Working out while sick or injured can set you back in your training big time. Or not? Many people seem to believe that not working out for a week will put them back at where they began. All the work they have done during the past few months has been for nothing. Or at least, that is what they think. But how bad is a one or two week break from working out and eating right? Let’s find out.
What better time to write an article about working out while you are sick or injured than when I am actually sick myself? While I’m writing this I am basically coughing up my lungs. My throat hurts and I sometimes cough so hard that I almost throw up. Sorry for the details. Anyway, you may think an enthusiast like me still works his butt off or is at least heavily disappointed for not being able to work out properly. The truth is that I have had about three weeks in a row during which I barely work out and where my food intake is not nearly as high as it should be to achieve my goal of gaining muscle mass. Right now that doesn’t matter to me. You know why? Because whenever I feel too sick to work out I simply accept it and try to recover first.
Now of course the seriousness of my illness plays a big part in determining whether or not I go to the gym. A mild cold doesn’t stop me from throwing with the iron. A broken arm would be a different story and if you have a fever it is not recommended to train either. At all times, training should be done during the times you feel most energetic. Improving your personal record of squatting after you have helped your cousin move is not the best idea. After a good meal and with plenty of rest is more likely to help you succeed though. When you’re sick your body is using a lot of energy to get better. Even a common cold may increase your energy expenditure. Plus, the fact that you can’t breathe through your nose and a throbbing head could mean that you rather stay in bed. Most of the time it is best to accept being sick and avoid strenuous exercises. The exception is if you still feel energetic, despite also feeling ill. When I have a stuffed nose and a mild headache I definitely go do some training. It often helps me to breathe through my nose again and it simply makes me feel better. However, anything more serious than that should be met with rest to recover from your illness. Your health should always be at the top of your priority list. Without good health you’ll not get the best out of your workouts anyway. Rather take a two week break to be able to put a full 100% in your workouts after that, than delaying your health condition and only performing at 80% for four weeks.
We haven’t spoken about injuries yet. During the 7 years I have taken on various styles of training I have not been injured seriously that often. The biggest injury I have had was a heavily bruised shoulder. During a judo fight I was almost thrown on my back (that’s when you lose). Unfortunately I could turn myself a little bit and did not lose immediately. I say unfortunately, because I landed on my shoulder. For those who think judo does not hurt, because you fall on thick mat (called tatami), it DOES hurt. In fact if you would use such throws on someone who doesn’t know how to fall you could easily paralyze that person… or worse. So falling on my shoulder with a huge amount of force I was sure my shoulder was dislocated. I looked at my shoulder and it didn’t seem to be deformed. The pain was incredible and it took me a few minutes to recover from the shock. The pain remained, but I didn’t feel like giving up. With one hand I continued, eventually winning the fight, but it was not worth the consequences of the fall. Now, two years later I still suffer from some of the consequences of the fall. My shoulder is stiffer, when I do pull ups my right shoulder is higher than my left and with a lot of movements you can hear the joint crunch a bit.
You probably guessed that I didn’t work out for a while after that incident. It took me one month until I could use my shoulder for daily activities again. Another 2 months passed by before I could actually use it for some heavier work. For the past 2 years I have not been able to make much progress for my shoulders, which partly has to do with that injury. This goes to show that some injuries can be very difficult to recover from, if possible at all. The good part of the story has yet to come though. Even during the first 3 months of the shoulder injury I would work out multiple times a week. How? By improvising and adjusting my level of training to my possibilities. I trained my lower body by doing one handed goblet squats. Because it was my right arm that was injured, which is also my dominant side, I could still work out my left side. This eventually led to me being able to do more things with my left arm. In fact I can do most activities with both my left and right arm. My right arm may still be a bit stronger and more muscular but I can now easily brush my teeth, use a scissor or eat with my left hand.
The moral of this story is that despite injuries, disease or disabilities you can still adjust to your abilities. An injured leg doesn’t have to mean you can’t train your upper body. A common cold or mild headache should not break your routine and being unable to use your dominant hand could help you to improve the skills and strength of your non-dominant hand. I’m not saying you should work out with a serious injury, but you can definitely try to maintain your physique and skills. Rather invest your time and energy in your recovery than try to push through at all costs.
Always try to recover from injuries using the help of a professional such as a physical therapist. If injuries or illnesses take longer than two weeks to heal you should also get help from a professional. Visit your physician if that’s the case.