5 Tips on Working Out While Under the Weather

Working Out While Under the Weather: 5 tips to take into consideration when you're sick and deciding whether or not you should go to the gym and workout.

We’ve all been there. You wake up one morning and suddenly feel like you have been run over by a Mack truck. Your head is pounding, your throat is raw, your body is aching, and your sinuses are blocked like the Hoover Dam. But being the classic type-A overachiever that you are, you will yourself out of bed and on with the day. You head off to work, to the gym, and on with your normal routine because you are Super(wo)man and this is just what you do. You can’t take a day off and rest because well... you just can’t!! Whether you are the type of person that believes the world will come crashing down if you are out-for-the-count for a few days or if staying home and resting is not an option because that would just throw off your whole schedule and you hate to have an unproductive or “off” day - it might be time to take a moment to really think about this objectively. I will admit, I am first in line when it comes to not wanting to slow down, let alone take a day or two off when I get sick. I am just not very good at sitting still. I am a do-er. When I lay my head down at night, I like to be able to think I accomplished a lot that day. So it’s hard for me to stop and rest when my body is telling me I need to. Who are we really kidding though? How ridiculous is this mentality? We push and push, and when our body talks back and tells us we’ve pushed too far, we ignore it and think we know better. It’s about time we re-frame how we look at and react to being sick. The world is not going to crumble if we are absent from work for a day or two. Our fitness goals and our workouts are not going to suffer that much from us taking a few days to rest. Let me put it another way. Which would you rather have—a few days of rest and then being back to your A-game OR the potential to get even more sick, turning what could have been a couple days of discomfort into a week, two weeks, or more? Not fun. Here are 5 tips to take into consideration when the cold or flu fairy hits you upside the head, and you are having a mind battle with yourself, deciding whether or not to go to the gym.

1. How Do You Really Feel?

If a friend was sick with the symptoms you are feeling right now, what would you tell him/her to do? Sometimes we know what we need to do, we just guilt ourselves into doing the opposite anyway. It's almost like an addiction. We have to get a workout in or else we just don’t feel right. Most times, this is a healthy kind of motivation. It’s what keeps us headed toward our goal. In the case of being sick, sometimes you’ve got to consciously remove that “motivation” from your mind, and ask yourself how you really feel.

2. Neck Up - Proceed With Caution, Neck Down - Stay Home

If your symptoms are mostly from the neck up (with no fever), such as runny nose, plugged sinuses, sneezing, or sore throat—you can typically proceed cautiously with your workout. However, if your symptoms are from the neck down, such as chest congestion or tightness, hacking cough, or upset stomach—you should strongly consider skipping the workout. Further, you shouldn't exercise if you have fatigue, achy muscles, swollen lymph nodes, and especially a fever. Exercising in this condition puts too much stress on the heart, which is already beating faster due to the higher body temperature.

3. Sweating Out the Toxins

It is a myth that you can sweat out germs and the majority of toxins, says Dr. Rick Kellerman of the American Academy of Family Physicians. He acknowledges that "low levels of exercise increase endorphins and benefit the body, but an intense workout that creates high levels of endorphins can wear down the immune system. " In other words, "Don't count on endorphins to heal you," he said. If you are looking to rid your body of toxins, instead focus on whole foods, lots of water, and staying away from alcohol. The liver (not the sweat glands) is actually nature’s most effective detoxification system. It changes the chemical structure of foreign compounds, so that they can filter them out of the blood through the kidneys, and out of the body in the form of urine.

4. Your Body Needs the Energy for Recovery

You are worried that if you take a few days off, your progress will suffer. What you don’t realize is that when you are sick, your body needs the nutrition to fight the illness. If you workout while you are sick, you could potentially be robbing yourself of the nutrients your immune system needs to get better, by allocating that energy toward building muscle rather than fighting the virus.

5. Germ Spread

Another reason to skip the gym if you're sick is to keep from spreading the germs to everyone else. Colds and flu readily spread via exercise equipment, weights, and weight benches, and other surfaces, such as drinking fountains and locker room door handles, where cold viruses may live 10 minutes and flu viruses up to 24 hours. Even though most cold viruses are no longer contagious after 72 hours, if you are feeling better, but are still dealing with the after effects of coughing, sneezing, or a runny nose, be considerate of others and opt for an outdoor workout alone, or at least wipe down the machines and wash your hands before and after your session.
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