Should You Workout When You’re Sick?

Should I workout when I'm sick?

For the dedicated lifter, nothing brings on more guilt and anxiety than having a cold. The fear of missing a workout. That you will destroy your gains, and shrivel your muscles into a raisin-esque stature. Then, of course, there’s the feeling that you need to power through it and quit being a sissy.

So I’m here to answer the age old dilemma: Should I workout when I have a cold?

Yes, well, kind of. Here’s why:

When the body is under a lot of stress, forcing it to work isn’t the best idea but doing some light to moderate activity may boost recovery and help you feel much better.

When is it safe?

You should start by following the “neck rule” according to Dr. Richard Besser, author of “Tell Me the Truth, Doctor: Easy-to-Understand Answers to Your Most Confusing and Critical Health Questions.

If your symptoms are primarily concentrated above the neck, such as stuffy nose, sinus pressure, sneezing, etc., it is safe to exercise moderately.

One recent study conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine showed that exercising moderately during a cold will not exacerbate symptoms or prolong your sickness. While it is widely accepted that exercise reduces your risk of illnesses, not many studies have been done to show whether exercise during a cold will intensify symptoms.

“Moderate exercise does not worsen cold symptoms”

Another study conducted by the Ball State University in Muncie Indiana which involved 50 volunteers with moderate fitness levels were divided into two groups randomly, exercise, and non-exercise group. All volunteers were given cold germ injections and were monitored for ten days. The volunteers kept track of their physical activity daily and the exercise group trained by running, using the step machine or biking every day.

Results of this study showed that a moderate workout does not worsen cold symptoms or weaken the immune system.

The intensity is just not high enough to stress the immune system.  However, high-intensity activity such as heavy lifting and intense aerobic training can tax the immune system and worsen symptoms.

Follow this guide to understand the do’s and don’ts of training with a cold.

1. Jog it out


Walking and jogging are great ways to include some physical activity into your routine during a cold especially if you do them on a regular basis. Many runners report that running helps boost mood and even helps in improving symptoms during a common cold. Running is known to be a natural decongestant, thus, helping runners feel a lot better by the end of the exercise.

You can reduce the intensity and just go for a walk. Your body is already working hard to help combat the infection.

Note that if you have to work out intensely, for example, you’re training for a contest, you may benefit from taking a few days off completely until symptoms subside. Exercise can help boost immune system activity but training too intensely when you’re sick can do the exact opposite.

2. Lift light weights

While fighting off a cold, your strength and physical performance may be compromised especially if you’re not getting enough quality sleep. This can increase your risk of injury while lifting heavy weights. Also, lifting weights causes muscle strain that can lead to headaches and sinus pressure, making you feel worse during your cold.

If you don’t want to skip weight training, do it at home and use free weights. Kettlebells are an excellent choice because they’re versatile and adjustable to each individual’s requirements.

To increase the intensity, increase the number of reps but keep the weights light.

3. Stay away from the gym

It is critical that you consider where you train as well. If you go to the gym on a regular basis, you should skip it, as being in close contact with other members may increase their risk of getting sick too. Germs spread easily in locker rooms and even on equipment, so it’s best to stay at home.

4. Try yoga


Yoga is a proven stress reliever. It involves a lot of breathing that helps boost immune system activity. All that cortisol your body is releasing while fighting infections is stressing it out too much – intense exercising can make it even worse. Give your body a break and reward yourself with a relaxing stretch day.

Go for a slower and more relaxed style like Hatha yoga or just stick to a set of reinvigorating postures such as the child’s pose. According to a Swedish study, humming is an excellent way to open your clogged pores, so don’t forget the “om”.


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2. Thomas L. Sevier is Medical Director at Central Indiana Sports Medicine, Muncie. J Athl Train. 1996 Apr-Jun; 31(2): 154–159. Sport, Exercise, and the Common Cold
3. Korean J Fam Med. 2014 May;35(3):119-26. doi: 10.4082/kjfm.2014.35.3.119. Epub 2014 May 22. The effect of exercise on prevention of the common cold: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trial studies
4. Am J Med. 2006 Nov;119(11):937-42. Moderate-intensity exercise reduces the incidence of colds among postmenopausal women.
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