So, here I was blowing up my Facebook page answering a question about exercising while mildly ill, and I realized I had accidentally pretty much written a basic blog post. So I transferred it here, boogers and all.
The inspiration came from an athlete's query:
Truth be told: it took me a while to figure out the JCVD thing. Then, as I was transferring from Facebook to No Straight Answers, it came to me: Jean-Claude van Damme!
Is he still relevant . . . ?
Anyway, this is not about action movie stars or impotence-causing groin splits. This is about the common cold.
So here is what I suggested to the JCVD-wannabe:
Trust your intuitions. That's my first suggestion.
To me that means: only work as hard as you feel you are capable, and stop if you feel like you've gone too far or hitting the wall. That actually goes for all things, not just exercise, when you have a cold. Common sense is the best way to fight the common cold.
Being said, often increasing endorphins and adrenaline can alleviate symptoms, and potentially even speed recovery. Which means if you are not running a fever – let me repeat that: NOT running a fever! – then some exercise can be a useful tool.
I must stress the use of "some" in relation to that initial comment about trusting intuition. You can certainly do the same kinds of exercises you always do, just be ready to do them at a lesser pace, lesser load or two bail out entirely far sooner than you typically would. Take the word "some" to heart.
The thing to watch is your fever. Rest of fever. If there is no fever, then exercise is not necessarily a bad thing. However, remember that the symptoms of a cold include the inability to get air – stuffy nose, lung congestion, etc. A lack of air doesn't help anyone, healthy or sick. Again, why you want to let the symptoms decide your limit, not your passions.
I think being outdoors on a day that is particularly cold may not be the best option, just because temperature can reduce one's immune system. Thus, I think just starting with basic indoor exertion first is a good idea. You can add to that as you feel fit.
One final note: if you feel at all lightheaded, extra tired or groggy because of the cold, let that be a warning! Do not start exercising if you feel that way. Not only will this make you more prone to hurting yourself, sometimes those symptoms are the dark clouds of warning that a bigger wave of illness is about to hit you, and being foolish could encourage the intensity of that illness tempest.
One warning check point I give all my athletes is this:
It is hard to not feel like you are "going backwards" when you miss a day of training – even if only due to legitimate illness. But the reality is training while sick WILL encourage the body become far more catabolic (meaning: lose muscle) if you overexert in a state of pathology. That is just a fancy way of saying you are more likely to lose muscle by training too hard while sick then you are to lose ground by taking a break due to illness.
Your rest gets you further ahead, sometimes, than your will.