Words by Katie Brook.
We’ve all done it. Dragged ourselves out of bed for that morning gym session or shuffled our way along a 10k run, even when we’re not feeling 100%. But should we really be ‘sweating it out’?
Or should we be adapting our training, taking it easier, or quite frankly succumbing to the fact we’re not well and snuggling up on the sofa and binge watching Netflix. To help us bust the myth about training when we’re ill, we spoke to online fitness coach and founder of Project X, Diren Kartal, to get some answers.
SHOULD WE TRAIN IF WE'RE ILL?
When you are ill, the first thing to ask yourself is, "how ill"? Sometimes a little bit of movement can do us good if it's just a little cold but regardless, any sort of training must be kept to a low intensity - something that isn’t going to get you really dehydrated or that’s going to make you feel worse.
You should be focusing more on recovery, so you can come back strong and ready to hit your usual training with intensity. If you don’t take the time to recover, it's going to take a lot longer for your body to bounce back to optimum health, so be patient, look after yourself, keep hydrated, and rest as much as you can.
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF TRAINING WHEN WE'RE ILL?
Benefits of training when ill
The pros of training when you’re ill is if you keep the training light - a walk outside or light weights - this movement can help you mentally and physically. It will make you feel you have achieved something. But remember, light movement only. Listen to your body.
Negatives of training when ill
The cons of training when ill are that you could actually make things worse: Your immune system is already low; your body needs rest, sleep and nourishment - if you’re usually training in a calorie deficit, when you're ill is not the time. You need to stay hydrated and well-fed.
‘Sweating it out’ isn’t a thing either. Sweating out a fever through exercise is a big no no, you will naturally be sweating out the illness. Rest and recover.
IF WE FEEL UP TO TRAINING, WHAT EXERCISE CAN WE DO?
I would recommend simply just going for a walk, outside in the fresh air (and Vitamin D if the sun’s shining, supplements if its not). It could be 10 minutes or 60 minutes, depending how you’re feeling.
If you’re doing any sort of resistance training, keep the weights very low or stick to body weight. Avoid anything that is going to dehydrate you or get your heart rate high such as HIIT, circuits or running.
ARE WE ILL OR JUST NOT FEELING IT?
Feeling ill and lack of motivation are two very different things: If you’re stuck in bed with a fever, if you’re coughing, sweating, and generally have cold and flu-like symptoms, then listen to the physical signs.
You are ill. No one knows their body better than you. So make a smart decision and rest up. If you force yourself, you’re more likely to get injured, have a relapse, and/or take longer to recover from the illness.
Not feeling ‘it’ is more likely a dip in motivation to train, and often comes from lack of energy, lack of interest or lack of desire. If you’ve been hitting it really hard recently, maybe your body just needs the recovery, an extra day out. Take it.
If you know you’ve not been very good at staying on top of your training, look for ways to get you inspired again: get a great personal trainer, attend a group-based activity, follow a training programme, or just move your body - long walks can be just as beneficial depending what your fitness goals are.
HOW WILL I KNOW WHEN I'M READY TO EXERCISE AT FULL CAPACITY AGAIN?
When you start to feel better, it will be evident from your increasing energy levels. But it's important to understand that you need to ease yourself back into training for a few sessions (depending how ill you were and how long you were out of your normal training pattern for).
Start with a few lighter workouts. Don’t jump straight back into the intensity you were training at before, lifting the same weights pre-illness etc. or going straight out on a 10 mile run. If you do, it could increase your risk of relapsing back to your recent illness or becoming injured.
We all have days when we just don't have the beans to exercise. It's important to listen to your body and recognise if you're just having an off day, or if you're actually unwell and need to slow down.
There are some benefits to getting up and moving if you're ill, but the best medicine is really to take things slow and give your body ample opportunity to recharge. Recovery requires rest, and once you're back to full capacity you can pick up your training where you left off!