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Training when Sick
You wake up sneezing, coughing, achy, feverish, with a “can’t move a muscle” feeling, and you have a heavy leg workout later today. Should you push through and do your normal heavy leg workout, take a day off completely, or modify your training based on how you feel? Here are a few points to assist you in getting over being sick and not losing any gains you made in the gym.
The first thing you need to determine is if you have a cold or the flu. A cold is a mild respiratory illness, and the symptoms can make you feel bad for a few days. The flu can make you feel quite ill for a few days, or even weeks, and can also result in serious health problems such as pneumonia. This is why you need to verify if you have the flu, because if so, you should back off training so you don’t end up with pneumonia.
Cold vs. Flu Symptoms
Cold symptoms usually begin with a sore throat, which usually goes away after a day or two. Nasal symptoms, runny nose, and congestion follow, along with a cough by the fourth and fifth days. Fever is uncommon in adults, but a slight fever is possible. The nose usually has a lot of watery nasal secretions for the first few days, and can become thicker and darker. Most cold symptoms usually last for about a week, and during the first three days, you are contagious. If cold symptoms do not seem to be improving after a week, you may have a bacterial infection, especially if you have a lot of pressure around the nose and sinus area (in which case you may need to see a medical doctor).
Flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms, and come on quickly. Symptoms of flu include sore throat, fever, headache, muscle aches and soreness, congestion, and cough. The swine flu, caused by an influenza virus, is also associated with vomiting and diarrhea.
Here are some quick tests to determine how sick you are.
1. Check your temperature. If you have a fever, especially 101°F (38.3°C) degrees or higher, that could be the flu.
2. Look in the mirror, open your mouth, and look with a flashlight or the flashlight app on your smartphone. If you see a red, raw-looking throat with swollen tonsils that often have visible white spots (pus pockets), that’s a sign of strep throat. A sore throat with a fever over 101°F (38.3° C) usually indicates a strep infection. If you have a sore throat and no fever, you likely do not have strep throat.
3. See a medical doctor for the rapid strep test to determine if strep is the cause of your sore throat. The doctor takes a quick swab of your throat that in most cases can determine if strep bacteria are present. The rapid strep test is often used with a throat culture to confirm the diagnosis of strep throat.
Can I Train When I’m Sick?
Here’s a simple way to determine that: If your symptoms are above the neck, and you feel like you have a cold—e.g., your symptoms are sneezing, coughing, and a runny nose—you should be able to do some low- to moderate-volume strength-training sessions. You’ll find that you can still lift heavy weights, but you won’t be able to train as long. So make the workout short and intense, then go home. Use the week to back off a little, and keep the intensity around 70 percent of your one-rep max. After a week, you should be good to go back into intense training.
If your symptoms are below the neck—e.g., sore throat, fever, cough, congestion, muscle aches, and soreness in the entire body—forget about intense strength training! Your goal now is to recover from the flu as fast as possible so you can get back into the gym. If you try to train hard with the flu, this can eventually lead to pneumonia and become very serious. If this is the case, then you now have turned an illness that would have taken days or a week to recover from into one lasting weeks or months, just because you tried to push it and didn’t take a few days off training. The immune system can become impaired after heavy lifting lasting longer than 90 minutes, allowing viruses and bacteria to gain a bigger foothold and increasing the risk of serious infection.
Simple Tips to Help You Not Get Sick
1. Wash your hands before and after you’re at the gym and work. You may not be sick, but the guy before you using the lat pull-down bar might have been. And if you’re sick, please clean the equipment after you use it. Don’t be “that guy”!
2. Don’t touch your mouth, nose, or eyes if you haven’t washed your hands. Use the back of your hand to rub your itchy eye or nose.
3. Change your toothbrush often, at least every three months, and definitely if you have been sick.
For another article about antihistamines and bodybuilding, how they may or may not affect your goals, click here!