Category Archives: Exercise Tips

Should you workout if you’re sick?

Cold and flu season seems to be out in full force, which for me means answering questions from clients about whether or not they should train when they are sick. In fact I just replied to this client email a few minutes ago:

Hi Elsbeth,

I have a question about training while sick. I’ve had an awful cold since the weekend – congestion is the worst problem, and I’m developing a bit of a cough now. The worst part is just unending fatigue, though. I’m tired of sitting on the couch, so I was thinking of coming to training tonight and just doing an easy, modified workout to get my body moving again.

Professionally, are you okay with someone working out while sick, or do you recommend that I wait until I’m feeling better? And personally, should I just stay the hell home and keep my damn germs out of your gym? Because I also completely understand that, too!

I’m fine with whatever you’re most comfortable with – I just thought I’d double check. I’d been planning on coming but don’t want to be idiot about it either.

Thanks in advance,


Copyright Allan Foster on
Copyright Allan Foster on

This is from a very motivated client who loves her workouts, and as you can see, is feeling a bit stir crazy after a few days of lounging on the couch and is eager to get moving. Here was my response:

Bummer that you’re not feeling well! But thanks so much for asking – they are indeed good questions. My take on whether to train when you’re sick is two-pronged:

1. If your illness is from the neck up then you’re good to train (pending item 2 below), but if it’s either neck down or full body then you’re best to give your body the chance to heal. Training with a fever, for instance, is not a good idea. Based on the fatigue comment, I’d guess you’re in the full body category? In which case probably best to keep on resting. If it wasn’t minus 100 outside, I’d suggest a short walk  might be a good in between option. You could also do the warm-up that you usually do at Custom Strength at home and see how that feels. I’m guessing the warm-up will probably be enough to get you feeling like you’ve moved but may also be enough to tire you out. And in fact that would be a good test of your actual fatigue: did the warm-up wear  you out? If so, you’re not ready to work out. If  it didn’t, then we erred on the side of caution – oh well. If that is the case, let’s try to get you in tomorrow instead of tonight. 

2. If you’ve only been sick for a few days, I think there’s a good chance you’re still contagious, so my preference would be to keep those germs at home. Once you’ve been sick for longer, then you’re less  contagious so coming in is fine. Although some precautions like frequent hand washing or use of antibacterial goo often would be appreciated. Medline seems to support this stance:

So – based on that, do you think you’ll be in this eve?

I just got a reply back from my client that:

Based on that, I should probably stay home! Today is the first day that I’ve really been up and about, and honestly a shower is still enough to wear me out. I think I will take your advice and do my warm up and then maybe a walk around the block later this evening when the windchill dies down. 

I hope this helps anyone else who is trying to decide whether to work out and whether to go to the gym. When you’re deciding, please do consider both your own health and the health of those around you.

In fact you might argue that my criteria for working out would also be a good criteria for whether you should go into work when  you’re sick. You may think you’re being a dedicated exerciser or employee by working or working out when you’re sick, but you may just be prolonging your illness and making others sick. Maybe a day off and/or a day of working or working out at home is actually the sign of a dedicated exerciser or employee.


Elsbeth Vaino, CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa who loves that she has clients who are thoughtful enough to ask questions like this. 


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Q&A: Hamstring and glute exercises

Q&A: Glute and hamstring exercises

Q: I have some questions about glute and hamstring exercises. I find these hard groups to target. For example, I’ve read so many great things about deadlifts…but my problem is that I can’t hold enough weight to get a good workout – my hands give out.

A: There are a few options to consider.

1. If you have small hands, consider getting a women’s bar. Regular bars have a diameter of 28.5 mm, while a women’s bar has a diameter of 25 mm. That doesn’t sound like much, but I learned many years ago that it really is. I had a client who is a tremendous athlete and was always eager to “give ‘er” at the gym . Except with deadlifts. In fact she told me one day that she didn’t like deadlifts. I was floored. And I knew I had to right this wrong. After chatting for a few minutes, she mentioned that she was having a hard time holding the bar. She has small hands, as many people do – especially women.  That afternoon I ordered a Bella bar from Rogue. The day the new bar arrived, the client did her first set of deadlifts – with the new bar – and exclaimed: “I love deadlifts!” And all was right with the world again.

2. Another approach is to use an alternating grip (one hand faces your body; the other faces away from your body). With both hands facing the same way (usually palms facing the body), the bar will want to roll a bit, which makes it harder to hold.  Alternating grip addresses this, making it possible to lift more.

3: Alternating grip is probably the most widely used deadlift grip, although I’m not a fan because it puts uneven stress on your shoulders. I actually like straps for deadlifts. There are many out there who suggest you shouldn’t use straps because you should just work on your grip strength. Grip strength is important, and you should work on it. Deadlifts are an amazing exercise that work the biggest muscles in your body, so why would we let the little hand and wrist muscles be the limitation in how strong our glutes, hamstrings and back get? Use straps and find other ways to train your grip.

4. There are of lots of other great options for glutes and hamstrings:

  • Single leg versions of the Romanian deadlift are great – takes a bit of doing to get the balance, but because it’s one leg doing the work, you can get more involvement with the same amount of weight. These are typically done with dumbbells (one or two).You can also do cable machine versions of this.
  • For glutes there’s a great exercise called a shoulder elevated hip lift. You can do it on 2 legs, on one, and can progress to adding weight.
  • Stability ball leg curls are great for hamstrings. Or you can do a slideboard leg-curl to targets the glutes more than the hamstrings. If you don’t have a slideboard, there a couple of options: I have found that a krazy karpet works well – take your shoes off and do leg curls with socks only. Or you can pick up pieces of that material used under furniture to keep from scratching floors and put those under your shoes if you’re on hardwood.

If you’re interested in some more details about glute training, give this article, Is it a glute bridge, a read.

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