Working Out When Sick: What We All Need to Consider

There is for many of us a big dilemma when we are unwell. Rest and relaxation are critical, but when we feel it’s going to be to the detriment of all those important gains or our workout routine, we think that we just need to push through. But working out when unwell is a far more nuanced subject matter than we give it credit for. So what do we need to consider when we are under the weather and we feel that in the gym, we need to go hell for leather?

The Burden on the Immune System

If there’s one excuse we can all use, it’s that exercise benefits the immune system. However, we’ve got to look at it from a physiological perspective. In terms of hypertrophy, in other words, muscle-building exercises, in order to actually reap the benefits, you’ve got to go to failure, and this means that you’re not just pushing yourself to the brink but you’re going beyond it. Intense resistance training or weightlifting may provide some short-term benefit, but the fallout, especially 48 hours post-exercise, can impair our recovery if we’re not repairing and rebuilding. 

There is prolonged soreness and the suppression of the immune system, but we also need to remember the stress of the exercises themselves. If you’re already feeling a sniffle, you may think that it’s okay to exercise, but you have to look at the bigger picture. Your body needs to rest and recover, which is exactly what you need to do after exercise. So is it worth prolonging the recovery period? Sometimes it can be incredibly obvious that there is actually something wrong. 

You may have an ongoing infection that needs medical treatment or medicine like antibiotics, but you will know if there is a major impact on your immune system especially if you have been working out for a long time. For those who are brand new to working out, the little and often approach is far more beneficial. You’ve got to know the importance of leaving a few more reps in the tank and not focusing on giving your all during the exercise itself because we all live multifaceted lives that require strength in other ways. This requires a lot of discipline. Rather than thinking you need to give everything to your exercise, learning to stop sufficiently short of failure is vital for the sake of your immune system.

How Do You Know When You Are Unwell?

You might think that it’s a stupid question, but some people are completely immune to it if they’re just unwell. Knowing the signs that your immune system is struggling can also be a sign that you are overtraining or overreaching. It’s important to note the difference between the two. When it comes to the signs of overtraining, there can be a number of common issues, including weight gain, lack of motivation, disturbed sleep, the workouts feeling more challenging, persistent injuries, reduced appetite, and not eating enough. 

With any type of workout, consuming enough calories is critical, and lots of people make the mistake of thinking that they just need to undereat to lose weight. Lots of people work out to lose weight, and those people need to only just cut a few hundred calories rather than drastically underrate. When we are unwell, we can experience prolonged symptoms for more than a week, such as fatigue, fever, or signs of a compromised immune system like feeling lethargic or snotty. However, so many of us think that it’s far better to push through with those workouts. 

The best thing we can all do to make sure that we are actually going in the right direction with regard to our workouts and that the results are not being compromised because of overtraining is to track how we are progressing. The common approach to progressive overload, where you are adding a little bit more weight to the bar or doing a little bit more, is a good metric. If you are not able to maintain that extra progressive overload, you may need to step back and build back up to it. It could be a case that you are doing too much. The best approach is to improve by 5% a week. This may seem like a very low number, but those who are experienced in weightlifting and exercise will tell you that you’ve got to take it slow and steady. It’s about doing a little bit more than what you’re capable of rather than completely going beyond.

Don’t Forget Stress and Its Impacts

We have to prioritize our health and well-being, and there can be a great clash of ideologies between the two. But we also need to remember that some people have the ability to keep going with workouts and are able to do something every single day of the week, but others need to build up to this. 

Additionally, any external stress can have an impact on your ability to perform. Stress, either when it’s related to illness or external factors, can impact the quality and results of the workout. Stress impairs your focus and coordination, and reduces your performance by increasing cortisol that breaks down muscle tissue and hinders growth. Stress can take a toll on your mental health when you’re pushing yourself too hard when you’re unwell or stressed, so you will feel those overrating symptoms and anxiety outside of the gym. This is where supplements like Rhodiola Rosea have been incredibly beneficial for those who work out when they are stressed because it gives them the ability to push for a little bit longer. 

That being said, you still need to have that baseline of strength before you focus on hypertrophy. If you focus on getting strong you may not see the same results as those who are looking to sculpt their bodies, but what we must remember is that stress is all dependent on the individual. If you think that you need to take a rest, you need to, because you will see the benefits in the long run. 

Working out when we are unwell is a bad idea, and while there can be benefits to doing a little, we certainly need to remember that for all of the reasons above, we take a slow and cautious approach.