Should You Train When You’re Sick?

The obvious answer is: No, duh, don’t train when you’re sick.

No way. Really? From The New Yorker.
No way. Really? From The New Yorker.

Of course, we all know life is more complicated than that and illness is more a spectrum between normal shittiness and extreme shittiness than it is a bright line. The general rule I’ve always been told is: if it’s above the neck (stuffed up, sore throat) then you can do some training, but if it’s below the neck (fever, respiratory issues) then rest, rest, rest. I was also told once that if you have a fever, then you shouldn’t do anything for at least five days after, because you can actually damage your heart. So there you go.

I am a sickly person. Pretty much the only thing I’m not highly susceptible to is poison oak, oddly, which is also quite beneficial when it comes to the Dipsea. I don’t know that either was always the case (being sickly or immune to poison oak), but since I had an extended bout of mono all of my senior year of high school and some of my freshman year of college, I’ve had a shit immune system.

Sometime around then I started developing a yearly case of bronchitis. Basically, I would get a cold once a year, sometime in the late winter or early spring, which would then settle in my lungs forcing me to develop abs of steel from the coughing. I no longer get bronchitis for months on end — thank god — but I still often get a cough for a couple weeks — which I am currently in the process of working through.

To the best of my knowledge, no one I’ve lived with has ever caught my cough. And, with the exception of my sister (who is also blessed with the best immune system ever), I’m not aware of people getting sick from me either. It’s basically my own special bubble.

So, at some point, after I tried resting all the time and lots of different medicine and not resting and home remedies, I sort of said fuck it. It didn’t seem to make a difference if I trained or didn’t train, so when I’d get sick I would usually rest a couple days and take it easier, and then ease back into things — even if I was still coughing. In recent years, this has meant that I mostly would cough really hard after workouts. Once I coughed so hard after a run that I peed my pants, which was incredibly unpleasant. I also raced once on Dayquil, but I wouldn’t recommend that either.

This time, though, that doesn’t seem to be working great. I’m coughing so much I can’t sleep at night and am still really stuffed up and my face hurts. So, after some aqua-jogging and Alter-Ging and resting anyway because my foot still hurts, I had to declare another rest day today. It blows.

Soon I’ll be back to my cough, run, cough plan! *shake fist at sky* You won’t stop me! A word of warning, though, if you adopt my train through coughing system: people don’t really react to it well.

My freshman year of college, when I had bronchitis really bad, I had a World History discussion section with this guy, of the infamous looked-like-a-tie with Michael Phelps at the Beijing Olympics:

AND, Phelps wins. Of course.
AND, Phelps wins. Of course.

It was a Friday 8 a.m. class, so even when I wasn’t sick, I wasn’t super pulled together either. And, one day, in class, I start having a coughing/choking fit. When these happen, it’s nearly impossible to breathe and I sound like I’m dying of Black Lung. So, the swimmer guy says, ‘Sorry, I really can’t get sick’ and picks up his desk from next to me and moves it five feet away. Which is totally fine. I get that. You’re an Olympian. Whatever you want to do is fine. Then, everyone else kinda mumbles ‘me too’ and picks up their desks and all move away.

I was left sitting in the middle of this half-circle of desks, coughing. It looked like this:

I really just thought this picture was awesome. Sad red guy!
I really just thought this picture was awesome. Sad red guy!

So, be forewarned, if you train when you are sick (or at least sound sick), people will not be happy.

6 thoughts on “Should You Train When You’re Sick?

  1. I used to get sick like that too! Like clockwork- bronchitis with tons of coughing way more often than those around me. Interestingly, since I’ve switched away from processed foods and started eating almost all whole foods, my immune system has been strengthened 100fold! (Knock on wood). I believe whole heatedly that vegetables are the cure for a shitty immune system! Hope you feel better soon!

    1. Yeah, Steve maintains that since I’ve started eating more vegetables (I pretty much lived on spaghetti-Os in college) i’ve been getting sick less and don’t get bronchitis anymore. So, let’s hope that’s true!

  2. I had an awful case of mono four years ago, and now I get ridiculously sick all the time. I’ve often considered wearing a surgical mask in public. Hope you’re better soon.

  3. […] I’ve been sick, like I said, which is fine, but I’ve been taking a lot of drugs at night to be able to sleep. Not that it’s been working well. And, so, Friday night, I took some Robitussin, then it didn’t work, so I took some Nyquil, then I was still awake and coughing so I took some more Robitussin and maybe a sleeping pill. It’s unclear. I broke out in drug sweats during the night and felt like my stomach was tearing, then I sort of hallucinated some in the morning, though that is a bit normal when I’m by myself (Steve was at a race). I tend to hallucinate/dream that people are breaking in and that I have to wake up but I can’t. […]

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