How do I start back at the gym after being sick?

March 16, 2013

Q: I am recovering from the flu and was wondering what your thoughts were on how and when to start back working out and eating healthy? I tried to do the best I could while I was ill, but wasn’t sure how to proceed from here. Today is the first day I feel normal - what type of plan should I make to get back on track and in the gym?

A: When you’ve been working hard to get in shape and you get sick, it can be hard to step away from the gym and take the proper amount of time to rest and recover before returning, but the decision you make could be the difference between a few days off and a long road to recovery.

Starve the flu, feed a cold?

I’m not sure if there is any truth to this old wives' tale, but the one thing I can say from experience is that it’s a lot easier to continue to eat a healthy diet when I have a cold than it is to keep food down when I have the flu. In the long run it depends on your individual circumstances.

You must try your best to eat foods loaded with the proper nutrients and drink plenty of water to boost your immune system so you can get better. If you couldn’t eat while you were sick, get back to healthy eating as soon as possible after you recover.

Don’t go to the gym when sick

If you are feeling under the weather, please stay home or you will make other people sick. The warm, damp environment of the local gym is a great place to spread germs, because a lot of people are close together using the same equipment. As you cough and sweat all over everything, you are exposing everyone in the gym to whatever it is you have. Remember, people at the gym are trying to get healthy, not catch colds and flu.

Don’t return until fully recovered

When you are sick, your body needs rest in order to get better; that is why it’s important to wait until your fever is gone and all major symptoms have subsided. If you go to the gym and lift weights, you’re actually putting your body under a great deal of stress and could prolong your illness. Your body will then need to recover from a cold and a hard workout. This could actually lower your immune system and cause you to become much sicker. You are now risking missing several weeks of working out instead of a day or two. Which do you think is better?

Start back slowly and increase intensity gradually

A good plan of attack is to start back at about 75 percent of where you were before you became sick, and then increase the intensity after a few workouts when it becomes clear you are healthy and fully recovered. I usually drop all weight lifting exercises 15-20 pounds and cut cardio workouts in half for the first couple days, and if everything seems fine I’ll slowly add weight and time back until I return to normal levels. This technique not only ensures that I give my body proper time to adjust from being sick, but it also sets up future progress and consistent results as time goes by.

Sometimes the hardest thing about getting in shape is knowing when it’s time to step away from the gym and give your body proper rest and time to recover. Learning to do so is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle and staying in shape. Remember, the name of the game is longevity, and if you treat your body right, it will respond in kind, keeping you in the gym and on top of your game.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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