Should You Train When You're Sick?

November 03, 2016 | John Paul Catanzaro

Often the knee-jerk reaction when you’re feeling sick is to avoid physical activity and to rest instead. However, exercise may be beneficial in some cases. To determine whether you should train or not, use the neck rule:

When sickness occurs, training is permitted if symptoms are felt above the neck (e.g., runny nose, stuffiness, sneezing, sore throat, and/or headache). In this case, use less volume but maintain intensity (i.e., use the same loads you were planning for the workout, but reduce the number of sets). For example, if you planned to squat 315 pounds for 5 sets of 5 reps, then do only 2 or 3 sets of 5 reps with 315 pounds. Even just one set with that weight will be enough to maintain strength during this period. However, if any symptoms are felt below the neck (e.g., chest congestion, bronchial infection, fever, intense coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or extreme body ache), it is a good idea to skip training for that day (The Elite Trainer, pg. 41).

In strength training, objective measures ultimately determine recovery. If progress has been made, then sufficient recovery has occurred. You’ll know by the first set – if strength increases, continue training; if not, more rest is necessary.

To sum it up… If you’re feeling sick, consider these 2 factors to determine whether you should train:

  1. Do you feel the symptoms above or below the neck?

    If “above”, go ahead and train (see #2).

    If “below”, do not train. You need an extra day to rest.
  2. Is there a strength increase from the previous workout on your first work set?

    If “yes”, continue training and maintain the intensity, but reduce the volume by doing a lower number of sets.

    If “no”, stop training. You need an extra day to rest.