlike me. Over the years noticed, that if I’m not feeling like working out, it is usually a sign that I should pay attention to. Often it means that something is off with my body and that I should consider staying home and resting instead.
If you’re an avid gym-goer who usually always looks forward to going to the gym, maybe it’s the same for you. But I know that for many people, that might not be a valid indicator of whether you should stay home or not. Some people are just looking for any excuse not to go to the gym, and others will want to go and smash their workouts even if they are too sick to be out of bed.
So regardless of which category you belong to, I thought it would be helpful to do this guide on how you can find out if you’re too sick to go to the gym!
Spoiler alert: You need to learn to listen to your body.
The Above/Below The Neck Rule
Learning to listen to the body is key, but that takes time. Having some guidelines to follow may help you when you’re still unsure whether you should train or not. The main rule that I follow when trying to decide when it’s safe to go work out, and when to stay in bed and rest, is The Above/Below The Neck Rule:
Symptoms above the neck = YES you can do light/moderate exercise.
Symptoms below the neck = NO you should not exercise, aim for rest instead.
You can work out if you’re only experiencing symptoms “above the neck” such as a light headache that doesn’t get worse from physical activity, sore throat, runny nose, coughing, and congestion.
In that case, you’re going to be fine to do a light to moderate workout and that can maybe even boost your immune system! I recommend that you aim for 30-45 minutes (indoors, by yourself) of something like walking, stretching or full-body strength exercises.
If you’re having symptoms below the neck such as fever, headache that intensifies when standing/exercising, muscle/joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, malaise, or if your symptoms are getting worse, new symptoms are appearing and/or your symptoms have lasted for more than 3-4 days without subsiding, you definitely want to rest and should maybe consider seeing a doctor.
Can you go to the gym if you have a cold?
If you have a cold or the flu, you should not go to the gym! Instead, exercise at home until your symptoms have subsided. It is common courtesy to stay away from the gym (unless you have a gym at home, of course) if there’s any risk that you’re carrying something infectious! You don’t want to risk getting other people sick, so if you have a sore throat and a runny nose, I strongly encourage you to do some walking (also outside), stretching or a light full-body circuit at home, instead of going to the gym and putting others at risk.
The Treadmill Test
If you’re just feeling a little under the weather but you don’t have any symptoms that can indicate you’re infectious (ie. you have a headache or you feel tired for no apparent reason), it’s ok to go to the gym and try the “Treadmill Test”
This is a gentle and effective way of testing whether you’re sick or not if you’re unsure. Maybe you feel demotivated to train, you have a light headache, stomach/period cramps or you just feel tired for no apparent reason, and you want to know if you should push through the feeling, or if you should take it easy.
Walk at a brisk walking pace for 10-20 minutes (maybe add an incline) and see if you start feeling more energized or if you can genuinely feel your body is not at it’s optimal.
This is an effective test that I use myself as recently as in my “FIRM + FIT Episode 1″ announcement video where I cover how I was soooo excited to go to the gym and smash a workout on the day when I started my new diet! But for some reason, I kept procrastinating and when I finally went to the gym and started my warm-up, I felt something was off. After doing the treadmill test I had to accept that my body wasn’t at it’s optimal for whatever reason (I didn’t have any flu or cold symptoms) so I ended up doing a shorter, lighter workout. The next day I felt better, I never got sick and I didn’t completely miss any workouts!