November 12, 2009

Maybe It's A Tumor: Calling In Sick For a Workout

How sick is sick enough to skip a workout?

We all know how sick you have to be to miss work. For me, that's when I get up and wonder, "Can I make it twelve hours on my feet today?" If I'm asking the question, the answer is generally "Don't. Even. Try. It."

I've worked out when I'm technically not feeling well, for a couple of reasons: First, because I know that working out (if, say, I've got a head cold) will make me feel better, as long as I do it gently. Second, because I hate to act like a wuss when Attila's there, lookin' all buff and fit.

So when is "sick" or "not feeling good" a sign to lie down and not get on the elliptical?

Generally speaking (ie, according to people who know more about this than I do), if your symptoms are all above your neck and you're not running a fever, you're good to have a nice, gentle, low-to-moderate intensity workout. We're talking stuffy nose stuff here, not "I'm in the depths of the worst head cold ever" symptoms. If you're running a fever, feeling lightheaded, or you have symptoms *below* the neck (like a chesty cough or what I'll delicately term "tummy issues"), Stay Home.

Having the flu--that is, body aches, fever, headache, and exhaustion--is a very good reason not to work out.

(Having the flu, in fact, is a very good reason for calling in zombie and staying put for ten days or so.)

Do not do this.

Having a stomach bug is an excellent reason for not working out, especially if your symptoms

Sinus infection? For Frog's sake, stay the heck home. With a galloping sinus infection, you're likely to bonk yourself in the head with a barbell or fall off the treadmill.

Head colds are a different matter. If you're over the worst of it and no longer feel like your head is stuffed with concrete, you might could do a mile on the 'mill at a nice, pleasant walk. Better, get outside and do your walking, in the sun (if there is any where you are) and away from people who could catch your bug.

Bronchitis is a good reason to stay home. So are generalized viral infections--the sort of thing my doctor calls "viral syndrome"--as both those conditions can wear you out far more than you'd think.

And, of course, if you're pregnant or nursing, you need to be extra-double-careful.

When do you skip? When do you go to the gym or out for a trot? And what do you use to wipe down the machines when you're done, so other people don't catch your plague?


  1. Very humorous article thanks :) Its means that I can't use all the excuses under the sun to avoid working out.

  2. Going through this right now. Ever-evolving symptoms/feelings.
    In the worst, aches, nausea, sore throat, I did nothing. The next day I felt fine so did a Michelle Dozois DVD and stretch from Slim in 6. Felt great after it.
    Next day, coughed so much I couldn't sleep/walk across the room without hacking up a lung. Last night, excellent sleep so today I am stumped. Still have a sore throat, still coughing a little. I think I will just walk in the 'hood because we have some actual sun. I know what it is because I Googled it. That burning orb is quite scary for those of us unfamiliar with it ;).

  3. I workout even when I am sick. however I make sure to take it down several notches like doing the elliptical but not at full force and a shorter period of time.

  4. Ugh, I never work out when I'm sick. And it's not for fear of dropping a dumbbell on my foot in a Robitussin-induced stupor. It's because I never, ever, ever feel like it. Even if I have a headache, it's a battle getting myself to the gym. Of course, I also know that working out can ease a headache.

  5. Sometimes, when I am really pushing myself, it's the working out - ie. slight overtraining - that is making me sick, and I just have to buckle down and push through it to get stronger. A few weeks ago, I ran the marathon with a slight sore throat and lots of fatigue. All went well. Of course, I don't recommend that for everyone... it's a fine line between pushing yourself to get stronger and doing something stupid!

  6. Last October I got this horrid cough/head cold combo that wiped me out and lasted a month, I went to the gym for a bit but my coughing was so bad, I just took an entire week off and it really helped to just rest my body. If I have a stomach bug that has me running to the bathroom, no way am I going to the gym. But most of the time I am there.

  7. I think we need to listen to our bodies. If there's fever or I feel really awful (like I want to sleep), that is a sign my body needs REST. As a matter of fact, anytime I am truly sick I don't push it. Bodies need to heal. But a headache or general fatigue or PMS is no excuse to skip a workout in my world!

  8. I don't workout when I'm sick. I rest because I feel like being sick my body needs all the energy it can to get better. I tend to slightly over-train on occasion and most of the time a symptom that I get from that is feeling like I'm getting sick so pushing myself to workout when I'm feeling that way is just me asking to get full blown sick. Been there done that and don't want to repeat it anymore than my stubborn butt has. LOL

  9. Thank you for putting this together succinctly. I knew there were times when walking/working out had actually made me feel better and times when it zapped everything out of me, driving my resistance down further.

