Under the Weather? Consider These Tips Before Hitting the Gym

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and when friends come calling… they’re probably sick. Seriously, it’s like an epidemic: April showers might bring May flowers, but you can count on cold November breezes bringing sneezes and diseases.

Honestly, there’s only so much you can do to keep yourself from coming down with a case of the sniffles: eat right, get enough sleep, wash your hands. You should absolutely do those things, but sometimes, that’s not enough. And when the aches and pains and sore throats and runny noses set in, it’s more sleep, more vitamin C, and maybe a few cough drops and some ibuprofen. That’ll get you through your day, but what’s going to get you through your workout?

It’s a frequent question I receive from readers, and my answer is simple: if you have enough energy to complete your usual routine, and you’re not running a fever, go for it. That said, practice a little common courtesy and common sense. If you think you might be contagious, don’t spread your germs around a public gym; and if it feels like you’re coughing up a lung, don’t go for a long run just because you think you could muscle through the discomfort.

For the average gym-goer, that’s pretty easy advice to follow. But many of my clients are the really ambitious, even hardcore types that loathe to ever miss a workout. I understand! You’re already feeling tired and miserable, and worrying about losing some of the progress you’ve made only exacerbates your stress. If that describes you, here are a few tips to ease your mind, if not your body:

  • Remember that recovery is the “secret” to getting bigger, stronger, and leaner. Your body doesn’t know or care where the stress comes from: hard training, a fight with your significant other, a nasty virus — they’re all stress, and if you don’t give your body a chance to recover from that stress, there’s no way you can improve. Sure, maybe you can squeeze in a workout now, but eventually, you will need to rest. Might as well do that now and save yourself some suffering.
  • Every single time I get sick, and take a little time away from the gym, I come back stronger. That’s not a coincidence: studies show that occasional breaks from training are likely to increase strength and endurance. (Of course, that assumes you train pretty hard most of the time – but then again, if you don’t, you’re probably not too concerned about taking a few days off when you’re feeling under the weather.)
  • You’re in this for the long haul. If you’ve got big goals for your body, there’s no way you can accomplish them overnight, and that’s okay! In fact, if you can look at the big picture, it’ll make a lot of the little road bumps like colds, bad workouts, and minor injuries seem insignificant.

I’ll admit, taking time off when you want to work out is easier said than done. If you’re really struggling to relax, you might want to ask yourself what you’re really wishing for. In most cases, you’re probably looking forward to some future situation – in this case, you want to feel better! While that’s totally understandable, it’s important to remember that we can only control the present.

Focusing on the present can help to dissolve that feeling of pressure that we place upon ourselves when we want something we don’t have. When you’re sick, it’s the pressure caused by physical discomfort and the frustration of wasting time. When you’re injured, maybe it’s pressure caused by the fear of never returning to previous bests. Doesn’t matter – no matter where the pressure comes from, it can be relieved if we just realize that our thoughts about the future are just thoughts. They’re not reality.

There’s a catch, of course. This isn’t a mindset that you can turn to only in the unpleasant times. You have to constantly work to build, strengthen, and maintain it, even when everything’s going great. If you don’t already have a regular meditation practice, now is the perfect time to start working on your mindset. And if you do meditate regularly, you know that the benefits of reduced stress and increased relaxation will help you to feel better right away (and studies even show it can help strengthen the immune system).

Above all else, remember: it’s just a cold. Rest up, have some chicken soup, throw on a good movie on Netflix, and you’ll feel better soon.

Feature image screenshot from @phdeadlift Instagram page. 

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.