Should I Train While Sick?

I’ve been a trainer for about a decade, all told, and in that time I’ve had clients show up for sessions and I’ve said “go home, no charge - just rest” which is curious because this is how I pay my mortgage. Why turn away income?

Well the reason is because they were ill.

Exercise is stress (but hopefully not stressful) and the more stress we put on our body, the weaker it will become. Let’s only stress it with one thing at a time. Doing exercise stresses your body all the way down to it’s teenie weenie cellular mitachondrae, which are busy providing ATP and shuffling calciums around like there’s no tomorrow, not to mention muscle fibre, soft tissue, tendons and bones.

Cellularly, you’re a busy bunny when you workout.

Which is great, but now let’s look at this from your body’s priority list if you were ill: what’s more important, energy for movement that, deep down, your body knows is not required or energy for the immune system to smash the heck out of whatever’s decided to try to invade your temple of a body?

We’d like to think one or the other, but actually on a cellular level we’re pretty dumb - it’s going to try to do both, and not quite manage either. As a result, you’ll still be ill tomorrow, only with less reserves to fight it off. Maybe that means you won’t be able to get to work (problems with the boss) or will just be useless when you get home from work (problems with the wifey). That will mean more stress, slowing recovery even more. It also means that your performance and training will suffer, leaving you further from reaching your goals.

So by sending that client home, I may be putting them back a week on their training schedule but that’s better than putting them back three weeks as they fail to make gains on account of a low immune system.

So here’s a little rule I use - temperature or glands = duvet and a rubbish film (ideally with aliens or zombies and minimal plot).

How to tell if your immune system is up? Try having a feel around your windpipe - in there are a couple of little glands that will feel like swollen olives and be sensitive to the touch if your immune system is flexing its knuckles or busy dealing with something. If you can’t feel them and don’t have a temperature you’re either OK or your immune system hasn’t woken up yet (interesting point: being ill with a cold or flu or whatever actually makes you feel pretty good; that way you spread it around. It’s only when your immune system notices the foreign bodies and rolls up its sleeves to get slugging that you feel rubbish, as immuno-antibodies just batter anything they come into contact with, cellularly-speaking.

So that’s why I send people home. I also recommend they spend three days recovering and rebuilding their reserves when they’re “over it” before training seriously again.

Another interesting point to note is the way our lymphatic system functions; it doesn’t have a pump like our circulatory system has, so to move stuff around it’s relying on you moving about. Your main lymph nodes are in your armpits, hips and lower back - no surprise that that’s where we tend to feel achey when we’re ill.

Your lymphatic system is what takes away the dead, damaged cells and waste products. Therefore, going for short walks while poorly may help your lymphatic system - which works alongside your immune system - to get you better again.

I hope this helps you to train happy

Ollie