What You Need to Know About Training While Sick

It’s flu season! And with flu seasons comes the age old dilemma of figuring out if you’re too sick to train. Every trainer can attest to the dozens of emails and texts that we receive stating, “I’m kinda sick, should I still come in?” Just like every other answer we give you about training, it depends. Are you contagious? Fever? Just a cough?  

The last thing you want is to make yourself worst or lessen your recovery, but the thought of missing out on all the gainz is just as maddening as the tickle in your throat! This dilemma is sure to be even more prevalentthis year considering the fact that the flu shot has missed its mark and is only 23% effective.

"Listen to your body"

Yes, I just dropped that cliché line. But honestly, it’s true. If you’re feeling unmotivated and weak from your illness, then pushing through it is not a great idea. It’s important not to mistake motivation for stupidity. Forcing one intense session while still recovering can prolong your recovery and keep you from getting back to positive training effect sooner.

The main symptoms that will excuse you from trying to get your gainz on are generally:

  • If it’s anything below the neck(chest congestion/bronchitis, diarrhea/stomach issues)
  • If you’re contagious…. Seriously, if you come in and get me sick, you’re getting backflips to failure in your next program
  • Fever
  • Wide-spread muscle aches (has potential to create compensations in your movements and cause an ineffective session)

Obviously if it’s just a runny nose or just some minor signs, get over yourself. You may need to scale the intensity, butexercise should actually help your condition. In fact there are several studies that have linked cardiorespiratory exercise to significantly reduce the likelihood of upper respiratory infections aka the common cold.

Strength training will also help to stimulate the immune system, however it’s recommended that intensities stay conservative. Higher intensity lifts can take more of a toll on the CNS and result in temporary immunodepression. This is no bueno if you’re currently fighting off an illness and could make it easy pickings for the bacteria. It’s for that reason that it’s usually a smarter idea to have a speed day or stick to about 80% effort.

With all of this being said, even if you’re too sick to train, you’re not too sick to move. Be sure to get your rest, but staying in bed all day may actually limit your recovery. The reason for this lies in your lymph.

We’re used to hearing about how important it is to get the proper nutrients and to stay hydrated while we’re sick, but not much is mentioned beyond that. When you have a fever or when you’re fighting off illness, your cellular metabolism increases. This is why the extra hydration and nutrients are key. With the increased metabolism, comes increased biproducts and waste. The lymphatic system serves to help clear this waste as well as extra fluids, nutrients and infectious material/bacteria to the closest lymph node where white blood cells do their thing to clean everything up.

The way lymph (and the bacteria, waste, fats and fluids that it carries) is transported through the bodies is through capillaries similar to veins. Unlike arteries who use the pressure created by the heart to shoot blood forward, lymph capillaries and veins rely on muscular stimulation for transportation. Their structure prevents any back-flow so that when tension is put on the segment, the fluid can only move forward. Without surrounding muscular stimulation, there is very little movement.

The lymph already doubles blood in volume within the human body, but during illness there may be even more. Ideally it serves to move that much more waste and infectious materials to the lymph nodes, but when the individual remains bed-ridden it’s all for naught.  This just pulls more of the hydration from the blood and can result in lymphatic congestion when one is extra sloth-like. Without the muscular stimulus to push the lymph through its capillaries, the infectious materials, pus(gross, right?) and bacteria just pool instead. This is VERY counterproductive to getting back to health.

By giving your body certain conservative movements, you can actually help to expedite your recovery process through draining the congested lymph structures. All while helping to maintain joint mobility and peace of mind.

Movements to do while laid up

1. Bounce

Yup, bouncing up and down. It sounds silly, but it actually helps to move the lymh through the entire body. Because the body goes from a moment of weightlessness to almost double within seconds the body’s tissues go from no pressure to a lot of pressure back to back. This creates a pump-like stimulus on the tissues and helps with lymph and venous return to help clear out the congestion. It also doesn’t need to be as weird as it sounds, if you’re healthy enough you can jump rump or do jumping jacks. If you’re pretty ill you can just sit there and bounce on your bed. Or you can even do whatever this is:

2. Foam Roll

Foam rolling is rarely a bad thing. This too can help to serve as excess pressure on the tissue to improve lymph flow. It also is just good for general soft tissue health. You can increase its effectiveness on your illness if you focusing on rolling centripetally(towards your heart). This will just help to ensure more of the fluids are moved towards their respective lymph nodes and eventually back to the thoracic duct.

3. Movement Flows

Just doing light movement flows can make a world of difference in the way you feel. Again the activation will help move some fluids around, but it’ll also just help you to work on mobility, stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and just give you some quality patterning work.


4. Balloon/straw breathing

There are hundreds of breathing drill variations, but choosing one that focuses on thoracic expansion and active exhalation can be extremely beneficial when you’re recovering from a flu or cold. The thoracic duct(think end of the line for lymph) sits in the thoracic cavity, obviously. By focusing on a breathing drill with these characteristics, you can create the pumping mechanism once again, but right where the lymph delivers the excess nutrients it picked up right back to the blood. It also assists in getting a good stretch out of your intercostals, which are probably pretty tight from all the coughing you’ve been doing.


So stop being a bum and get out of your bed so that you can get back under the bar or on the field that much faster. Utilizing these movements within reason as well as covering your rest, hydration and diet can dramatically shorten the amount of time you're out.