Strength training when you’re sick: to do or not to do?

We’ve all been there: You’re ready to conquer the gym, but then a nasty cold or flu wrecks your plans. What are you doing? Do you ignore the sniffling nose and still work with weights or do you prefer to crawl under the wool and wait for the disease to pack its suitcase? The great dilemma of strength training when you are sick!

First of all, take a good look at yourself in the mirror – and I don’t mean to check if you can still see your six pack! How do you really feel? Being sick takes a lot out of your body. Your immune system wages an internal battle, resulting in fatigue and a lack of energy. Lifting heavy weights can do more harm than good. The risk of overload is lurking.

Strength training consciously places stress on your muscles and your cardiovascular system. You put your body to work, and stimulate growth and development. But imagine that your body is a factory already running at full speed to handle an urgent order (read: your illness). If you now add an extra order (read: strength training), you can imagine that the factory overheats, does not work efficiently or even shuts down completely. That’s exactly what can happen when you overexert: you run an increased risk of injury and it can extend your recovery period.

Exercising when you are ill – A matter of balance

A little exercise can help you feel better when you’re sick. For example, a gentle walk outside can do wonders to lift your mood and move your body lightly. But beware: ‘moving’ is not the same as ‘sporting’. Moderate to vigorous exercise (sports), such as strength training, raises your heart rate and raises your body temperature. As a result, your immune system is temporarily suppressed a bit, which you don’t want when you’re sick.

During illness, your immune system is your most important ally. It’s like a little soldier in your body that fights the infection. If you give this soldier even more work by training hard, you risk exhausting him. Because it is then more difficult for your immune system to fight the infection, you may be sick longer or get sicker.

Being sick is not a competition

When you are sick, you have to take care of yourself. It’s not a time to prove yourself or try to surpass yourself. It’s time to rest, recover and give your body what it needs to get strong again.

Strength training when you’re sick can be tempting, especially if you’re used to a regular workout schedule and the satisfaction you feel after a hard session. But remember that your body doesn’t have the same resources to recover from exercise as it does when it’s healthy. Your muscles cannot recover as quickly, your energy levels are lower and your ability to focus may be impaired.

Sick woman

Do you exercise when you really feel good?

While it’s usually better to rest when you’re sick, there are some exceptions. For example, if you’re on the tail end of a cold and your symptoms are mild, light to moderate exercise can help you recover faster.

Sometimes, when the symptoms ease, we feel ready to lift heavy weights again. But beware: ‘feeling’ and ‘being’ are not the same thing.

It can be tempting to return to your normal intensity once you feel a little better. But your body may still need energy for recovery. An abrupt return to heavy exercise can increase your risk of relapse, meaning your symptoms could come back, possibly even worse than before.

Replace strength training with lighter activities

If you really feel like exercising, consider replacing strength training with lighter activities. Think of walking or gentle yoga. These activities can help maintain your fitness and can also improve your mood.

Listen to your body

The general rule of exercising when you are sick is: listen to your body. It can tell us exactly what to do. If you feel tired, weak or light-headed, give your body the rest it needs. If, on the other hand, you feel energetic and have the desire to move, do it responsibly and moderately.

The most important thing is to be patient with yourself and your recovery. Remember that illness is temporary, but your health is forever. So take a break, recover and then come back to the gym stronger than ever!

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Frequently asked questions about strength training when you are sick

Is it safe to exercise when you are sick?

Light to moderate exercise is usually acceptable if you are sick and the symptoms are above the neck, such as with a common cold. If the symptoms are more severe or are below the neck, exercising is usually not recommended.

Is strength training good when you are sick?

Strength training can put extra strain on the body, which is not beneficial if you are ill. The body needs its energy to fight the disease. Heavy exercise can slow down the healing process.

What kind of exercises can I do when I’m sick?

If you are sick, you can do light to moderate activities. Think of walking or quiet yoga. Heavy exercise is generally not recommended.

What are the risks of strength training when you are sick?

Strength training when you are sick can increase the risk of overexertion, delay recovery and further strain the immune system.

Can Exercise Make a Cold or Flu Worse?

Strenuous exercise, such as weight training, can worsen the symptoms of a cold or flu and delay recovery.

Can I train if I have a fever?

No, exercising with a fever is strongly discouraged. Body temperature is further increased during exercise, which can pose serious health risks.

How do I know when I can start exercising again after illness?

It is usually safe to return to exercise once the symptoms have resolved and you feel healthy again. In case of serious illness, it is advisable to consult a doctor first.

What are the benefits of resting when you are sick?

Rest gives your body the energy it needs to fight and recover from the disease. It can also help shorten the duration of the illness and prevent complications.

Sources:

  1. Mayo Clinic, “Exercise and Illness: Should You Work Out When You’re Sick?”: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20058494
  2. WebMD, “Should You Exercise When You’re Sick?”: https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/exercise-when-you-have-cold
  3. American Council on Exercise (ACE), “To Exercise or Not to Exercise When Sick?”: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6466/to-exercise-or-not- to-exercise-when-sick/

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