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Sick vs. Working Out

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Are you sniffling, sneezing, coughing or does your body just ache?  As the winter approaches, so does the cold and flu season.  The question is “Should I workout if I’m sick?”  The answer is yes and no.  If you’re like most people, you probably don’t relish the thought of lacing up your sneakers and completing an hour of P90x or Insanity when you have a cold or flu.  But those who persevere when they’re sick and don’t break their exercise routine may be on to something.  Some experts argue that moderate exercise can actually have a beneficial effect on cold symptoms, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.  In the following post I’m going to discuss the benefits of working out if you’re sick and the few times you might be too sick to workout and rest may be your best medicine.

One thing that experts do not argue is that gyms are breeding grounds for germs and virus’s.  I remember the days of working out in the gym and having to clean equipment that the previous person had used and left sweaty and dirty.  Its one of the many reasons why I like to workout at home.  I workout on equipment that I know is cleaned properly and has nobody’s sweat on it but mine!  CLICK HERE to read my post, “Why workout at home”. 

Why should you workout when you are sick?

The latest research suggests that those that workout and eat a proper diet will catch fewer colds than their sedentary counterparts.  I’m a perfect example of this, since starting P90X in March of 2009 I have been sick only once, and that only lasted a few hours.  This from a guy who spent most of the winter taking sore throat and cold medicines daily.  Performing light or moderate exercise helps increase blood flow throughout the body which is beneficial for healing and can help with light soreness that you may be experiencing from your symptoms.   There is not denying the fact that when you perform light to moderate exercise while under the weather that you feel better and more energized.  Beachbody has many high intensity programs to transform your body, however, they also have a large selection of workout programs that can be used to lower the intensity or modify when you are sick. 

For example if your using P90X and feeling under the weather, then you probably don’t want to do plyometrics.  Maybe you can substitute it with Cardio X or Yoga or Kenpo X.  These workouts are less intense but can still help you achieve maximum results.  For Insanity, I suggest one of the recovery workouts that again will provide you with an effective workout with out raising the intensity level to the point that your going to increase your risk of getting sicker.

When should I skip the workout? 

Not everyone who feels under the weather should exercise, however.  Experts like to cite a rule of thumb known as the “neck rule.”  If your symptoms are all located above your neck (stuffy nose, scratchy throat, headache), you almost certainly have a head cold and working out is still an option.  If, on the other hand, you have a fever, congestion in your chest and lungs, or feel achy, it is probably a sign of flu, bronchitis, or another more serious ailment, and you should rest up. (Exercising with a fever will make you more vulnerable to dehydration, among other ill effects.) 

A fever puts too much stress on the heart, which already is beating faster because of the higher body temperature. If you’re suffering from chest congestion, coughing and shortness of breath, you also shouldn’t work out. And exercising with a stomach ache will probably make you feel worse.

My suggestion is to use some common sense, you know your body better than anybody, just don’t let a little runny nose be an excuse for not working out.  People should listen to their bodies. If you are sick, your body is telling you something is wrong.  One suggestion would be to cut the exercise duration and intensity if your symptoms continue.   “The above-the-neck rule is a good one, but I’d say severe above-the-neck symptoms warrant cessation from regular exercise until the symptoms abate,” says Jeffrey Woods, PhD, professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  “Even Olympic athletes need a day or two off every once in a while.”

One myth is the you can sweat out germs and toxins.  We know today that its just not true, however, low levels of exercise increase endorphins and benefit the body.  Be careful with an intense workout like Insanity which may actually create high levels of endorphins and can wear down your immune system.

Is also a good idea to ease back into a full workout.  If you’ve been sick and taken a few day of to recovery your level of fitness will be slightly reduced.  Take your time and slowly work back to 100%.

Here’s a few situations where I would not be working out while sick if I have these symptoms-

  • As I mentioned earlier, if I have a fever.
  • Chest congestion.
  • Any stomach issues.
  • If I had muscle aches everywhere (I’m talking about the muscle aches you get when you have the flu).

Of course it would be impossible for me to list every single symptom that would cause me to not workout, but these are the most common.


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