Can You Exercise When You're Sick? One Athletic Trainer's Advice

By Jessica Poole, Certified Athletic Trainer

You just committed to a new workout or a workout buddy, or it’s a beautiful day and you need to feel the wind in your face, or pound that imaginary face on the punching bag, but should you? Is it a cold or, gasp, dun dun dun… the flu?

Should you work through it or call it a day and give mom a ring?  Well, lucky for you, I am here with a little advice…

Colds – yucky little virus that causes you to feel awful. One step up from death warmed over. You are tired and run down. You have a cough and a sore throat. Maybe a headache, stuffy nose, and a low grade fever (99-102°F).

Can you exercise?
If you have a FEVER – NO. Call mom or the wife or the girlfriend and beg for soup. Call the hubs and beg for takeout--preferably soup. This is the only time I advocate for parking kids in front of the TV. You should join them. Make sure to grab the Ibuprofen and cold medicine too.  
If your symptoms are above the neck (and no fever) – YES. So all you cross fit die-hards and marathoners and fit folks, go ahead, but go easy. Make it a light couple of days. Call for that chicken soup and have an early bed time. You still need to hydrate well and rest. But get that workout in, it’s safe.
Word to the wise – If your symptoms worsen, last longer than 7 days, or your fever goes above 102, seek medical attention. If you are unsure as to whether to exercise, consult with your physician.

Flu – horrible virus that causes you to feel like you were hit by a Mack truck. It comes on about that fast too. You have a high fever (102°F and up), muscle aches, fatigue, loss of appetite. Sometimes there are intestinal issues, stuffy nose, sore throat an/or headache. Sounds like a ton of fun, not. I think I would rather take on that 15 mile run.

Can you pull it together and work out?


A. You have a fever.
B. You can’t move. You can’t fathom the thoughts of leaving your bed. You feel horrible.
C. You are contagious for up to seven days. No one wants what you have.
D. This is the perfect excuse for much needed TLC: babysitters, mom, anyone who can tackle your life and let you rest. Theraflu and OTC meds for symptoms may help. Call your doctor should symptoms become worse or don’t pass within seven days. Drink plenty of clear liquids.
Once symptoms have subsided and/or about seven days pass, ease back into your workout routine. Go slow, as you just conquered this nasty virus and you don’t want to relapse. Work back into your daily routine and then add in your workouts. Go slow, go slow, go slow!

How Gwinnett Medical Center can help

From vaccines, to physicians, to prevention techniques, Gwinnett Medical can help prevent and manage your cold and flu concerns. Visit to find a physician, explore health and wellness topics at our Health (e) Library, and more. Plus, it’s not too late to get a flu shot!

Center for Disease Control, CDC 24/7: Saving Lives. Protecting PeopleTM .  (2013). What You Should Know for the 2013-2014 Influenza Season. Retrieved from

Influenza Activity-United States, 2012-13 Season & Composition of the 2013-2014. Influenza Vaccine. (2013, June). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 62(23), 473-479. Retrieved from    

Plaspohl, S.S., Dixon, B.T., Streater, J.A., Hausauer, E.T., Newman, C.P. & Vogel, R.L.(2013). Impact of School Flu Vaccine Program on Student Absences. Journal of School Nursing, 00(0), 1-6. DOI:10.1177/1059840513487750.

 Prentice, W.E. (2011). Infectious Diseases, Blood borne Pathogens & Universal Precautions. In Principles of Athletic Training: A Competency Based Approach (14ed.) (pp. 364-366). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Ramirez, A.M. (2012). Respiratory System. In  M. Cuppett, & K. M. Walsh (Eds.) General Medical Conditions in the Athlete (2ed.). (pp. 139-140). St. Louis: Mosby.


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