You’re midway through a tough training block and you’re achieving fantastic results – then wham, the dreaded sickness strikes.
Panic sets in. Your head spins with torturous thoughts of ‘will I miss training, will I gain weight, will I lose fitness, how long will this last, will it get worse . . . ?’
The truth is that heavy training schedules have a nasty habit of making us more susceptible to colds and flus. When exercise is frequent the immune system can struggle to recover between sessions. Poor diet, lack of sleep and mental stress can also weaken our immunity. It’s a medically proven fact that sore throats and flu-like illnesses can strike much more easily in athletes than in people who are less active.
When colds and flu strike, the first piece of advice to act is to not panic.
One of the most frequently asked questions for PTs is ‘should I exercise when sick’. The answer is simple: yes and no. Which answer is for you, depends on your symptoms. The second piece of advice is to listen to your body and never throw caution to the wind regarding training when sick because to do that could leave you in a much more serious situation. The third piece of advice is if you’re in doubt, then leave it (training) out.
The ‘neck test’
Many people wonder if they should stick to the training plan when they suffer cold-like symptoms, such as a stuffy/runny nose or sore throat.
Most sports medicine research supports using what’s commonly known as the neck test guideline.
Put simply, if symptoms are above the neck then train with caution, if symptoms are below the neck then cut your losses and rest up.
Sick above the neck
If your symptoms are experienced from the neck up (such as nasal congestion from a common cold with no signs of fever) then you are likely to be good to go with some moderate exercise. However, it’s important to carefully monitoring your body’s response during and particularly immediately afterwards as this will indicate how you should or shouldn’t tackle your next session.
It’s also important to ease back on the intensity of your training, as your immune system is already under pressure fighting infection and further stress could hamper recovery. It’s best to reduce intensity for at least a few days after feeling better to allow for full recovery.
Sick below the neck
Should your symptoms be below the neck and indicate flu (e.g. fever, extreme tiredness or muscle aches) the best advice is to cancel training until you feel better and to seek medical attention.
You may need a clean break for a few days or even a couple of weeks when you suffer a particularly nasty dose. It’s a horrible thought after all your hard work but don’t panic – all is not lost. You will be back where you left off within a couple of weeks of returning to training, however it’s important to gradually increase workload on your journey back to full fitness levels.
‘Sweat out flu’
Never be tempted to ‘sweat out’ a flu or fever by going eye balls out. To exercise with intensity while suffering from a fever or flu-like illness can result in post viral fatigue syndrome, a severely debilitating condition also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
The most important thing to remember is to listen to your body. You will experience off-days when training will make you feel better during and afterwards but when an off-day gets worse with exercise that’s your body telling you to slow down. Listen to your body, it knows best – it will tell you when to choose ‘yes’ and when to choose ‘no’.