As a personal trainer, I get asked this more than almost any other question, “Should I exercise when I’m sick?”

People, regardless of where they live, get sick and fall prey to the ravages of “the cold and flu season.”

However, working as a personal trainer in the northeast of the U.S, it seems that from the middle of November until late April everyone I know and work with gets sick.  One of the most prevalent questions I get asked – along with “Can I eat (insert food here)?” – is “Should I exercise when I’m sick?”

And my answer is, “It depends.”  How’s that for professional personal trainer acumen?

But seriously.  Just like with most issues, there’s really no hard and fast, etched in stone rules when it comes to working out when you’re sick.  But there are guidelines that you can follow that can make sure that you make the right decision most of the time.

The bottom line is that whether you work with a personal trainer or train on your own, you have to know your limits, know what you can and can’t, should and shouldn’t do. As a longtime asthma and allergy sufferer who as a result was always susceptible to a variety of respiratory aliments, and has since “grown out” of these conditions,

I am particularly sensitive to this issue and can offer some valuable insight.  At least that’s what I think. And as shocking as it may seem to some of you – especially anyone out there who actually knows me – I don’t always tell people what they should do.  I would rather just relate my experiences and let you all make your own decisions.  When my allergies were bad, I most always elected to workout.

The vast, vast, vast majority of the time (a great thing about being your own editor is that you can do stupid things like using “vast” three times in a row) I exercised when my allergies were bad, and as a result felt better for doing it.  Swimming, calisthenics, lifting weights, agility and footwork drills and sprinting all made me feel better. Now I’m lucky enough to be able to do all of these things inside, a luxury not everyone has.  However, the important issue is that exercise made me feel better.

So if the pollen count is ridiculous and you don’t want to go out, stay inside and do your workout, do something.  My allergies were worse in the fall than in the spring, but I suffered during both seasons and found that exercise did more to make me feel better than did medicine. My asthma was a different story.

Until I was in my mid-20s asthma had a grip on me that I had to respect.  There was nothing to gain, and there is nothing to gain, but exercising in the throes of an asthma attack or when any wheezing is present.  Asthmatics know what I’m talking about. But what about the common cold and flu?

Here’s my rule of thumb; if it’s in your head go ahead, if it’s in your chest take a rest.  How’s that for pithy? Again, from my personal experience a head cold doesn’t keep me from working out, but any kind of cough or feeling that I have a chest cold has me taking a day off.  Or three days.

A lot of times a low-to-moderate intensity workout can really loosen up a head cold, where as this same workout done with a chest cold can really set you back and make you feel worse. No matter how good your personal trainer is, only you know if you really feel good enough to work out.

Actually, from the professional side, I wind up sending people home if they seem sick.  It’s just a workout, people.  And besides, I don’t want to get sick. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you aren’t feeling 100% don’t try to exercise at 100%.

Be a mensch and gear it down, a mensch I say.  Go at 60-75% of your usual pace. If you don’t know what a mensch is, you should. So remember, a little common sense and self-awareness goes a long way.  And when in doubt, take the day off.  After all, it’s just a workout.



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