by Alan Bragman
Question: Should I continue training, or cut out exercise, when I’m feeling under the weather? I have a bit of a sore throat and am slightly chesty but no temperature. Should I be exercising, and at what level? — Paul L.
Alan Bragman, D.C., Replies: Knowing when and if to train when you are sick can be a difficult decision. Do I rest and let my body recover, or go out for an easy ride to maintain fitness and sanity?
When I was younger, I generally tried to continue riding through most mild illness. Unfortunately, this frequently turned a mild sore throat or common cold into a sinus or bronchial infection that required antibiotics and extended rest.
Now, when I feel under the weather, I take a day or two off completely before I resume easy training, and this generally works.
Traditional thought is that if your symptoms are only above the shoulders (sinus drainage, scratchy throat, watery eyes or a head cold) and you had no fever or generalized body aches, then it was fine to do a short, easy aerobic workout.
However, if your symptoms are below the neck (coughing, discharge from the chest or sinuses, fever or generalized body aches), then forget about exercise and get as much rest as possible. The faster you get well, the faster you can resume training.
Remember the old saying, “It is better to be undertrained and healthy than overtrained and sick.” Pushing yourself to train with a fever, cold or flu can lead to life-threatening complications, such as viral myocarditis, pneumonia or Guillian-Barre syndrome.
Once you get back on the bike after an illness, take it easy for a while. It can take a full week to recover completely from even the common cold.
Alan Bragman is a chiropractor living in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a former Cat 3 cyclist and nationally ranked inline speed skater. He was on the medical advisory board at Bicycling magazine for 10 years and has written for other sports publications.
Gary Turney says
I’m relatively new to cycling but am a long-time runner. I agree that if you are really feeling pretty bad, it’s best to just take a few days off. However, I once read that if you have a viral infection, and it’s not too bad or in the early (or latter) stages, normal exercise will help speed the recovery. The basic theory is that while viruses can be pretty resilient to lots of conditions, most are very susceptible to temperature changes. Exercise raises your core temperature slightly, which can be enough to weaken the virus. I’ve found that it seems to work at times, but I suppose it could all be psychosomatic. My rule of thumb is if you feel like you can hit the road, at least give it a try for half an hour or so.