Training When Sick

By Dr Tim Robards

You wake up and your first swallow tastes like a mixture of cotton wool and red hot chillies.  A runny nose and achy muscles … to train or not to train?  Do I use it as an excuse to interrupt the new fitness regime I’m on or do I brave through it?  As far as breeding grounds for germs go, gyms are right up there.  We are touching the same hand grips, equipment and mats.  We compromise our immune system all the time and not just at the gym.  We stress ourselves out trying to meet work deadlines, then go out to a local bar to celebrate and a day later we’re taking time off work because we think someone may have sneezed on you … And it’s all because we constantly push our immune system to its limits.

When you feel a cold or flu coming on should you take a break?

If symptoms are above the neck (a dry cough, runny nose) you should be fine.  Slow your intensity down, to about 50%.  Do this for a few days until you feel your symptoms improve.  Instead of your usual run do a power walk.  Studies show that those who are physically active recover from colds and flus quicker.

If I have a fever should I sweat it out?

If you have signs of fever, listen to your body, rest.  A fever is your body’s natural way to try and kill off a virus or bacteria.  Hydrate, you will be much better off by sweating it out in bed than in the gym.  If your fever is maintained for more than a few days or starts to increase above 39.5 degrees, then consult your GP.

If I have a chesty cold and cough should I train?

This usually means infection and you want to give your body maximal energy to help fight and recover.  When you’re in the recovery phase, light exercise can stimulate lymph movement and boost immune system function.  I would recommend light walking and as symptoms clear, start at 50% of your normal intensity for first few days, then increase it to 75%.  Build it back to normal over a week or two.  Always remember to hydrate.  You want to be drinking at least 1 litre per 25kg of body weight.

To summarise:

Ease into training gently if you have sinus congestion, a sore throat, a runny nose, sniffles or you’re sneezing.

Stay in bed if you have:

  • Body aches
  • Wheezing
  • Tight chest
  • An upper respiratory tract infection
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A temperature above 37.5 degrees and any other signs of fever