When NOT to exercise


Lady with a cold small
Sometimes you just need to give into illness (Image from ShutterStock)

My biggest challenge in life and with regards to my training, is knowing when to stop. This is how I have managed to get pneumonia twice in the last few years. Despite feeling unwell I just kept pushing myself to keep going.

This is obviously not always a very sensible thing to do. Had I eased off at the first signs of a chest infection, it’s likely that both of my bouts of pneumonia would never have occurred.

But when should you push on through tiredness, illness and stress to train, and when shouldn’t you?

Thomas Weidner, head of athletic training at Ball State University says that a general rule of thumb is that if your symptoms are only affecting the area above your head, you are still ok to train, although it is sensible to reduce the intensity of your session. If your symptoms are affecting anywhere from the neck down then you should head to your bed instead of the gym.

This morning I made myself proud. The children are in childcare and I was originally planning on heading to the gym, but having felt rubbish for a few days and certainly no better today, I opted for a yoga session and a cold-busting homemade smoothie instead. This is a definite sign that I’ve learnt from my past mistakes.

Here are a few tips that might help whether to train or not. Remember that if symptoms persist, you have any concerns or signs of an infection then seek medical advice.

  • DON’T exercise is you are running a fever.
  • DO exercise if you’re a little weary, as it can give you a boost and can help realign your circadian rhythms. If you are persistently fatigued however, seek medical advice.
  • DO listen to your body. If you feel like you shouldn’t train, then don’t. You could only make your illness worse, which would set your training back for much longer. (I definitely learnt this one the hard way).
  • DO exercise if you simply have some aches from previous training sessions, although it’s sensible to reduce the intensity on those sore areas. Try to include some foam rolling in your session, and give achey muscles a good stretch.
  • DON’T exercise at any signs of an infection. Instead seek medical advice.
  • DO try to identify causes of recurrent illnesses as it might be that you need to make some tweaks to your lifestyle.
  • DO try to get enough sleep. We should aim to get at least 9 hours a night, which I’m sure very few of us actually get. Sleeping helps your body fix itself.

At the end of the day overall health is more important to our quality of life than the possible gains to be gleaned from individual training sessions. Try to look at the bigger picture and give in to illness, otherwise there’s every danger it will get progressively worse until you are forced to stop. Please learn from my mistakes!


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