Posted On:
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Coach Tip Tuesday: "The Flu??" or The FLU??

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A mug of tea, some glasses, and tissues.

Around and around we go...where do we stop?? Well, we know!! We stop here on Coach Tip Tuesday!!

It’s February.  (Duh.)  And that means that most of us who reside in the Northern Hemisphere have probably either gotten sick or felt slightly under the weather by this point in the winter season.  I know that almost all of the athletes who I work with have encountered some sort of illness by now.  Many of them have actually had influenza, which is what prompted me to think about writing this post.

Throughout my adult life, I’ve heard *so* many people say that they “have the flu.”  “The flu” is actually short for influenza, but what I’ve observed has been this: very often, people do not actually mean that they have influenza when they speak the words, “I have the flu.”  “The flu” seems to have become a catch-all phrase that encompasses many of the symptoms that make up the common cold, a sinus infection, or general malaise or feelings of not feeling great.

When an athlete who I’m working with tells me that they have “the flu” or influenza, I immediately assign them a week off of training.  The thing is, a lot of folks are taken aback when I do this, and sometimes they end up telling me that they don’t actually have the flu.  And almost all the time, this is true.  They didn’t have influenza; they had some other illness.

This got me to thinking: perhaps folks don’t realize exactly what influenza or *just* how serious “the flu” (aka influenza) really is. So here we are, on Coach Tip Tuesday. I can tell you about it!!

Influenza is EXTREMELY serious.  In the United States alone, it kills more than 35,000 people per year.  Look at it this way: the current coronavirus has (as of today) killed just over 1,000 people *world-wide*.  The reality is this: Influenza is much more deadly than this new virus that has so many people scared.

Most people who contract influenza can recover from it within 1-2 weeks, and it can be easily diagnosed using a test in any physician’s office.  But there are many, many complications that can come from it, and some of them can be life-threatening or even cause death.  Among them:

  • Pneumonia
  • Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis)
  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
  • Inflammation of muscle tissues (myositis, rhabdomyolysis)
  • Multi-organ failure (i.e. respiratory and kidney failure)
  • Worsening of chronic medical problems such as asthma or chronic heart disease 

The risks that influenza poses are very real, and this virus’s impact on the body is also very real.  This is *especially* true if a fever is present.  If you have a fever of 103ºF or above, a week of training is mandatory, no matter what the root cause of the fever is.  If you have influenza, a week off of training is also mandatory.  Above all else, the body needs its resources to get WELL and recover from being sick.  Working out while this type of sick stresses the body out more than it already is, can delay or reverse any healing that is taking place, and can have massive implications if the cardiorespiratory system is already being impacted by a virus.

I might be in my mid-30s and appear reasonably healthy overall, but I am a person who needs to be extremely concerned about contracting influenza.  I have a chronic heart condition that is always triggered if I get sick, and would definitely be impacted by influenza.  Therefore, if I were to contract influenza, I absolutely could not (under any circumstances) even THINK about doing workouts for a fairly extended period of time.  The last time I got a virus, I was off of workouts for six weeks.

Yes, that’s annoying.  Yes, you want to be doing ALL the things and doing workouts.  In a culture that prizes productivity above literally all else, it doesn’t feel natural at all to rest, heal, and exercise patience.  It might feel like you are “falling behind” in your training if you take time off from workouts while you are sick.  But guess what??  You will set yourself even further behind if you don’t rest when you have a serious illness or a high fever.  Even worse, you may be putting yourself at high risk for something very serious or even life-threatening.

Our first job, always and forever, is to take care of our bodies.  Sometimes, this means taking extended periods of time off of our training, and that’s VERY OKAY.  We need to 1) be alive and 2) be healthy in order to reach the goals that we set for ourselves.  So let’s stay healthy, my friends!!  If we contract them, let’s take fevers and illnesses like influenza seriously and give our bodies the rest and recovery they need. :)


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.

She can be reached at

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