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, 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!