Training when you’re unwell

One of the greatest benefits of regular training that is almost universally agreed upon is how much better it makes you feel. People who train regularly claim to be have more energy than before they started, as well as being happier and more productive. But we aren’t immune from the illnesses that can strike anyone down. So what’s the best thing to do? Should we battle on through when we are feeling unwell or is our body telling us to stop?

It takes a ruthless form of determination to really make a go of it in the gym. So when you wake up and feel like you have a headache, a sore throat, aching joints etc., the instinct is to battle on. Think about how guilty you feel when you miss a day in the gym? That’s what pushes you to carry on and keep training, even if you feel unwell.

Well I’m going to disappoint you here and tell you that you shouldn’t. If you are unwell, particularly with flu-like symptoms, I’m afraid that you are just wasting your time in the gym. Our better understanding of how the body builds muscle tells us that it is during our rest and recovery when muscle grows. The micro-trauma that occurs within our muscle cells is essential if we are to grow. Now imagine that you have come down with a fairly serious illness. That is what your body focuses on repairing. And no, our bodies won’t start multi-tasking for us.

None of that even considers the fact that you won’t even be performing as well in the gym if you are feeling under the weather. You can try to persevere but it is inevitable that you won’t be able to maintain the same level of performance for the same amount of time. So why bother?

Working out when you are unwell isn’t just a waste of your own time, it is also preventing you from beating whatever it is that is making you feel unwell. Let’s look at the example of a flu-like illness again. We have said that the body won’t multi-task in its response so why give your body something else to do by training? This counterproductive behaviour is just going to increase the time that it takes to recover from the illness because you are trying to give your body too much to do.

The best thing that you can do to help maintain the progress that you have made is to stop working out when you become unwell. Our parents weren’t just nagging us as kids when they were telling us to rest when we were ill. Rest is the most effective way that we know of, other than medicine, to tackle illness. But being ill doesn’t mean it is the time to take your foot off the gas with your nutrition either. Comfort food is a big no-no. You need to keep to your nutritional plan if you want to recover as quickly as possible.

I never like suggesting to people that they do less work but this isn’t about one or two sessions, this is about achieving your goals over a long period of time. Humans get ill, we can only do so much to prevent that. But when we do become ill our actions can have a massive impact on how long it takes us to recover. So make the right choices, recover as quickly as possible and you will be back in the gym doing what you hopefully love in no time at all!

Ollie Lawrence
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