Cold season: when should I exercise and when should I take the day off?

Sami Woolson, ATC, LAT, MS
Sick Man

Throughout my time as an athletic trainer, I am often asked by student athletes whether or not they should practice when sick. I also hear this question frequently from coaches, volunteer assistant coaches and faculty who have come down with the common cold but don’t want to fall off their workout routine. Here are a few recommendations to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to head to the gym or take a couple days off and stay home.

  • Use the “neck rule.” If your cold symptoms are all above your neck, such as sinus pressure, runny nose or sore throat, then it is safe to exercise. On the other hand, if your symptoms are more systematic, such as fever, muscle aches, chest congestion, or cough then it is better to stay home and rest.
  • Listen to your body. If you feel particularly worn down or extra tired and fatigued, take a day or to rest and let your body focus on fighting your sickness instead of recovering from a heavy workout.
  • If you are feeling up to exercising, you should decrease the intensity of your normal workout. If you typically run for 30 minutes consider walking for 30 minutes instead or if you normally weight train with a high volume load decrease it to a low volume load.

Keep in mind that your overall health is more important than fitting in a few days of exercise. Taking a couple days off or reducing your intensity while you recover shouldn’t affect your overall performance. It is important first to keep yourself healthy before tackling new exercise goals.

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