Coach Tip Tuesday: Are Training and Sickness Compatible?
Coach Tip Tuesday has arrived!
It’s that time of year! No, I’m not talking about the holidays. I’m talking about THAT time of the year - when illness seemingly spreads like wildfire.
Most people will contract some form of illness over the winter months. Between being inside more, interacting with more people (THAT *is* due to the holidays), etc., it’s almost inevitable for everyone.
What happens to your training when you do get sick? This is something that I help athletes manage all the time, and here are a few tips:
This is the most important: DO NOT deny that you are sick (to yourself or to your coach). Do not be a stubborn bullhead and somehow think that you are the only human on the planet who is not susceptible to contracting a bacterial infection or a virus. It’s simply not true. If you aren’t feeling well, you are not feeling well. If you’re sick, you’re sick. It is OKAY.
Once you’ve accepted that you are human and that microscopic things that we’ll never actually see can be our temporary undoing, acknowledge that your body needs all of its resources to fight the illness. This means that stress placed on the body by a workout is not productive; it’s counterproductive. Working out while sick often means that sickness is unnecessarily prolonged, as the body has to divert the resources it would have used for healing to power the heart, lungs, and muscles for the workout. In most cases, working out while sick is going to feel like absolute garbage anyway. At the very least, it won’t feel great.
If you have a fever, any kind of stomach bug, an illness that involves the chest, etc. (think wet coughs, many trips to the bathroom, etc.) working out is absolutely not advised until those symptoms are resolved and those systems are working well again. If your symptoms are “above the neck” (think head congestion, sinus pressure, etc.) it may be possible to continue working out with modifications and a wise approach, but it truly may be best to rest during the rougher days of the illness.
Seek out the guidance of a medical professional when necessary, and definitely if symptoms continue to get worse or persist without signs of improvement for a few days. Don’t get upset with the aforementioned medical professional if they advise extended time off from workouts in order to allow you to recover. Even if they’re telling you what you don’t want to hear, they’re probably telling you what is best for you. So thank them with a smile and go home and take a nap.
Hydrate well, get extra sleep, and eat nutritious food as much as possible. Boost your vegetable intake and water-based foods (i.e. soup, unsweetened tea, etc.). Your body needs all of these things more than it needs a workout when you are sick.
Understand that getting sick does set back training, but that this is NOT the end of the world. Even if you are able to resume workouts after a few days, it will likely take at least a few weeks to feel 100% “normal” again, and that’s okay. Taking this time to let your body recover from illness and build back up is very important and while it may feel like a lot of lost fitness or a massive deal at the moment, a few weeks of reduced fitness is truly not a lot in the grand scheme of things.
Know that even if you do have to take an extended amount of time off from workouts or a longer period of time doing “modified” or “reduced” workouts that that is okay and will serve you best in the long-term. Rushing back to workouts, stressing the body more, and prolonging illness will cost you more fitness-wise than if you manage your return to your fitness routine wisely.
I know that getting sick can feel like it is the end of the world. It’s incredibly inconvenient and totally throws your normal routines to the wind. But all humans get sick at one point or another. Even those folks who have very strong immune systems will get sick at some point. When we do, it’s important to be honest about it, acknowledge it, and manage it well so that we can recover as quickly as possible and get back to doing what we love most, whether that’s a workout or anything else in our lives.
So the next time you do get sick, chill out and grab a good book, a trial of Disney+, or have a good look at the back of your eyelids. Your body will thank you for it. :)
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.