We’re all die-hard fitness enthusiasts. We live to train, and train to live. But what happens when life gets in the way, and throws a cold or sickness at us? What should you do: Sweat it out? Sleep? Back off, but still go? Just do cardio? The answer is: It depends.
Before we get into the real article and science, it should go without saying that if you’re contagious, stay home. Unless you train in your own home gym, then it’s just good manners NOT to get other gyms’ equipment full of your germs, runny nose, and used Kleenexes. So everything else aside, we don’t recommend going to a public gym if you’re contagious and your body is ‘leaking.’
How Sick Are you?
There’s a huge difference between a cold, a fever, the flu, and pneumonia. Pneumonia is like the flu on steroids; either one or both lungs become inflamed due to bacterial or viral infection, and the air sacs end up filling with pus and/or water, and may become solid. You’re not going to the gym with pneumonia. You’re lucky to even have the strength to make it to the bathroom! With the common cold, you’re probably going to have some nasal and throat symptoms (sore throat, runny nose, cough, congestion, etc.), but nothing life threatening, and your symptoms shouldn’t last more than a week. It’s in those first three days that you’re contagious; so don’t go to the gym while your cold is still ‘incubating’. If your cold symptoms still aren’t improving after a week, it might be more serious…
Flu symptoms are more severe than cold symptoms, affect more of your entire body, and hit you quickly. Flu symptoms include fevers/headaches, full body muscle soreness (the kind you can feel in your bones), and then common things like a cough, congestion, and sore throat. If you have more serious instances of the flu, i.e. Swine flu, then vomiting and diarrhea might occur as well. When it comes to the training when sick, especially with the flu, it’s a grey area. “Your immune system can get worn down after heavy lifting lasting longer than 90 minutes,” according to Dr. Ken Kinakin, renowned competitive powerlifter and chiropractor, “Allowing viruses and bacteria to gain a bigger foothold and increasing the risk of serious infection.” But moderate intensity, steady state cardio can actually IMPROVE immune function and reduces the risk/severity of respiratory viral infections, according to one study.1
Tests for Cold/Flu
Dr. Kinakin had the following to say about how to determine how sick you are:
- “Check your temperature. If you have a fever, especially 101°F (38.3°C) degrees or higher, that could be the flu.
- Look in the mirror, open your mouth, and look with a flashlight or the flashlight app on your smartphone. If you see a red, raw-looking throat with swollen tonsils that often have visible white spots (pus pockets), that’s a sign of strep throat. A sore throat with a fever over 101°F (38.3° C) usually indicates a strep infection. If you have a sore throat and no fever, you likely do not have strep throat.
- See a medical doctor for the “Rapid strep test” to determine if strep throat is the cause of your sore throat. The doctor takes a quick swab of your throat that, in most cases, can determine if strep bacteria are present. The “Rapid strep test” is often used with a throat culture to confirm the diagnosis of strep throat.”
Alternatively, go to the gym one day, and do 15 minutes of low intensity, steady state cardio. If your lungs are burning and you can’t catch your breath, it’s probably a good idea to go home. Your body is mad and doesn’t want to be there.
Stress Less About your gains
Scientific literature has pointed out that it takes 2-4 weeks of not training to see significant losses in muscle size and strength. So if you’re concerned that you’re going to lose your hard earned muscle just because you were holed up in bed for a week, then have no fear. If you’re been training hard and consistently up to this point, your gains are safe. Recovering will not impact your long-term progress! Also make sure you’re eating and hydrating properly, as well.
So before you head to the gym, use a combination of my advice and common sense. Fitness expert Lyle McDonald sums it up perfectly when he says, “If it’s neck or above, you can train; below the neck, and you should skip training.” Simple rule of thumb right there.