How to Handle Training During Cold and Flu Season

Peter Glassford
by Peter Glassford
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How to Handle Training During Cold and Flu Season

You can read all the reports, eat tons of vitamin C or try all the herbal remedies you want, but your ability to control and resist colds is ultimately limited. As a busy athlete, the odds are you will get 2–4 colds a year. The typical cold lasts a few days, but it is not abnormal for colds featuring ‘below the neck’ symptoms (e.g. coughs) to take 1–3 weeks to resolve.

For an avid cyclist, this amount of time off from riding can be torturous and also mean a large decrease in fitness. However, minimizing the length of prolonged colds is of utmost importance.

3 WAYS TO TRAIN AND NOT GET SICKER

1. DETERMINE YOUR SYMPTOMS

Depending on where the symptoms are, you can manage your training intensity. “If the athlete’s symptoms are above the neck, then I suggest light recovery spins for 30 minutes or runs/walks for 15–20 minutes. If the symptoms are below the neck and into the chest, then it’s time to rest,” says cycling coach Tracey Drews.

If you notice abnormal symptoms, it means you should modify your training. This is really hard for athletes to stomach but taking extra care is the next step in getting the most out of your body. Drews suggests a possible test for whether you can train through minor symptoms, “warmup well and see how you feel, if the athlete is unable to achieve training goals within the first 5–10 minutes of the activity then spin it out and rest.” To further this test, if you go ahead with training one day but find your symptoms are still present or worsened the next day, it’s an indication to take some extra rest.

2. RELY ON PAST EXPERIENCE

For some athletes like Enduro and cross-country pro Evan Guthrie, it comes down to experience when deciding whether to train through a cold. “If I had a planned recovery ride already, then that works nicely, but if there was a 4-hour ride with high intensity, then I would more than likely cut the intensity and shorten the ride. Too many times I tried to push through or felt symptoms and thought I would just train anyway, which then resulted in a very bad cold and more days off than I would have liked. Rule of thumb: If it’s in the head then exercise, but not excessively; if it’s in the chest then little-to-no exercise at all.”


READ MORE > HOW COLD IS TOO COLD TO TRAIN OUTSIDE?


3. ABOVE ALL ELSE TAKE CAUTION

Caution is our best strategy when assessing if we should train. If you feel a cold or any other disruption in your normal state, then take an easy day focused on building your body up. Often an extra easy day is followed by another great day where you push yourself and improve. On the days you feel off, try an easy spin with a focus on breathing deeply or work on bike skills. If you need a complete day off, work on your bike with a few quick and easy bike maintenance tasks, plan and write in a training log or spend some time on mobility and foam rolling. When in doubt, take it easy so you can come back stronger the next day.

About the Author

Peter Glassford
Peter Glassford

Peter is a cycling coach and registered kinesiologist from Ontario, Canada. He travels frequently to work with athletes at races, camps and clinics. He also races mountain bikes for Trek Canada and pursues adventure in all types of movement. Follow @peterglassford on Twitter, or check out his online and in-person coaching at www.smartathlete.ca.

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