Should You Workout If You Are Sick?

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QUESTION:

Marc,

I was wondering if workouts (cardio, weightlifting or both) should be halted during a common cold or if you should “sweat it out” as some say.

Common sense tells me that the body should fully recover before engaging in an intense workout, but is a light day or a less intense cardio day okay?

On one hand you don’t want to break progress by waiting too long between workouts, yet on the other hand, you don’t want to remain sick because the body will have to allocate nutrition in building muscle tissue as opposed to building an immune response.

Thanks for answering,

Vaughn

ANSWER:

Vaughn,

Good news!

You can workout when you have a cold BUT only under certain conditions. Let me elaborate before I ramble on.

You Should Not Workout If:

* You have a fever
* You feel nauseous
* You are highly contagious and in a public gym

You Can Workout If:

* You just have a mild cold (upper respiratory illness)

Many people that I know of, including myself at one time, did some pretty intense workouts while sick.  And not just everyday common cold (sniffles and sneezing) sick but flu-like sick.

Not only was it irresponsible of me to bring my funk into the gym but Karma was paid back when my body couldn’t recover and I ended up prolonging my illness an extra week or so.

You see, working out when you have a mild cold is not a big deal. In fact, if you engage in light cardio, you’ll feel better. It will help to open up your nasal passages and let you breathe easier. Recovery will not be hampered because it’s a mild cold and you are doing a light workout. Just to keep moving really. Nothing intense at all.

What I don’t recommend is that you workout with weights unless it’s following the same principles.

Light. Keep that in mind. You are not there to get stronger, more fit or build muscle. You are there to feel better, to keep moving and get the added benefits that working out will help you do.

Believe me…

When I’ve done a light cardio workout a couple of days after the worst of the cold is over, I feel a lot better.

Why cardio?

Seems to me that working out with weights does not give you that cardiovascular benefit. I’ve never felt that great when I have a cold and hit the iron. I’ve always felt better when I just do light cardio for about 20 minutes or so. Nothing intense mind you. Strictly warm-up to pace
levels.

Frankly…

The research has shown that doing cardio when you have a cold has the greatest benefits. Working out with weights has not had the same effect.

Let’s face it…

Being sick is no fun! But if you over do it, you will just prolong your illness. So keep that in mind when I say light. You are there to feel better not improve or break a personal record.

Next time you are sick, go do some light cardio. Heck, even just walking around the block will feel pretty good.

Your recovery will not be compromised as long as you go light.

I urge you to take care of yourself first but after that, see if some light cardio helps you feel even better and recover faster.

Hope you feel better!

UPDATE: Based on the two studies below, people who assessed their own symptoms and only had a URI, didn’t prolong or make the symptoms worse.  Working out with a simple cold won’t make it worse or make the symptoms worse.  However, it does annoy your fellow members (sniffing, sneezing) and depending, could spread the cold.

While it might be fine physically to hit the weights, just be conscious of others.

Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise May 1997; 29(5):604-9
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise November 1998;30(11):1578-83

Marc David
“The NoBull Muscle Guy”
www.nobullbodybuilding.com