Despite your best attempts, sometimes you just get sick. You’ve been working hard on taking care of yourself, and all of the sudden – you’re down for the count. And if you’re like me, the first thing that comes to mind is “oh no I’m going to lose some training days”, and you immediately try to gauge how ill you are and if you can still train. You’re sick, but you need to be putting the miles in. What are you supposed to do?
There are some basic rules to follow when deciding whether or not to train while ill. Sometimes this is referred to as “the neck check”. You can do a self-assessment of your symptoms, and if any are below your neck, it’s not a good idea to exercise. If you only have symptoms above the neck, then it’s probably ok for you to train, albeit at a reduced intensity.
Your training intensity while sick with "above the neck" symptoms should be low intensity - think base miles. This isn’t the time to go long, hard or otherwise push yourself. I guarantee if you do this, you will just push the illness deeper, and you will be sicker. And then you’ll be forced to take a lot of time off.
The greatest concern about exercising with below the neck symptoms (especially fever and body aches) is that you can develop an infection in the heart (myocarditis). Not good. It just isn’t worth it to push yourself and wind up with a damaged heart, because after all that’s not why we train!
Above the neck symptoms include:
Below the neck symptoms include:
Swollen lymph glands
Cough, wheezing, shortness of breath
Diarrhea or stomach pain
And if you are too sick to train – don’t stress about it. Seriously. Taking a couple of days off to get better will do nothing to hurt your fitness level. You can read more about how taking time off affects your fitness here. Pushing through training can often end up prolonging an illness - most likely you'll be down even more days if you try to push through. Chances are you'll be out of the game for much longer, and then you really will lose that hard-earned fitness!