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How to Get Back to Working Out after You’ve Been Sick

Young woman wearing workout sweatshirt sick and coughing
Aaron Amat/Shutterstock

Getting sick is never fun, especially when it interferes with your fitness regime. Finding the motivation and energy to get going again can prove challenging. No matter how excited you are to move forward, it’s important to pace yourself.

Exercise During Mild Illness Can Be Beneficial

Minor illnesses, like the common cold, are fairly easy to bounce back from. In fact, exercise helps boost the immune system, so it can be beneficial to engage in light exercise when you’re mildly sick.

It’s important not to overdo it, though. Think more along the lines of a leisurely walk, a modified yoga class, or some stretching at home.

Also, this only applies if you’re not suffering from fever, aches, pains, or other serious ailments. For more extreme illnesses, like the flu, you definitely need to stop all forms of exercise and rest. Let your body devote its resources to fighting off these yucky viruses.

How to Ease Back Into Your Workout Routine

couple in sports clothes stretching on yoga mat
George Rudy/Shutterstock

What are the first steps to take once you start to feel better? First, you want to wait until you’re fever-free for at least 48 hours, and are no longer experiencing any aches or pains.

When you’re sure your body’s ready for it, take it slowly. Focus first on increasing your cardio activity—cycling or walking at a medium-pace is great (no running yet).

We recommend avoiding strength training in the beginning. If you were down for a solid week, your fitness level has dropped about 30% (assuming you maintained a regular fitness routine prior to getting sick). A slow flow yoga class is another great option for gently revving up your system.

Ultimately, the goal is to get oxygen flowing, wake up those muscles, and prep your body for its return to your usual workouts.

Now, if you’ve only been sick for a couple of days, you can most likely jump back into your normal routine. Still, be sure to listen to your body because pushing yourself too far can weaken your immune system, thus making you susceptible to a relapse or even a new illness.

Also, it’s important to avoid public exercise venues, such as the pool or gym, if you have any remaining symptoms—you don’t want to spread your germs to others.

The Importance of Down Time

man resting on sofa

It’s crucial to include rest periods when reestablishing your workout routine. This might mean exercising every other day for the first week or two after you start back.

If you’re someone who despises being inactive, consider alternating your days with lower intensity workouts, such as gentle stretching or an easy pace on the stationary bike (no crazy spin classes yet).

Diving in at full force can cause harm; your muscles have weakened during your hiatus and you’re more likely to pull, tear, or strain them. Also, overexerting your system can make certain symptoms linger—like a cough that won’t quit.

Be Gentle with Yourself

Above all else, don’t judge yourself.

If you’ve been under the weather for less than two weeks, your overall fitness hasn’t suffered that much. Your body still remembers what to do, what it feels like to be fit. If your first workout after being sick feels like a failure, don’t worry. Trust that any activity means you’re moving, engaging those muscles, and are on the right track.

One step at a time is the best way to go. If you doubt your progress, consider keeping a chart of your activity. If you walked for 20 minutes today, aim for 30 minutes tomorrow. Seeing your progress on paper will reassure you that you’re not spiraling down towards couch potato status.

And of course, if you’ve been out of the workout game due to an extended injury or illness, you should talk to your doctor about the best way to get started again.

Tips for Optimizing Your Post-Illness Workouts

While you’re getting back into your rhythm, try to follow these general tips:

  • Listen to your body: Some tiredness is okay, but avoid hitting complete exhaustion. You’ll just weaken yourself and getting back to your routine will take even longer.
  • Drink plenty of fluids: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Include electrolyte drinks or powders to maximize your hydration.
  • Eat healthy meals: Find a balance with plenty of protein, fresh veggies, and whole grains. Avoid all junk food while your body is in recovery mode.
  • Make sure you get good sleep: Postpone today’s workout if you were up sneezing and wheezing all night long. Sleep is your body’s best weapon in the fight to getting back on track.
  • Don’t aim for 100%: Start off at 50%, then increase it to 70% in a few days. This is not a race; it’s important to take your time.

Good luck and trust that you’ll get a little stronger every day.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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