Should you exercise when sick? 5 reasons not to

I’m sick. Apparently, the only way children have to thank you for tending to their needs while afflicted with head and chest colds is to pass them on. Thanks guys, I really appreciate it.

exercise when sick

A little pale, huh?

I had a big workout week planned. Lots of heavy lifting and some cardio intervals to compensate for Thanksgiving weekend dinner and pumpkin pie cheesecake. Mmmmm.

The question ‘should you exercise when sick’ is one I hear frequently.

Many people believe that ‘sweating it out’ is a good thing. I’m not one of them. There’s no evidence anywhere that viruses and bacteria leave your body via your sweat; just sayin’.

Others follow the rule ‘above your neck, head to the gym; below your neck, stay home’. I believe that the body works as a singular entity; above-the-neck illnesses don’t just affect above-the-neck body parts.

When I’m sick, I don’t work out and I don’t teach classes. I do, however, aim for some low-exertion movement, to keep my joints and brain from seizing up. How much? It depends on how I’m feeling. Usually, a walk around the block is enough. I listen to my body and so should you!

Should you exercise when sick? 5 reasons not to
  • exercise can delay recovery; when your body has been invaded by a virus or bacteria, the immune system goes into overdrive. Immune response is energetically costly. That’s why you feel so tired when you’re sick. Expend a lot of energy during a workout and your immune system has nothing to fuel it. A weakened or suppressed immune response often leads to longer recovery times.
  • a tired and weakened body is more prone to injury; for many, it’s psychologically difficult to scale back their workouts. We’ve been taught that progression is the key to getting stronger and faster and don’t want to bench press less or run at a slower pace than we did last week, even when we’re ill. Attempting your regular workout with a tired and weakened body often leads to injuries that can keep you out of the gym long after your illness is over.
  • your fellow gym-goers don’t want to get sick; gyms are dirty places to begin with. Even if your gym provides paper towels and liquid sanitizers for patrons to clean equipment with (all gyms should!), bacteria and viruses are resilient. They like to hide in warm, damp crevices and can travel for remarkably long distances when airborne. YOU don’t want to work out next to someone who’s sick and NEITHER do your fellow gym-goers. Do unto others and all that.
  • your workout will be second-rate at best; endurance and stamina are usually the first things to go when we get sick. If your workout is only going to end up being half of what it usually is, wouldn’t that time and energy be better spent resting and recovering? I’ve never heard anybody say “man, I feel great after I exercise when sick”.
  • a forced rest is as good as a planned rest; allowing your body to rest adequately between workouts is one of the most effective ways to see the fruits of your labours in the gym. Think of your time away from the gym as a muscle building phase, rather than an illness. It’s amazing how much better a little positive spin can make you feel!

Now it’s your turn;

Do you exercise when sick?

Tell me why or why not?

Then, please, make some chicken soup and send it my way?


Creating an exercise schedule that works for you: get out your calendar now!

I am a firm believer in the power of calendars. This is what the one on my fridge looks like. 

scheduling your workouts

Big boxes. Lots of room to write down details.

I use my fridge calendar to schedule family events, children’s sports activities and appointments, hubby’s work travel, my teaching schedule and training sessions with clients. I even have a separate editorial calendar for scheduling blog posts!

I like to think of it as ‘mission control’: things that don’t make it on the calendar, often get overlooked or missed entirely.

Like exercise. When I include my weekly exercise plans on my kitchen calendar, I’m much more likely to get it done. Unfortunately, I haven’t been very good about scheduling exercise over the summer. Consequently, my workouts have been more of a mish-mash than I’d like.

Given that September is a fresh start (you are participating in my Fresh Start Fitness Challenge, aren’t you?), this week’s task is creating an exercise schedule. One that takes into consideration (1) the exercise I get when I teach classes, (2) my desire to spend less time at the gym and (3) my current goals of increasing my cardio to better balance out all the strength training I do (because I enjoy it so much more!).

Why don’t you grab your calendar (or at least a blank sheet of paper) and join me in creating an exercise schedule of your own!

I started by plotting out my current teaching load (if you’re not a group fitness instructor, you can skip this step. Or you can write in any ‘set in stone’ fitness routines you’re already following in)

schedule your workouts


Then I added in the times I spend training clients (put your work hours in here; these are times when you can’t possibly exercise)

scheduling your workouts

and taking care of my family (family, friends or pets; whoever you need to carve out time in your week for) 

scheduling your workouts

The gaps that remain are the blocks of time I have left for exercise. (Here’s hoping you have a few empty blocks left too!)

Given that my Sunday, Monday and Wednesday classes all include a cardio component and that I teach an additional cardio-only class at lunch on Monday, I really only need one more cardio workout in my week. Let’s make it a run on Friday, after my last client and before I have to pick the kids up from school.

And although I’m already lifting weights Sunday, Monday and Wednesday when I teach, to be honest, the loads that I lift when I’m teaching are no longer heavy enough to stimulate muscle growth for me. Maintenance, yes, growth, no. So I still need at least 2 days of targeted lifting in the weight room. Ideally 60-75 minute blocks with at least 48 hours between sessions. Looks like Tuesday and Thursday will have to do!

And of course, my Saturday morning 8 am Hatha Flow is sacred. Never miss it if I can help it.

Here’s what my fall exercise schedule looks like. (Is yours all filled out too? Make sure to take your daily energy levels into consideration. Not a morning person, leave those empty morning blocks for sleeping and schedule your workouts later in the day.) 

schedule your workouts

And what about ‘rest’ days? We need to schedule those in as well. I consider Saturday to be my rest day. Even though I’m attending yoga class, it’s more of a stretching and relaxation session for me than a full on workout.

