OK, I know it sounds crazy but…
…you can have some of your BEST EVER workouts when you’re sick.
Even though the typical advice about working out with a cold is:
• Anything above the neck (e.g. a runny nose) = go light/easy
• Anything below the neck (e.g. a hacking cough) = forget it
But here’s the problem:
There are a ton of people (me included) that have hit PRs when they were sick…
…with no apparent downside to their recovery.
Hell, some even swear it made them recover faster.
(And this doesn’t just apply to coughs and colds)
After all, how else could I have pulled this off..?
The Will to Do What the Other Guy Wouldn’t…
During my year of unlimited eating, I was hit by an evil stomach bug.
Think 2-3 days with pretty much zero sleep and too scared to be more than a 10-second dash from the nearest bathroom.
But I didn’t want to miss my planned workout.
Forget lifting weights with a cold – think squatting with a… (OK, you get the point, right?)
So, I dragged myself to the gym anyway…
…telling myself “just squat with the empty bar, and see how you feel”.
And guess what?
Once I got started, it felt so good that I slapped a pair of 45-lb plates on the bar.
Then a weird thing happened:
Instead of being anxious or intimidated (how heavy will it feel? how hard will it be?)…
…I had this strange feeling of calmness and gratitude.
Calmness because I was in the moment and gratitude because it felt awesome to be doing something physical.
Squatting 135 lbs felt effortless, so on went another pair of 45s.
Then a little more.
I squatted 300 lbs for 5 reps that day – a personal record at the time.
And I did that for 5 sets.
Even better, I left the gym feeling a million times better than I did when I went in.
So much for all that “if it’s below the neck, don’t work out” stuff.
Thanks to what I learned that day, I think lifting weights with a cold really isn’t a big deal.
As Ben and Bryce recently discovered…
Focus on What You Can Do, Not What You Can’t
OK, both these guys were suffering with chest colds yet they decided to work out anyway.
Boom! Personal records in every session for pretty much every lift.
And these are guys in their 50s with young families and businesses.
(Hey, maybe there’s something to this commitment and determination thing after all…)
The reality is few things reveal your mindset better than training when you’re not firing on all cylinders.
Seriously, I’ve known people that were almost relieved to be sick because it gave them the perfect excuse for not working out.
(And no, those folks didn’t end up getting very far)
Compare that to Vietnamese POW, Jerry Coffee, who did endless push ups and walked miles everyday in a 6 ft x 3 ft cell…
…in spite of being sick, starved and tortured.
Look, this isn’t about being a tough guy, it’s about recognizing that there’s always something you can do.
Squat or bench press the empty bar, do a few minutes on the rower.
And my guess is that once you start doing those things, you’ll begin to feel way better than if you hadn’t.
Maybe you’ll keep adding weight and hit a PR.
Or perhaps you’ll take it a bit easier and be happy knowing that you’re mentally tougher for having gotten in.
(And you’ll feel rejuvenated, to boot)
That’s a huge win, too!
But if you don’t go, you won’t know…
A Training Partner = Leverage
Now, one of the best ways of working through a cold is by having a training partner.
Why? Because you’ll do more to avoid letting him down than you ever would for yourself.
OK, these days I train on my own and, if I do have a cold, I just load up on caffeine, listen to loud music and do it anyway.
(I’m not trying to sound badass, I just imagine looking Jerry Coffee in the eye and telling him how hard life is)
But I used to train with my buddy, Michael, and I’ve lost count of the number of times one of us said…
…”I was feeling kind of sick but that was an AWESOME workout – thanks for ‘making’ me show up!”
Believe me, the leverage you get from that accountability is worth its weight in gold.
And those times when you get in and gut it out anyway are the ones that really count.
They’re the memorable workouts when you discover what you’re really capable of.
That’s why I can remember squatting 300 lbs for 5, but not three plates (315 lbs) for 5, arguably the bigger milestone.
All because the former “shouldn’t have been possible”, while the latter was just another workout that went as planned.
Working Out With a Cold: The Bottom Line
As I said, this isn’t about bravado or anything like that.
Doing hill sprints or 20-rep squats with 225 lbs when you’ve got a hacking cough isn’t a good idea.
(Trust me on that, OK?)
But my hunch is you can get in and do a few warm-up sets.
And if you want to leave it there, no problem.
Hats off to you for getting in when most people would cry off.
But if those warm ups feel good, you might want to keep going – the workout of your life could be just around the corner.
The reality is you can PR if you’re sick “above the neck” or “below the neck”.
Many of us have done it, and were blown away by what we discovered…
It didn’t make us sicker.
It didn’t put the brakes on our recovery.
It showed us how deep our reserves really are.