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Training While Sick - when to push through, cut it short, or skip it altogether?

With flu season upon us (whoa, it's already November!), and the northern states experiencing some cold, wet temperatures, it’s tough to stay healthy! One of the questions I get every year from my clients is: how do I know when to push through a workout, when to cut it short, or when to just skip it and stay in bed. Working out when you’re sick can be beneficial, but can also be detrimental, and it can be tough to determine how sick you actually are, and what you should do. I am in no way an expert or a doctor, but I’m drawing from my own experiences to help you make a more informed decision in your own training.

I have one rule that makes it a pretty easy call: if you have a fever over 100, skip the workout, call in sick from work if you can, and stay in bed. You will reap infinitely more benefits from taking it easy and healing for the day, rather than trying to get any fitness gains. Likely, if you try to work out in this situation, you’ll end up prolonging the illness, which will keep you from training at 100% even longer.

When there’s no fever present, or your temperature is less than 100, it’s not so cut and dry. If you’re feeling tired and sluggish, maybe a little congested, my advice is to get dressed for whatever workout you have planned that day, and give it at least 5-10 minutes of easy effort. If you still feel just as bad, it may be time to throw in the towel, take a shower, and get back in bed. However, if you find yourself perking up during the warmup, increase the intensity a bit. I generally don’t like to do super hard intervals when sick, since your body is already broken down and working hard to heal. Aerobic work, mostly zone 2 with some zone 3 efforts in the 5 minute range shouldn’t be too hard on the body.

If you just have the sniffles or a headache…I recommend taking some cold medicine (we like Zyrtec and Naproxen in our house) and just sucking it up through the full workout. This is not usually the answer people like to hear, but it’s usually the best course of action! Likely you’re not very sick at this point, and can still train without any problems. However, if you find yourself feeling worse halfway through the workout, cut down the intensity or call it a day, depending on how bad you feel (see the aforementioned rules). Most often in this situation, I have found that I feel better after a workout, which is awesome!

Finally, what to do about swimming when you’re sick? In my experience, nothing good comes out of swimming while sick, even if you go easy. Stick to dry land especially if you have an upper respiratory or sinus issue. You’ll thank me for that bit of advice!

Don’t forget to wash your hands and stay away from sick people as much as you can this flu season! Feel free to reach out to your coach or to myself for any additional questions about training while under the weather.

Happy and healthy training!  

lauren chandler