Can I workout when I am sick or hurt?

“I’m sick” or “I’m hurt”, but can I still workout? The answer is, yes, no, and maybe! It really depends on what you are dealing with, how severe it is, and how you feel. My experience with members and clients usually seems like a version of Goldilocks and the three bears. Some people push too much, others don’t do enough, and there are the select few that do it just right. Let’s talk about how we can get that perfect bowl of porridge and keep being awesome workout style.


Let’s start with working out when you are sick. School is back in session, which means it’s getting a little colder (well unless you live in sunny SoCal…I have to rub it in from time to time to my readers back east) and that also means cold and flu season is on its way. So when do you workout, how do you workout, and when do you just stay away.


There are a lot of different takes on working out when you are sick. Honestly what it comes down to is: How do you feel? You know your body the best. My goal is to give you some knowledge to maximize the workout (whatever type it may be) and not stress the body more. Here is a quick little cheat sheet from Precision Nutrition (one of my certifications) to working out when you are feeling a little under the weather.


Exercise activity cheat sheet

Activities to consider when you’re sick.

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • T’ai Chi
  • Yoga


All of these would be done at a low intensity, keeping your heart rate low. They’d also preferably be done outdoors in mild temperatures. Inside is fine, though, if you can’t get outside.


Activities to avoid when you’re sick.

  • Heavy strength training
  • Endurance training
  • High intensity interval training
  • Sprinting or power activities
  • Team sports
  • Exercise in extreme temperatures


And, for the sake of the rest of us, stay out of the gym. At the gym, you’re much more likely to spread your germs to others. Viruses’ spread by contact and breathing the air near sick people.

So, if you feel up to physical activity, again: do it outside or at your home gym.

We all thank you.


Now that you have a little cheat sheet, lets put it to use. If you are experiencing some symptoms of not-so-awesomeness, let that be your guide.

  • With a cold/sore throat (no fever or body aches/pains), easy exercise is likely fine as tolerated. You probably don’t want to do anything vigorous, no matter how long in duration.
  • If you have a systemic illness with fever, elevated heart rate, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle and joint pain/weakness, and enlarged lymph nodes, get some rest! If you have a serious virus and you exercise, it can cause problems.


Simply put, don’t push yourself too hard. Your body is already under a lot of stress fighting the battle on the inside. Pushing yourself too hard is just taking away energy that can be better served elsewhere, meaning the frontline on the war against the illness. The best thing to do is to eat healthy, stay hydrated, and get some rest. And if you are really sick, stay home, throw on some Price is Right, and relax. Although it is a valiant effort, stay home!


Now let’s discuss whether one should workout when they are hurt or not. First I want to clarify the difference between pain and soreness. The saying, “no pain, no gain”…well that is actually an awesome rhyme covered with a bunch of bull number two or as most of us say, bullshit! Pain is the body’s way of letting you know something isn’t right. If you are experiencing pain (not soreness or tightness) then you should stop what you are doing and see a physician.


Soreness and tightness often get called pain, but it is not the same thing. After a hard workout, run, or something our body just isn’t used to doing you may feel some tightness in the muscles. It’s nothing to worry about. It is just the body adaptation process to the stress it was put under. In the training world, we call this DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). For most it is felt within 24-36 hours after the activity. Depending on your fitness level, it can last 3-5 days. The more you exercise, the less likely the soreness will stick around. However, if you are new to exercise and decide to run 12 miles don’t be shocked when you can’t move and you are calling a friend to help you get out of bed.


Now that the difference is discussed, do we workout when we are hurt. I say let’s use common sense here. If you have just rolled an ankle, you shouldn’t be running the next day. See your doctor and let the body part heal before putting it under too much stress. I will use an example of an injury I am dealing with from the last few weeks. Recently I strained my calf. It has happened a few times in the past and it is usually my body’s way of saying I am working too hard, not stretching enough, and not giving myself enough recovery time. So what did I do, I talked with my trainer, devised a kick-ass workout that didn’t put stress on my calf (I will blog about these kick-ass workouts soon) and did the work. My calf is now healed, my workouts are back on track, I didn’t lose any momentum, and life is good.


Just know, no matter what the injury, there is a way to still workout. You just have to be smart and creative about it. Whether I am working with my one-on-one clients, my bootcampers, or training myself, if something isn’t right, I modify. I know it can be frustrating to have to slow the pace down, but for the long run, it is best.


Remember listen to your body when it comes to working out whether it is an illness or an injury. Think Goldilocks and the three bears, not too much, not too little, but just right. Trust me, its good advice.

Top 5:  Songs I am digging right now

  1. Missile by Dorothy
  2. California Nights by Brett
  3. Hurricane Highlights by WDL
  4. I need you tonight by INXS
  5. Don’t you want me by Human League.

(yes I know the last 2 are songs from the 80’s.  I love the 80’s)



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