Exercising When Sick: Is it Good or Bad?

Is exercising when you’re sick actually bad for you?

Feeling under the weather, whether that’s having a cold, flu or a bad cough this time of year can mean you’re not motivated to stick to your plan to exercise.

If your muscles are sore from being sick then you’re not going to have the energy or staying power to deal with DOMS afterwards either, so there might be some apprehension.

Should you exercise when you’re sick?

The answer is it depends….. on what your ailment is. If you have a cold then it’s probably going to be okay: keep taking daily probiotics and increase your vitamin C intake (see this page for foods that are rich in vitamin C).



If you have a fever then you shouldn’t be going to the gym. It will limit you and there is no point raising your temperature so high as to cause lasting damage. You want to keep your core temperature from skyrocketing, so that means resting for a few days (maybe up to a week).

Even the most dedicated gym goers in the world will take time off when they’re sick.

What about if you don’t have fever?

If you have other things that are causing you to feel ill then you might be able to head to your local Ribble Valley gym and do a workout session or take part in a fitness class.


Mild Cold

You should be able to workout when you have a mild cold. Everyone is going to feel different and have symptoms different to the next person, but lowering your workout intensity should help.

Don’t forget to prevent spreading your cold to other people through the use of proper gym hygiene: by wiping down equipment you’ve used and using hand sanitizer. Also, you should cover your mouth when you cough and dispose of used tissues properly.

If you have a fever or chest congestion then you shouldn’t workout: you should rest.


Ear Ache

If you have trouble with ear ache then you can still continue to exercise. In general, ear infections are usually caused by a mild cold becoming worse or from an allergy. You should continue to exercise as normal, but maybe dial down the intensity: this isn’t the time to be going for your one-rep max.

However, if you have any kind of fever, or the ear ache is linked to a serious illness or health condition, then you should rest.

Also, if you’ve been to your GP and they’ve advised you to rest and take it easy then you should. Give yourself extra time to recover.



In the winter months lots of people get flu in the UK. This year is expected to be a little milder, so you might find that more colds and flu end up being transferred to people. Also, when it is a little colder our bodies become more susceptible to flu viruses.

Flu is contagious, so we suggest not coming to the gym and working out. Encourage your body to heal and stay wrapped up at home. Then head back to your exercise schedule when you feel a lot better.



Any symptoms linked to the gastrointestinal tract should be treated with caution. If you have vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite or stomach cramps then you should not exercise.

These kinds of sickness can be contagious to other people in the fitness centre, and can dehydrate you and cause other issues if you try to keep going at 100%.

We recommend taking a few days off, letting things clear up and then getting back to your workout programme.


Respiratory Infection

These are considered more developed health issues than the above and can include: chest infection, pneumonia, and a persistent cough. If you have any of these then you should rest and see your GP.

Many of them will cause a lack of oxygen in your blood stream due to a reduced intake amount, which means you won’t be able to feed your body what it needs to continue exercising.


The Neck Check

Lots of medical doctors believe in the neck check when it comes to sickness.

If your symptoms are above the neck (sore throat, stuffy nose, teary eyes)  then it’s generally okay to exercise. If your symptoms are below the neck (fatigue, body ache [not DOMS], fever) then you should rest and think about exercising when the symptoms have passed.

How long should you take off?

If your sickness is uncomplicated then up to seven days is a sensible amount of time to take off. You want to ensure that all of the bugs have exited your system, you’re clear of any symptoms, and you’re 100% ready to get back into things.

If you have a severe cough or congestion then you should see your GP and take the time off. Lots of people still train when they have a severe cough and it takes a lot longer for things to clear up than if they had rested in the first place.


Prevention to getting sick in the first place

One of the best ways to prevent becoming ill and having sickness (if it’s the viral cold and flu kind) is by exercising 3 to 5 times a week for at least 45 minutes.

And, having adequate intake of the correct foods and nutrients to ensure your body is getting all that is needs.

This will help your body defend against any unwanted viral infections by boosting your immune system and keeping your body’s first line of defense strong.


Gym etiquette when exercising

If you’ve decided to go exercise in the gym when you’re sick then you should take steps to prevent spreading it to others.

But, how do you do that?

Be careful about blowing your nose all of the time. Use your towel or some paper to wipe down any of the equipment when you’re done with it, and don’t forget the parts that you have been handling.

You should use hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of germs too.


You should decide

Your body is going to tell you whether things are right or not. Listen to your intuition on things and if you think you can’t continue to exercise when you’re sick then you are right.

If you feel as though you can complete a workout session at a lower level of intensity than normal then you should go ahead and do that. If not then take a break, rest and recuperate, and hit the gym next week.

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