On weeks when I feel like I need an extra rest day, I do more ‘coaching’ than ‘participating’ in my Wednesday morning Bootcamp. My participants have never complained that my lack of participation has resulted in them feeling less motivated to work themselves. In fact, some had said that they get a better workout when I’m walking around the room correcting form and ‘getting in their space’…

If you use iCal, you’ll recognize the calendar images above. That means that in addition to seeing my weekly exercise plans on the kitchen calendar, I’ll also be reminded of them every time I glance at my iPhone. That’s an awful lot of reminders each and every day 😉

Did you schedule your weekly workouts along with me?

Post a picture on Instagram! I’d love to see your plans!

I should have taken my own advice; the worst reason for a rest day

Do you ever have a feeling that your body is trying to tell you something? That your subconscious self knows more than your conscious brain is willing to admit?

Yesterday I wrote a post about the benefits of including rest days in your workout schedule. I’m not sure where the idea for the post came from, but during my short-lived life as a blogger, I’ve learned not to think too hard about where the motivation is coming from, but just to be thankful that my brain has offered up something to write about!

September has been a busy month. Kids returning to school. Lots of afternoon activities and play dates. New classes to teach and subbing for colleagues vacationing in warm, sunny climates. Add to that a new strength training program of my own, yoga on my rest days and a still-unresolved issue with my husband’s health that’s been affecting my sleep for over a month now.

If anybody needed a rest day, it was me!

Well, today I’m getting one, but not because I planned it. Not even because I didn’t feel like exercising today. All because I injured myself while teaching this morning.

I wasn’t doing anything I haven’t done a thousand times before. The step pattern was simple. The tempo of the music moderate. Only light weights were lifted. And, I was ‘coaching’ more than ‘doing’. All of a sudden, I felt a spasm in my upper back. Like something was stuck. I couldn’t raise my arms over my head without pain and taking a deep breath was excruciating.

I told my class that I’d just pulled a muscle and that I’d keep demonstrating the step patterns, but with arms held low. ‘Follow Dina (a participant that’s been coming to my class for ages). She’ll show you the arm movements’.

A couple of minutes later I realized that I wasn’t even capable of that much exertion. It hurt to twist my torso and lift my knees. I told my class to ‘hold the basic’ and left the room to find my supervisor. She finished the class for me (thanks Lori!) and I went immediately to physio (good thing my physiotherapist is in the same building I teach in!).

The verdict? The transverse process on one of my thoracic vertebrae seems to be ‘stuck’ (for lack of a better word) on the rib with which it articulates. The surrounding muscles are in spasm. Hard to say which came first; mis-alignment of the vertebra may have led to the muscular spasm or muscle spasm may have pulled the vertebra out of alignment. Doesn’t really matter to the therapy and prognosis.

Kristin did deep tissue massage, electrical stimulation, traction and passive extension, all of which gave me more range of motion without pain. I came home and had a hot bath, stretched with my foam roller and had my hubby apply the Voltaren. However, it still hurts to breathe deeply and I’ll be needing help getting out of bed for the next day or two. If it doesn’t resolve itself in a few days, I’ve been told to see a chiropractor (this would be a first for me and the idea is a bit scary).

So here I am, doing exactly what I told you not to do on your rest days; watching day time television (I PVR’d the season premiere of Battle of The Blades last night; it’s a Canadian thing) and knitting (okay, I’d never tell anyone not to knit on their rest day).

All because I didn’t listen to my body or take my own advice.

Do you listen to your body?

Ever seen a chiropractor? Please share your experiences with chiropractic medicine with me.

What does ‘rest day’ mean to you?

Whether your training involves running, swimming, biking or weight lifting, chances are the program you’re following specifies one or more ‘rest’ days each week.

Rest days are important to your fitness and training goals. They reduce your risk of injury. They help prevent over-training syndrome. They keep you from getting bored with your program. They can get you through plateaus. But the most important reason to include a day or two of rest in your weekly training schedule is because it is those days between grueling workouts when muscle repair and growth occur.

Rest days make you faster, stronger and better the next time you hit the trail, pool, road or gym.

But what does rest mean? Getting more sleep? Maybe, if you’re workouts are fatiguing you. Less activity than on a training day? Possibly. Sitting on the couch watching daytime television? Certainly not (as if any of you have time for that)!

I like to think of the days I purposely don’t go to the gym as ‘active rest‘ days. While I’m ‘resting‘ from my formal exercise routine, I still find some way to be ‘active‘. A walk with my kids. A trip to the wave pool. Kayaking in the inlet. Hiking at a regional park. Family skate night at the local arena. Berry picking. Housework (not my personal favorite, but it does need to be done occasionally…).

You’re still burning calories on the days between your workouts (especially if your program includes metabolic intervals), but you’re not taxing your body in the same way you do when you train.

The trick to successfully incorporating rest days into your training schedule is to plan them. You might choose a ‘two day on-one day off’ schedule or a’ three day on-two day off’ schedule. The key here is that the rest day was planned (as opposed to those days when you get up and skip a workout because you just don’t feel like working out).

My preference is to take a rest day after a heavy leg workout; for some reason, ‘leg day’ exhausts me and makes me less energetic in the gym the following morning. However, my teaching schedule often dictates which day of the week I’ll stay away from the gym. And now that I have to fit yoga into the week, my active rest day will most likely include a trip to the yoga studio.

Work hard, rest harder!

Do you plan your rest days, or do they ‘just happen’?

When do you need a rest day most?