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The question of whether to train when you are sick is a question that gets asked a lot. We all work hard and none of us want to take time off even for a vacation, let alone when we might get sick. Backing off or taking time off has been driven into our brains as something that shows weakness or a lack of discipline. Obviously, this isn’t  correct but it can be hard to dispel those long-held beliefs stemming from the old school train of thought—especially when your ass is as old as I am.

There are different levels of “sick,” as sick is a relative term to a bodybuilder, just as “hunger” is ,and just as “lean” and “big” are. I am going to break down when you should train and when you should take time off in relation to how sick you are with a very black and white explanation…or green and yellow and…well, you’ll get my point in a minute.

To illustrate and explain my point clearly, I use an upside down traffic light. For you slower individuals who are scratching your heads and have the word, “DUH” in your thought cloud, it goes green on top, yellow in the middle (because when you flip a traffic light over, yellow is still in the middle) and red on the bottom. I would make a mensa joke but I might spell it menses again, and once was bad enough.

There are three levels of sickness with each level being represented by a color on the upside-down traffic light. And please understand that I am not a Doctor and I don’t play one on the internet. The following advice is not to be misconstrued as medical advice but rather my advice as to how I have handled my own training in relation to sickness over thirty-two years of training and what I recommend to my clients for the last I don’t even know how many years.

GREEN Light Sickness

This level of sickness at GREEN level you can train 100% with no issues. This is when your sickness is above the throat and entirely in your head. It can be a cold or sinus related. It may turn into a YELLOW level sickness but at this point it is only at GREEN level, so you should be able to train and have the session be productive.

YELLOW Light Sickness

This is the level when you are on the fence. It might not be terrible, but it is certainly worse than GREEN level in that your sickness is now not only in your head but in your throat. Most times you can still train and have the session be productive but you should know that training all-out at this level will usually push your body to the point that you will end up at the RED level very quickly. If your nutrition is lacking or your immune system is compromised by you being in a prep and close to a show, or training or under a lot of stress, these are all things you want to consider as to whether training is a good idea or not. It would be wise to consider sleep and rest at this stage but we aren’t always so wise when it comes to getting our training sessions in.


RED Light Sickness

This is where you do not want to end up, and training while in GREEN level and YELLOW level raises the possibility that you will end up at the RED level. At this level, the sickness has moved from the head to the throat to the chest and possibly even to other parts of the body, e.g., aches and pains associated with the flu. At this stage you should NOT train, at all. Rest is the only logical response at this stage and pushing through a workout where you will likely only be performing at a much lower level, not only won’t be productive but it will almost certainly ensure that you get even sicker. Keep in mind that the goal when we train is not simply to get through the workout but for the workout to be productive. When at this level, it is rare that only one day of rest will be required, so be ready to take at least a couple or a few days off to recover.  Sickness at this point can become bronchitis, strep, mono, the flu, etc.

MORE Sick of Your Gym? Part 1

An important note that I want to make about being sick and the intestinal tract: When there are gastrointestinal issues, the body tends to keep food from moving into the intestines and this slows digestion to a crawl. The body then tries to flush out the GI problem with what turns into your ass being transformed into a faucet. If you continue to force meals during this time, you will back up food in your stomach, bloat and distend quite badly, and find yourself incredibly uncomfortable. Even after you think that getting your food in was a good idea, your food is not being digested or absorbed properly because it is sitting in your stomach. If you eat too much your body will simply throw it up and let me tell you that if your ass is functioning as a diarrhea faucet, the last thing you want to do is have to throw up.

These recommendations above are general guidelines and, again, I am not a doctor and I am not giving medical advice. I do not want someone to train with a headache and then come back to me after they have a stroke or aneurism and blame me for the right side of their body sagging. There is obviously some level of decision-making on your part as to whether you should train or not, based on your symptoms. If in doubt, do NOT train. It is always better to take an extra day off and come back at 100% than it is to train at 70%. Plus, a stroke will usually blow your symmetry to shit and, obviously, as a bodybuilder, we can’t have that.

Just sayin’.