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To Workout Or Not To Workout, That is the Question

Good question.

I get asked this one a lot and after a recent bout of spring sickness I’ve got new insights on this that I hope will help guide you in making the decision that’s right for you. To train, or not to train, that is the question.

Some research shows that light-intensity training while sick can help speed along the illness. It claims that as long as the illness isn’t an upper respiratory sickness, meaning, as long as you aren’t coughing heavily or have build-up in the lungs, it’s generally safe to move lightly.

A lot of people like to reduce the intensity of their workouts when they are ill whereas others will continue full-force with their training plan.

Personally, I’ve done all the options available in order to train or rest when I’ve been sick.

I’m currently training an average of 5 days a week for 9 weeks. The workouts are heavy and intense. When I came down with a mild cold that depleted my energy and left me foggy for 3 days, I made the decision not to train.

I wanted to move, physically my body craved it in short bursts. But mostly,  I just rested. There were episodes where I would go for a brief walk through the park or across the street to the store for cold medicines, but in general, I mostly laid on the couch and recovered.

OFTENTIMES, WE GET SICK WHEN OUR BODIES ARE TRYING TO TELL US TO SLOW DOWN. 

So I slowed down.

Don’t get me wrong, there were moments where I thought to myself, MAN I want to TRAIN. The thoughts weren’t coming from a place of scarcity though, meaning, I wasn’t worried about losing momentum in my training plan or gaining weight over 3 days of no training, or even what my body may look like after days of no activity.

I WANTED TO TRAIN BECAUSE I LOVE MOVEMENT. MOVEMENT CONNECTS ME WITH MY BODY AND KEEPS ME GROUNDED. 

I bring this up because so many people will make the mistake of training through an illness because they’re scared to stop. They don’t want to stop because they’re scared they won’t start back up. Or scared to stop because they don’t want to ‘lose the progress’ they’ve made.

My opinion is this, if you aren’t a professional bodybuilder or competitor where your livelihood (aka income) depends on your performance at a fast approaching competition, then there’s not much reason to push yourself to train through an illness.

But on that note, if you feel the your body could benefit from light movement, by all means, give it to yourself.

I hate to see people push themselves to train when they aren’t feeling well because of the FEAR of losing momentum in their progress. The fear of stopping for a few days to recover and never starting back up.

Truthfully, that’s why most of us don’t stop training, even when our bodies are telling us to slow down, because we don’t trust ourselves enough to know we’ll start back up as soon as we feel better.

Feeling under the weather and not sure if you should train or not? First thing’s first, listen to your body.

How is your energy level? Have you been eating enough to fuel any sort of workout? If the answer to these questions is that your energy feels low and you’ve barely eaten, don’t train.

The same goes with having a heavy upper respiratory cold. Skip the gym and stay in bed. The best thing you can do is give your body the time and energy it needs to heal from the sickness, not from a workout.

TRAINING IS SPECIFIC STRESS THAT WE IMPOSE ON THE BODY. IN PERIODS WHERE WE’RE ILL, ADDING EXTRA STRESS ON THE BODY CAN BE COUNTERPRODUCTIVE TO GETTING HEALTHIER. REMEMBER THAT. 

If your energy is sustained and you’ve been able to nourish yourself, try a modified workout from what you normally do. Drop the intensity: train for a shorter period, take more breaks in the workout, eliminate metabolic work or strenuous breathing and jumping movements.

Or skip that all together and try for a brisk walk the first day, and the second day try the modified workout at the gym.

Perhaps throw in a 30 minute gentle yoga flow to simply get the blood flowing and wake up the body and see how that feels.

IF YOU FEEL MORE EXHAUSTED AFTER YOUR TRAINING SESSION, IT’S LIKELY NOT WORTH IT. 

When you’re sick, you want your body to focus its energy on making your better. When we train through illness, we can misdirect our body’s energy to the workout recovery VS illness recovery.

At the end of the day, this comes down to honoring our bodies and where it’s at in illness recovery.

In the end, the biggest take away for training while you’re under the weather is to listen to your body and illness symptoms. Studies show that mild, short duration exercise may boost the immune system while speeding along recovery. Extraneous, strength building workouts should be avoided when you’re ill. Don’t fret, I know you think the universe hates you by making you get sick just as the momentum of your training was taking off, but skipping 1, 2, or even 3 workouts due to illness isn’t going to derail your momentum unless you let it. Rest, recover, and as soon as the illness breaks get back in the gym and keep improving your health.

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