Sometimes, the hardest part about being sick is the FOMO. Maybe your friends decided to go to the My Chemical Romance reunion tour anyway, even though you're sick in bed. For me, though, the worst part about being sick is the time I miss at the gym. If you've been down for the count long enough, figuring out when you can work out after you've been sick can be an obstacle all its own.
"Shorter duration and lower intensity are critical when easing back into exercise after an illness," says NASM-certified iFit personal trainer Mecayla Froerer. As a fellow personal trainer, I know you've gotta take it easy when you're coming back from being sick, even when you're eager to jump back in. Your body is likely still weary from fighting off whatever illness you might have had, even if your sniffles and cough are long gone. Tempting as it may be to leap right back into your regularly scheduled sweat session, it's crucial to build yourself back up gradually, and wait before you dive back in. "In general, you should not transition back to the gym or any type of exercise until your fever is gone for 48 hours," Froerer says.
Even if you were working out at a high intensity before you got sick, Froerer recommends easing in with lower intensity workouts. "Pay attention to your body and slowly increase your intensity again in each session," Froerer tells Bustle. "If you experience continued fatigue after your initial workout, take another day off between exercising again."
Say you had the flu or a stomach virus, though, and were out of commission for a longer time period, or got more intensely sick. Anything "below the neck" (like the chest coughs, nausea, and fevers you may experience with the flu), you're definitely going to want to back off working out for a while. Rest assured that you'll still be able to get your strength back — your progress won't all magically disappear — but it'll take patience and restraint to get there safely.
Since the flu impacts your respiratory system, it's important to not get your heart rate too high when first getting back to the gym. "Try not to perform any movements or activities that will get you largely out of breath." You want to take it easy on your heart and lungs while they're still recovering from the flu in particular. "For example, instead of running, choose to walk or do yoga. Slowly reintroduce strength training after that."
Sometimes, you *can* work out with a cold. "A common recommendation is that if your symptoms are 'above the neck', then exercise should be OK to do," Froerer says. When trainers say "above the neck," we mean a runny nose, sore throat, or sneezing. "Performing moderate intensity (so scaling back your intensity if you’re used to doing high-intensity workouts) may even help you feel better when experiencing these symptoms," Froerer tells Bustle. Obviously, keep your "above the neck" workouts at home; you may be able to exercise, but there's no need to germ-ify your gym.
Still, that doesn't mean you should never take days off, even if your sickness is "above the neck." Even though an unrelenting "no excuses" fitness culture might be telling you to never take a day off, trust me; days off are important, especially when your immune system is compromised. After those days off, you need even more time to sink back into your workout, and that's OK.
"Missing a few workouts, though mentally tough, will not dramatically affect your overall performance or abilities in the gym," Froerer tells Bustle. "It’s best to listen to your body and give it the rest it needs to ensure a healthy recovery. By resting when you need to, you'll avoid making your symptoms worse and more serious, Froerer says. The more you listen to your body, the better your workouts will be, even after coming back to the gym after illness knocked you down.