    Fevers mean a lot of rest and fluids for me.

    If in doubt, a short, gentle walk will be a good indicator if I could go on or not.

  10. Sorry, that "g" was me, Gina. I'm pretty much over the flu, yet my head is still foggy and can't type my own name.

  11. Your list is perfect.

    The main reason I skip a workout is that I do not have the energy to do it safely. I ask myself: can I lift weight- any weight?-safely? A realistic answer of NO- and the gym and I do not see each other.

    I will still go for a walk outside, stretch or something.

    I find that the last day I'm stay home, I begin to get "antsy" and THAT is the cue that my body is ready to go back to working out.

  12. Does not feeling in the mood for exercise qualify as "sick"? I hope so, because that's the excuse I keep using. That and the "I have kids and am exhausted" routine.


  13. Very timely article! I'm not sick, but I am exhausted from two new workouts and lots of late nights. I was contemplating skipping my run tomorrow in favor of sleeping in but now I feel guilty about it :-)

  14. I just got back in the game after being sick for almost 2 weeks. Had a dry cough/headache/headcold deal that stopped me from running. Since I tend to breath through my mouth, running would just agitate my throat and that would slow down recovery. Hopefully others are conscious about spreading their germies to others.

  15. Good info!!! Lots of people don't pay attention to when they are too sick to work out or go to work.. Although unfortunately, some jobs don't care how sick you are OR some people can't afford to lose the money.. a really sad thing!

    I work out if it is all above the neck like you say... after all these years, I can tell & I actually feel better if I do work out if I am not too bad... which is most of the time. I rarely get sick.. knock on wood!

    I am a wipe down queen! I wipe all the machines & benches with the spray before hand AND I have a large towel for the machines/benches & a separate smaller towel for my face PLUS I carry my own hand sanitizer!

    Hey, I see from experience that many don't clean the machines so...

    Thx for the post!

  16. I tend to overdo, and make myself work out even when I shouldn't. Typical mommy.

  17. Somewhat related is the effect of menstrual cramps. For me this presents as lower back pain and I fall into the trap of pretending I can't work out because "my back hurts," when I know that once I get those endorphins flowing I will feel so much better.

  18. i am very much with you on all of that. i will work out if i have a little cold but nothing chesty or when the body aches happen and I just can't move. and while i am all for working out with a mild head cold but i advise everyone to do it at home, or outside, i.e. AWAY from other people instead of hacking and sneezing on the gym equipment. :)

  19. Hi Jo,

    I am here to BEG anyone who doesn't feel well but wants to work out, to do so in their own home or on a deserted street.

    I certainly do not want anyone else's germs in the gym I use. nor do I want you to jog by me and sneeze!

    I used to be less fussy, but the more grandkids I have, the more germ conscious I have become.


  20. You pretty much summed it up for me. But it's more if I think I can't work ( I'm a grad student so that takes a lot) I won't do physical stuff either. Or "stomach issues". Ick.

  21. That bit about the sinus infection made me giggle. Thanks for this humorous, thoughtful post.

  22. Thanks for explaining all that!

    I almost never get sick, and when I do it's only ever a cold--if I'll even admit to myself that I have one.

    God, I better knock on a whole hell of a lot of wood for saying that. No doubt I'll get something truly nasty for trumpeting the fact that I never get sick.

    So while I have plenty of excuses for working out, illness isn't usually one of them.

  23. I had to laugh at the "unpredictable" symptoms - wouldn't want to contend with those at gym!

  24. My reaction, when I think I'm getting sick, is to rush to the gym to get a workout in before I come down with something! And most often it turns out to be nothing but a sniffle. But the last time it turned out to be (I'm pretty sure)the swine flu, and three weeks later I'm still not totally back. But at least I got in that workout before my near-death (exaggerating a little)experience!


  25. Personally, I REALLY wish people who are sick, even if it's "just" a head cold, would stay AWAY from the gym. ESPECIALLY when the symptoms are just appearing, because that is when you are most contagious!
    I realize we live in a no pain, no gain, I'll-just-tough-it-out society, but being around others when you are sick only accomplishes one thing; spreading your virus.
    Those of us who work at the gym, especially, would appreciate your staying home: I can't afford to miss 10 days of work just because you felt you couldn't miss one workout.

  26. If I'm really sick, I'll probably just go for a walk, especially if it's sunny out. I tend to be tired, so full on gym workout won't excite me, can't do it.


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