When do you push through being sick to train and when is it smarter to pull the pin and rest?

A concept that many including myself struggle to understand and implement. Perhaps the most important training day of the week is the one that is often the most overlooked by many active people, AND THAT IS —the REST day.

I have always been of the opinion that if you are suffering pain/sickness above the neck you can push through and train,


If you are suffering anything below the neck then you should rest unless it is an infection or fever.

This is just an opinion, so let us see what the evidence suggests and introduce the basics of immunity and the affect that nutrition and overtraining has on the following:


Every day we are faced with all sorts of bugs and germs – it is a germ invasion out there PEOPLE!!!

The most common invaders are upper respiratory tract invaders, or URTI’s.

  • colds,
  • coughs,
  • influenza,
  • sinusitis,
  • tonsillitis,
  • throat infections, and
  • middle ear infections.

Fortunately, our immune system has an incredible systematic approach to germs. When faced with foreign attack, it works incredibly hard to protect us. Without this incredible immune system we would be getting seriously sick every day.



Is when the germs make contact in your mouth, gut, lungs, and urinary tract where our physical and chemical barriers are in full swing.


Can be classed as ‘innate immunity’ and is the nonspecific resistance. This defence mechanisms destroy invaders in a general way and do not target specific antigens. These include aspects such as phagocytes, inflammation and fever.


The final line of defence is specific resistance, which is a component of acquired immunity. These include white blood cells, T-cells and B-cells where their purpose are far too complex for the purpose of this blog!

SO – When it is ok to train?

Let’s get one thing clear from the start: there’s a difference between “working out” and “physically moving the body.”

A structured workout routine — is one where you’re working at an intensity >70% and feeling some discomfort — this awakens a stress response in the body.

When we’re healthy, our bodies can easily overcome that stress. Over time, this progressive stress allows our bodies to adapt to this stress and is precisely what makes us fitter and stronger. But when we’re suffering from a significant sickness, the stress of a tough workout can be more than our immune systems can handle.

Dr. Gustavo Ferrer, MD, founder of the Cleveland Clinic Florida Cough Clinic, advises that, “if you have a runny nose, nasal congestion, and/or a sore throat, exercising is OK. You may consider reducing the volume (total time) of the exercise. For example, If you exercise for one hour, cut to 1/2 hour during those days,” he says.

He believes that you should, “avoid the gym when suffering a viral infection like the flu and the common cold — not only for your own health, but also because this is the period when you are contagious to others. ”


Many highly motivated exercisers, bodybuilders and athletes are obsessed with training and are afraid to rest. They believe the harder they train the bigger, stronger and fitter they’ll become, despite evidence to the contrary.

Thus, many exercisers attempt to do more work than they can physically tolerate, to the point where the standard 2-3 days of light workouts or complete rest still won’t allow recovery.

Many don’t even know they’re overdoing it until they reach the chronic phase of overtraining, where they grind to a halt, for which they need several weeks of rest to recover (Robinson, 2019)

A periodised training program which allows for rest days, deload weeks and targeted muscle groups and objectives at different times will reduce the chances of overtraining.


Taking regular breaks allows your body to recover and repair. It’s a critical part of progress, regardless of your fitness level or sport. Otherwise, skipping rest days can lead to overtraining or burnout.

Some obvious signs and symptoms of overtraining include:

  • Increased perceived effort during workouts.
  • Excessive fatigue.
  • Agitation and moodiness.
  • Insomnia or restless sleep.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Chronic or nagging injuries.
  • Decreased performance.
  • Metabolic imbalances.


Strong evidence generally supports the notion that proper nutrition is critical for optimal immune response and host defence against infection. Some nutritional elements, such as proteins, antioxidants, vitamin e and zinc have the special benefits on immunity functions.

Provision of these nutritional elements through natural foods will prevent people from the side effects of overtraining. Weight-loss programs, in which less than 1200 kilocalorie foods is consumed effect the immunity functions, for this reason, these extremely unhealthy so-called fast weight-loss diets should be avoided.

Adequate, balanced nourishment and regular exercise are among the supports we can give to our immune system. However, sometimes these elements become deficient and we may need some out sourcing for our immune system. This supports should be preferred through natural nutrients rather than medications.

It has been proven that, fresh fish, vegetables, mushrooms, medicinal herbs, herbal teas, omega 3 fat acids (plentifully available in salmon and mackerel) complex carbohydrates, yogurt, kefir and seaweed stimulate the T-cells and other immune cells.

Of the many, some of the most important nutrients in immune function include Zinc, Vitamin C, E and a wide range of Antioxidants.

Should you be deficient in any of these you should seek medical advice.


Generally speaking a reduction in volume and slight decrease in intensity will leave you feeling energised – HOWEVER – a high intensity workout (>70%), on the other hand, delivers a significant stress response which will send you backwards.

Let’s take a look at why.

Mild to moderate physical activity is usually OK if you have a common cold and no fever (exercises intensity <70% of max HR). Exercise will work to open up nasal congestion and other nasal passageways that may be suffering.

The general pattern

  • Consistent, moderate to high intensity training and a well-balanced diet will lead to a stronger immune system
  • Single high intensity or long duration exercise sessions can interfere with immune function. So take it easy when you’re feeling sick.

A group of scientists gathering data on exercise habits and influenza found:

  • People who never exercised got sick pretty often.
  • People who exercised between 2-3 times a week did the best.
  • People who exercised more than four times a week got sick most often.

In simple terms, being sedentary or exercising too much can lower immunity, while something in the middle can improve immunity.


Day 1 of illness:

  • Only moderate intensity exercise with symptoms like sore throat, coughing, runny nose, congested nose. Reduce total volume.
  • No exercise at all when experiencing muscle/joint pain, headache, fever, discomfort, diarrhoea, vomiting.

Day 2 of illness:

If body temp > 37.5-38 C, or increased coughing, diarrhoea, vomiting, do not exercise.

  • If no fever or discomfort and no worsening of “above the neck” symptoms: light exercise (<60% Max HR) for 30-45 minutes, by yourself, indoors if poor weather.

Day 3 of illness:

  • If fever and symptoms still present: consult doctor.
  • If no fever/discomfort and no worsening of initial symptoms: moderate exercise (<60% max HR) for 45-60 min, by yourself, indoors.

Day 4 of illness:

  • If no symptom relief, no exercise. Go to doctor.
  • If fever and other symptoms improved, wait 24 hours, then return to exercise.
  • If new symptoms appear, go to doctor.


Some illnesses can indicate serious infections. So if you aren’t feeling better and recovering, see your doctor.
Ease back into exercise in proportion to the length of your sickness.
If you were sick for 3 days. Take 3 days to ease back in.


Robinson, 2019 from

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