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Too Sick to Exercise?

Sick man sitting on couch blowing his nose

Paul Bradbury/iStock

In this Article:

  • It is typically okay to work out when your symptoms are above the neck area.
  • Never work out while you have a fever.
  • Listen to your body and let it tell you when it’s ready for exercise after an illness.

You’ve been crushing your APFT training, then you come down with a cold or the flu. A runny nose, sore throat, and achy muscles make you feel miserable, but you want to push through and keep up with your fitness goals. But are you too sick to work out?

Follow The “Neck Rule”

Many health care professionals and fitness experts suggest using the “neck rule” to help decide if you should hit the gym or stay in bed.

It’s okay to work out if you have these “above the neck” symptoms:

  • Sinus pressure
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Earache
  • Watery eyes

Take a rest from your workout schedule if you have these “below the neck” symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chest congestion
  • Coughing
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Body aches
  • Extreme fatigue

Signs You Should Take It Easy

While you are sick, your workouts should focus on maintaining your current fitness level. You can work on making gains when you are well. Take it easy – stick to shorter distances for runs and less intensity for strength training. Try a low-intensity activity like yoga to get your workout in without overdoing it.

If you have any of these symptoms while exercising, stop immediately:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Elevated heart rate (beyond what is normal for your workouts)
  • Sweating more than usual 

If you feel worse after exercising, sideline your fitness routine and get some rest until you feel well again. Drink lots of fluids and keep an eye on your symptoms. See a medical health professional if your symptoms get worse or don’t improve within a few days. 

Getting Back into Your Routine

Do what feels right for your body. If you jump back in too soon after an illness, you could end up increasing your recovery time. Colds usually last seven to 10 days, while the flu may last two or three weeks.

When you feel ready to start working out again, start out slowly. Start your cardio and strength training at 75 percent of your normal level, and increase gradually over a week or so. By listening to your body and taking care of yourself, you will be back to crushing your workouts in no time!

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