Working Out While Sick – Is It Appropriate?

Written by Caroline Sparno


January 13, 2022

Working Out While Sick – Is It Appropriate?

While many of us would like to believe we’re real-life Terminators, indestructible and immune to all sickness, unfortunately that is not the reality. Winter is here and that means a lot of us will get sick, whether it’s a stomach bug, common cold, or COVID. So what does that mean for your fitness routine? With the new year just beginning, the thought of foregoing your exercise regimen may spike your heart rate.

 “How am I supposed to accomplish my goals when I’m sick and not able to workout?”

 “That’s it, this year is going to be just like the last. I might as well not even bother this year.”

 “Everything bad always happens to me, trying is useless.” 

Woah there, slow down. This downward spiral of negativity is easy to fall into. The important thing to remember is while getting sick is out of your control, there are factors within your control.


When exercising, the stimulus you’re imposing on your body from weight bearing movements is a stressor. When you’re sick, your body is also in a more stressed out state, with your immune system in overdrive fighting the bacteria/virus. Imposing the additional stress of exercise on your already stressed out body is a futile pursuit. Still not convinced? If you did go to the gym, 1- you wouldn’t be able to train with the same degree of effort because your body is exhausted. 2- by imposing additional stress on your system, you’re prolonging the time it’ll take to make a full recovery. That means even more time outside the gym. Not. worth. It. All resources should go into fighting the sickness. Period. So you decide to not go to the gym. Rest means rest. That doesn’t mean try to set a PR on your mile time outside or do as many Chin-Ups as possible on your at home chin-up bar.

So far it may sound like there’s a lot of “you can’t do this, you can’t do that.” So what can you do? 


Just like sleep is crucial for gym recovery, it’s also essential for a sick body. Use this time to re-adjust your sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night, wake up around the same time every morning, limit distractors in the bedroom (cellphone/tv/ipad), and engage in a wind-down activity in the half hour/hour pre-bed like reading, stretching or yoga. The goal should be 8-10 hours of restful sleep.


Fresh air works wonders when intense cabin fever hits. If you live in a densely populated area, wear your mask but take a leisurely 20-40 minute walk 1-2x a day. Listen to your favorite music while walking. Look around and try to find little things that make you smile. The snow blanketing trees, the sun reflecting on the pond. It may sound stupid, but noticing the small things can drastically improve your mood. Stretch. When you’re sick you may find yourself sitting or laying down more often. Stretch out your muscles to unlock any tightness and ensure you’re feeling loose and ready when you can get back to the gym. If you’re not sure what to do, check out Coach Jamie’s 10 minute yoga videos on the Next IG, or YouTube a stretching routine. Hips, quads, hamstrings, and thoracic spine are key parts of your body to focus on.


Being out of the gym is no excuse to eat whatever your heart fancies. Eating nutrient dense high quality foods will give your body the resources it needs to fight the virus/bacteria. Additionally, as us coaches remind our clients, while the amount of macronutrients (carbs, fats, protein) is what determines weight loss, the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) will determine how you feel. Feeling even the slightest bit less crappy from eating foods like lean protein sources, vegetables, fruit, and high quality carbs (potatoes, rice, whole grain bread) is a win. Keep it simple. Incorporate leaner protein sources at every meal, a serving or two of fruit and veggies at every meal and at least one glass of water with each meal. That also means don’t deprive yourself. Still incorporate a few fun snacks like one or two pieces of chocolate, a scoop of ice cream one night, or a slice of pizza. Don’t go overboard, but having one or two fun snacks throughout your sick leave will make your time away a little more bearable. Finally, as previously mentioned, keep your fluid intake high. Water, herbal teas (throat coat tea is amazing for sore throats), and diluted gatorade are quality choices. Replenishing electrolytes (sodium, calcium, potassium) is crucial especially if you’ve been vomiting so don’t be afraid to dilute a gatorade or pedialyte.


Find things to do to keep your mind and hands occupied. The time will go by much faster. Take a hot shower/bath, read that book you said you never had time for, pick up a new hobby like knitting or crocheting or whatever else that can be done easily at home. Just because you can’t work out doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun. Who knows, maybe you’ll pick up a hobby that you’ll continue to enjoy once you’re back pumping iron at the gym. Mental health is just as important as physical health.

Being stuck at home really blows. There’s no sugar coating it. I can say this as someone currently isolating with COVID. However, by focusing on what you can control and keeping yourself as busy as your energy levels allow, you’ll be back to your training before you know it. One week is a miniscule amount of time off in the scheme of your life.

It’s also crucial to stay home when you don’t feel well. Regardless of whether it’s “just a stuffy nose” or “a minor cough” the common cold, which is a viral infection, is spreadable. COVID symptoms sometimes appear similar to those of the common cold based on my personal experience. Keeping yourself at home not only gives your body a chance to fight the virus without external stressors, but it protects others from being exposed. Let’s keep the gym a safe space for everyone!

A final tip. When you do get back to the gym, don’t immediately jump back into what you were doing before getting sick. Week one isn’t the time to test PRs at the gym. Take the first week slow (ie less reps and less sets of exercises) and listen to your body.

Be well,

Coach Caroline

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