BHGAK3 Woman sneezing

Training When You’re Sick

BHGAK3 Woman sneezing

So, you’re sick. Ugh!

You finally caught the ‘creeping crud’ that’s been going around the office.  Or maybe your kids sneezed and coughed on you enough that they gave you their cold.  Or maybe it was that guy you sat next to on the flight from New York to LA who blew his nose and coughed the whole time.  Well, that’s just great.  You have an early season race coming up in six weeks and you DO NOT have time to interrupt your training.  What to do?  

Just like any athlete, cyclists have been victimized by so-called ‘conventional wisdom’ about training while sick that contains just as much bogus information as real, hard facts.  In an effort to help clarify what you should, what you can, and what you should not do when you are sick, following is a breakdown of the ‘conventional wisdom’ pertaining to training while sick:

“Got a cold?  Sweat it out!” 

Wrong. You cannot get rid of an illness like the common cold or the flu by ‘sweating it out’ of your body.  The body’s immune system doesn’t work that way, says Liz Applegate, PhD, a fitness and nutrition expert on the faculty of the Nutrition Department at the University of California, Davis.  Your body can’t “sweat out” toxins and germs during exercise. That’s a job for the immune system, she says, which uses its complex network of specialized cells and components to engulf, detoxify, and disassemble bad guys.

“A hard workout will help me fight off this cold!”

Nope.  A common misconception about intense exercise is that it strengthens the immune system.  Research studies show that there are significant health benefits to engaging in regular, moderate exercise.  But, once you become ill, your immune system needs to be able to do its work without interruption or distraction.  The immune system works best when it has access to all the resources it needs to produce pathogen-fighting materials like antibodies.  So, a single rigorous exercise session can actually make you more susceptible to bacterial or viral infection by robbing the immune system of resources it could be using to fight off the infection.

“It’s OK to exercise when my cold symptoms are ‘above the neck’.”

Right (sort of).  Generally, it is permissible to engage in a workout when your symptoms are located in your head and throat (i.e. running nose scratchy throat, sneezing, etc.).  However, there is a caveat here: fever.  If you have a fever, no workout of any kind is advisable as any strenuous activity may exacerbate your symptoms (see #2 above).  If you are experiencing chest congestion, coughing, intestinal distress, and/or fatigue, DO NOT exercise.  You need to rest.

“When I am sick, I should stop all strenuous exercise.”

Yes.  Yes.  And yes.  The important word in this statement is ‘strenuous.’  For the cyclist, walking, stretching, some light yoga, low-impact plyometrics, or a short spin on the bike can be helpful in maintaining a psychologically-beneficial level of activity.  But, all strenuous exercise should be stopped while cold or flu symptoms are present.

So, what’s the best way for a cyclist to beat a cold or the flu?  There are lots of great home remedies (i.e. chicken soup, vitamin C, zinc, herbs, neti pot) that make you feel better but do nothing to fight the infection that is causing your symptoms.  The ‘tried and true’ methods are the simplest:

• Get lots of rest

• Drink plenty of fluids

• Take the recommended dosages of symptom-managing OTC medications (fever reducer, cough syrup, nasal decongestant, throat lozenges)

• Get lots of rest

Yes, we put “Get lots of rest” in there twice because it’s important and it’s something that we tend to ignore.  Rest is the key ingredient to quickly recovering from a cold or the flu.


About The Author


Aaron Hanson (a.k.a The Cap’n) is manager of the Southern California Colavita Regional Amateur Team.  A 25-year veteran of the sport and lifestyle of cycling, Aaron has raced both road and mountain bikes, advocated for bicycle transportation funding and facilities at the city, county, state, and federal levels, planned and facilitated numerous bicycle events, and helped several municipalities and counties create viable bikeway master plans.

Aaron has been honored by IMBA, CORBA, Clif Bar, the City of Los Angeles, the County of Ventura, the City of Simi Valley, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate for his bicycle advocacy work.  He has even won a bike race or two.

Aaron can be contacted via e-mail at:

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