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Should I Workout When I’m Sick or Injured?

September 1, 2022 by

This is a question that I've heard a lot, and it's even one I ask myself.

If you're looking for a simple "yes" or "no" answer, you've come to the wrong place. I don't give blind prescriptions; there's plenty of people in the fitness market doing that already.

However, what I do hope to give you is a model of how to think about sickness, injury and the recovery process, which will allow you to answer this question yourself.

Sickness & Injury

The more symptoms you have and the more severe they are, the less likely it is you should complete your program "as written."

If you have a hard time (you experience mental resistance) convincing yourself to alter your training, ask your coach for outside perspective.

Chances are, if you are reading this, you are the type of person who wants to train and will continue to do so until you are forced to stop.

However, remind yourself that's not the path to success.

Putting in work due to obligation doesn't equal results.

Adaptation is the goal. Under-recovered and over-stressed means maladaptation, which moves you further away from your goals.

Adjusting Training Moving Forward

Minor Sickness (or) "Nagging" Injuries

If your energy feels 100% and your joints really don't hurt, then you probably aren't reading this article. So a "business as usual" prescription doesn't really make sense.

Adjust your training to prevent this issue from developing worse problems.

If you continue to train through sickness and end up beating yourself down, you just slog through sessions and get lower order adaptations. Not to mention, you'll likely be sick for a longer time.

You're much better off backing off the intensity & volume for a few days, which will accelerate your recovery process and allow quality training to occur sooner.

If you continue to train through injuries, attempting to ignore the pain, you are likely to suffer two problems.

One, the injury itself will probably get worse.

And two, as you move in a way that doesn't aggregate your injury, you'll be training compensatory movement patterns. The extent of the ripple effect these have through your kinetic chains and neural pathways is impossible to determine.

Remember, if you're a performance athlete (i.e. health isn't the priority) then there will be times when you're in mechanical pain and it doesn't always mean you need to stop. That often leads to the question...

Am I just being soft?"

This could be the case. In our community I know more people who err on the side of being tough.
Yet, I also know people who are truly soft.

My advice would be to ask someone else who you respect, "Should I push through?"

Sample Session Modification for Mild Illness

The other week I had an athlete message me saying he was sick, but didn't feel bad enough where he needed a rest day. This is what was written...

A. Clean & Jerk (6x1.1) @ 85-87% | Rest 15s, Rest 2:00

B. Every 3 Minutes x 4 Sets:
-6 Back Squat @ 78-80%
-16 Box Jump Overs 24"

C. 4 Rounds for Time
-21 Calorie Bike
-15 Clean & Jerk 155
-9 Ring Muscle-Up

I adjusted it to...

A. Clean & Jerk (4x1.1) @ 70-74% | Rest 15s, Rest 2:00

B. Every 3 Minutes x 3 Sets
-4 Back Squat @ 78-80%
-10 Box Jump Overs 24"

C. 4 Rounds @ 60-70%
-21 Calorie Bike @ 58-60 RPMs
-15 Alternating Dumbbell Clean & Jerk 50lb
-9 Strict Pull-Ups; 3s Lower

Sample Session Modification for Mild Injury

A few weeks ago I sprained my ankle while running. It had some swelling, but with stim and compression, my movement wasn't very effected. This is what was written...

A. Snatch (5 x 1.1.1) @ 78-80%

B. Back Squat (4 x 4) @ 85-86%

C. 3 Rounds for Time
-400m Run
-20 Shoulder-to-Overhead 135lb
-50ft DB Front Rack Walking Lunge 50/Hand

I adjusted it to...

A. Power Snatch (5 x 1.1.1) @ 78-80%

B. Box Back Squat (6 x 3) @ 95-105% | 16" Box

C. 3 Rounds for Time
-1k AirBike
-20 Shoulder-to-Overhead 135lb
-16 Box Step-Ups 50/Hand

Major Sickness (and) Serious Injuries

If you fall here, your training should look fundamentally different than it did before the onset of your sickness or injury.

The first thing I would do is seek the advice of a healthcare professional, not your fitness coach.

Upon clearance or a modified clearance, map out a plan that aids and accelerates your body's healing process.

For orthopedic injuries, collaborate with your physical therapist and remote coach. Creativity in your programming goes a long way. Anything you can do to preserve your physiology and a solid dose of fitness is a plus.

For systemic issues (e.g. Lyme's Disease) energy levels, joint and immune health are of utmost importance, and no single body part is effected. While working closely with a physician, things like Aerobic Accessory can be helpful for boosting immune function, elevating mood, and maintaining fitness.

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