Training Tips

What to do when illness gets in the way of training

My name is Michelle and I truly, madly, deeply, hate being ill. I realise that there aren’t many people who enjoy feeling fluey – but I am a particularly awkward patient. So when I got off the turbo trainer on Saturday, and started to notice I had the sniffles, I was a bit concerned.

Being ill is no one’s cup of tea, but unfortunately, high intensity training hammers your immune system – so though people who exercise are usually considered fit and healthy, anyone who exercises to test their body is usually balanced on an awkwardly thin beam, tip-toeing over a river of potential infection, that they will inadvertently fall into from time to time.

It is possible to train with a cold, and the general rule of thumb is “symptoms above the neck (sniffles, sore throat) and low intensity exercise is ok, below the neck (aches/pains) and it’s best to avoid it altogether. Whatever you do – don’t be doing anything hard, eg high intensity, since this will not help your immune system to fight the bug.

I usually find the most difficult period of being ill is the funny slice in time when you begin to feel better, but are not totally back to health. The idea of doing some training is no longer a hellish prospect, in fact it feels quite manageable, until you walk up the stairs and realise even that feels like a momoth task. In this period of time, I find it is best to find something else to do.

Here are some suggestions:

1) Sort your life out

If you’re at all like me, life usually involves too much running around, jumping between work, training and other commitments, to worry whether your pay slip is filed away in the right compartment. Perhaps you have a huge pile of payslips, statements, car insurance documents et al, that at some point, need to be filed away. Or maybe you have a bunch of friends you just keep meaning to get in contact with. Now is the time to snuggle up in a warm jumper, make a cup of tea- and do it. Tidy folders. Email old pals. Right now, enforced rest gives you the perfect opportunity to do all the things you wanted, or needed, to do, but just couldn’t squeeze in.

2) Plan races, and enter


If paperwork of the above kind doesn’t excite you, maybe something still related to the hobby you’re mourning will help. If you haven’t already planned your race season, read my post “Planning for a successful race season” and do it. If you’ve done that, get into more detail – plan your future sessions (if you don’t have a coach) or get entering, it’s good to get the admin done early.

3) Do a bit of core


Now, I say this with caution – the ‘a bit of’ is important, and you need to be careful not to do anything that will put pressure on your body or immune system. However, it might make you feel better to do some of these strength and conditioning exercises. Stick with the static exercises – planks, bridges, and the light movements like clams – these sometimes help wake up your muscles and can make you feel a little better, and more relaxed.

4) Look after the bike

Your bike works hard for you – without complaint (most of the time). It gets ridden over rough roads, through puddles, perhaps around the edge of the odd pothlole you accidentally skim. Maybe sometimes you cross it’s poor chain when struggling on a gradient you didn’t expect to appear, or perhaps you’ve taken it on recently gritted roads of late. Whatever treatment your bike gets, even if it’s your pristine race bike that hasn’t seen sunlight yet this year, take a little time to love it – clean it, decrease it, change the cables – whatever you need to do to remind it you love and care for it (her).

5) Look after yourself

It’s not just paperwork that gets set aside when training, work, and a part time online journalism hobby/early career gets in the way. My eyebrows grow as they please, my nails are usually jutting out at ridiculous angles, with occasional ripped sections where I’ve caught a longer one on some bicycle part. I’m not generally the most attentative to minor details like this, and some people might not care at all, but it is nice to take some pleasure in a bit of pampering during this downtime. A good bath will clear your sinuses, and it would be a waste to spend that time soaking, and not dedicate a little bit of extra attention the details that are often forgotten.

6) Accept the recovery

Yes, it’s frustrating to be away from training, but the truth is that very little will change in a short period of time. If anything, you’re giving your muscles the chance to rest and recuperate, which isn’t a bad thing, and some of us don’t give ourselves enough time to let this happen. Remember that trying to get back on the wagon too early will only suppress your immune system, and can result in more serious illness, that will only take longer to recover from.

It’s hard – but training is just as much about having the disciple to rest as it is about having the discipline to work – so relax, chill – and get on with some of the other (less physically intensive) stuff you’ve had on the list.

There are a few suggestions. What do you like to do to pass the time when ill?

I'm an NCTJ Journalist and work at Cycling Weekly. Previous to this, I was the Editor at Total Women's Cycling. I've also dabbled in marketing and copywriting - having been Marketing Coordinator and Social Media/Content Editor at Evans Cycles. My first job was working on a local newspaper.  I've written for a variety of titles on a freelance basis, too. I got into cycling when I entered my first triathlon in 2010. I now race crits, road races, time trials, and do a lot of track training for not very much track racing.

1 comment on “What to do when illness gets in the way of training

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