Should you train when you are sick?


Steph has just arrived at the gym and is warmed up and ready to go! Whilst strutting towards the elliptical in her Lululemon tights, Steph suddenly hesitates as she looks in the direction of Greg. Greg, who is on the neighboring elliptical, is sweating profusely, sounding like a pack of barking wolves as he coughs from the cold that he picked up earlier in the week. Seeing Steph, Greg reaches out his hand to wave a friendly hello, before almost immediately retracting it to cover his nose as a violent sneeze almost derails him from the machine.


What should Steph do in this situation? And is Greg promoting his recovery from illness or further exacerbating it?

To train or not to train…it is often a hard call to make when we are feeling a bit under the weather. Ultimately, the power to choose whether or not to continue with your exercise routine or push the pause button for a day or two is going to be up to you. In this post, I hope to help you make this decision.

The Neck Rule


“The Neck Rule” is an expression used by many doctors and sports practitioners to help individuals distinguish between symptoms that need complete rest (avoiding exercise) and others that do not threaten increased harm from exercise.


The Neck Rule stipulates that if symptoms are above the neck, it is generally considered safe to exercise. If symptoms are below the neck, however, it is best to rest up and catch a few hours of extra sleep.


Symptoms that are above the neck include:

  • Runny Nose
  • Nasal Congestion
  • Sore Throat
  • Coughing


Symptoms that are below the neck include:

  • Chest Congestion
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Hacking Cough
  • Body Aches
  • Upset Stomach


Once you have performed the “neck check”, it is important to check your body temperature to determine whether or not you are experiencing a fever. Regardless of what you discovered during the neck check, a fever is a clear indication that the body needs rest. An elevated body temperature is a key symptom that signals the body is fighting an infection and needs as little stress as possible to promote healing.


A fever is usually granted when body temperature is above 38*c. 

Fun Fact! Contrary to popular belief, the severity of fever isn’t necessarily related to the seriousness of the illness – for example, life-threatening meningitis might only cause a small temperature rise.

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If you have passed the neck check and are free of a fever, you may choose to exercise. It is, however, important to be aware and pay extra attention to any symptoms that may arise during exercise. If your symptoms are aggravated by exercise, it is suggested that you either lower the intensity of the workout or stop it all together. Use your judgment to best pick what the smartest option is for you! 


So what about Steph and Greg?


Lets start with Greg. Do his symptoms suggest that he should be exercising or resting?

Heavy sweating, whooping cough and violent sneezing suggests that he should have stayed in bed and enjoyed a few more hours of sleep instead of tying up his laces and hitting the gym. If his symptoms were simply a congested nose and a scratchy throat, Greg may have actually helped promote his recovery by participating in some low intensity aerobic exercise.

Studies have shown that low-to-moderate intensity level exercise such as walking and jogging can promote the body’s return to health. High-intensity level exercises such as sprinting or weightlifting on the other hand have been shown to negatively affect recovery from illness.


Bottom Line: Greg should lay low for a few days and avoiding stressful activities in order to help his body return to health.

What about Steph? Is she in danger of continuing her exercise next to Greg?


Greg is coughing and sneezing, sending a lot of germs into his surroundings. Exercising in an enclosed environment will exacerbate the likelihood of Gregs germs being contagious to Steph. Gyms can quickly become breeding grounds for germs and viruses when they house the sick. Germs can become airborne when people like Greg cough and sneeze, as well as contaminating exercise equipment such as machines and weights. It would be suggested that Steph keep her distance from both Greg and the gym today, especially if she intends to complete a high-intensity workout where she will be stressing her body and her immune system. 

Hopefully you learnt a few new tricks to help you decide whether or not to exercise when you are feeling a little off. Just before we go, let’s quickly recap:


When you are feeling under the weather and are deciding whether or not to exercise:

  1. First, Complete the Neck Check.
  2. Second, Check temperature to determine if you have a fever.
  3. Third, Moderate intensity levels of your exercise.


Lastly, it is important to HYDRATE when you exercise, especially when you are not feeling 100%!