The common cold and the flu are caused by different viruses, and although they do share some similarities, the flu is more severe. Symptoms of the common cold are generally milder and resolve themselves quicker – often within 7-10 days. Cold symptoms tend to come on gradually, and may include a sore throat, runny nose, headache, coughing and sneezing. While many symptoms of a cold and the flu do overlap, flu symptoms tend to come on suddenly. They are usually also accompanied by a fever, chills and extreme fatigue that can hang around for weeks. If you're one of the unlucky ones that gets hit with one of the viruses this year, when should you back off your training regime?
Generally, if you're otherwise in good health, follow the "above the neck" rule. If your symptoms are all above the neck and you still feel up to it, you can perform light to moderate activity. This is not the time to head to the gym and hit a heavy leg day or perform a HIIT training session. Use common sense and reduce exercise intensity. If at any point during your dialed back workout, you start to feel worse or unwell, then stop immediately. Consider your workout over. Period. If your symptoms are all above the neck, but you don’t feel up to a workout regardless, then don’t do one. Listen to your body and rest.
If you’re experiencing symptoms that are above and below the neck – like those associated with the flu – then it’s time to rest. If you have a fever, then, again, you need to skip the gym. Once your fever has broken and you’re feeling better and up to it, it’s still important to dial back on intensity at the gym. Leave your ego at home and embrace lower intensity activities. No one wants to mess with their programming and skip training, but making yourself more ill, and consequently ending up with a longer time away from the gym is not an intelligent training practice. Proceed with using common sense so you’re not doing more harm than good.
“To train or not to train?” really boils down to using sound judgement. Taking time away from your workouts to get better is not going to undo all your gains or decondition you. Being respectful of those around you should be a consideration. You do not want to spread highly contagious viruses to those training at the gym when you should have been home resting. Be respectful of your neighbor and your limits.