Working Out While Sick: Helpful Or Harmful?

For most of us, being sick won’t stop us from seeing gains, but is it harming us to not let our bodies rest?

Now in the midst of cold and flu season and colder winter weather, our immune systems may be more vulnerable and our risk of getting sick much higher. As a natural part of the seasons and how our bodies react, we are probably used to getting sick and have found ways to power through any illness that may strike. While we work so hard for those gains to come to fruition, we don’t dare let a little cold take us down now.

But what are the benefits to working out while sick? We may feel better while doing it only to feel much worse after. It may get so bad we need to cut our workouts off only hurting our confidence further by not finishing a workout we started. People will say that it’s good to sweat out an illness and keep your body moving at maximum capacity so a sickness has no time to settle. But as strong as our immune systems are, they can take a beating and leave us feeling crumby.

Let’s take a look into just how harmful or helpful working out while sick can be. For some of us, it’s a way of life and we deal with it, but don’t let stubbornness keep you from seeing gains, even if it means taking some time off to rest.

strong man

How Does Working Out Affect Your Immune System?

Your immune system works to keep you healthy, fighting off any unwanted pathogens or foreign substances that can enter the body and cause disruption. As a solid line of defense, keeping our immune systems healthy can greatly increase our chances of staying overall healthy and not falling behind and getting sick (1).

Engaging in regular exercise is a great way to keep your immune system high for it works to benefit you in a number of ways. It can lower white blood cell count which is great, because a higher white blood cell count can actually be associated with inflammation. By working hard to keep your respiratory tract healthy and active, it can reduce infections from hitting your respiratory system which cause harm. Engaging in exercise outside can give you a breath of fresh air and improve your mood by changing your surroundings, benefiting both physical and mental health.

strong man

Working Out While Sick

It should be said that taking time off and giving your body rest is always a top option. We do understand that working out may be part of your routine which helps you and keeps you on a good schedule and helps with your overall mood and mental health. So getting sick can be a real pain for your routine and can throw you all out of whack. Depending on your symptoms, it can be perfectly fine to work out. A rule of thumb for experts is that if your symptoms are above the neck, then working out is generally fine. Anything below the neck can be cause for concern and should require rest (2).

Above the neck means anything like a stuffy nose or an earache, which as annoying as they can be, still allow you to work out properly and effectively and you will still see growth. Below the neck would be anything like body aches, chest congestion, or cough where it would be wise to skip your workout until these symptoms subside.

strong man

Sometimes the stress of a grueling workout can be a lot for your body to handle and can overload your immune system leading to more harm than good. Potential solutions for this are to not engage in higher interval activity like HIIT where you are pushing your body to the limit. You may not see the gains you hope for and ultimately may feel worse in the end. Lifting heavy can also increase pressure and stress that you just don’t need so using resistance bands can be a great way to get a good workout in with added resistance while also keeping unwanted stress and strain on your immune system. This will give you time to work on something like mind-muscle connection which may be overlooked with a big lift workout.

Check out our list of the Best Resistance Bands here!

Low intensity activities like walking or biking outside can give you fresh air and let your body soak in that sun. Instead of adding to an already compromised immune system, these low intensity exercises can actually help you feel better and aid in recovery. You will also feel accomplished in knowing you did something productive for that day.

Featured Supplement

A good multivitamin supplement can do wonders for your body and taken every day, it can pump you with essential vitamins and minerals to give you an overall boost to your immune system, as well as aid in muscle growth, decreased inflammation, and promote a healthy mind.

Check out our list of the Best Multivitamins here!

Performance Lab NutriGenesis Multi For Men


Performance Lab NutriGenesis Multi For Men is a great option for multivitamins specifically formulated for bodybuilders to pump you with all the essential vitamins and minerals you need. Being non-GMO, additive, and allergen free, this supplement is appealing as a healthy option. This ultramodern vitamin can enhance immune health, promote energy metabolism, and provide foundational support like vitality and recovery for all of your athletic goals. With all natural ingredients and a great formula, this multivitamin is perfect for your health and wellness needs.

Performance Lab NutriGenesis Multi For Men was a runner up in the 2020 GI Supplement Awards for Best Health & Wellness Product. Check out the winner and other finalists here, as well as our individual review here!

Wrap Up

Getting sick can be a real drag. For those of us who need a good workout to keep us primed and ready to take on every day, an illness can seem like it will really hurt our goals. Knowing when to work out and when to rest is important for keeping us healthy overall and ultimately it is up to you to make that decision. Listen to your body because it will tell what it needs and when it needs it to keep you healthy and seeing those gains come to fruition.

Let us know what you think in the comments below. Also, be sure to follow Generation Iron on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

*Images courtesy of Envato


  1. Thompson, Amy E. (2015). “The Immune System”. (source)
  2. Canadian Paediatric Society (2007). “Exercise and febrile illness”. (source)
Austin Letorney is a writer, actor, and fitness enthusiast. As a former rower, he has shifted his focus to sharing his knowledge of the fitness world and strength sports with others.