Determining If You Should Exercise When You Are Sick

Coach Paul Greer of the San Diego Track Club has been helping runners train for the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon & 1/2 for 20 years running! In this series, we’ll feature tips, workouts and programs, courtesy of Coach, that will help you conquer your first or 100th marathon!

If you are a beginner or a competitive runner, knowing when to exercise if you don’t feel well can be difficult. When you are sick with a cold or stomach flu, you need to decide how exercise might affect your health and your road back to recovery.

When your body is fighting an infection, your performance and fitness benefits will likely be less than optimal. In this situation, I think missing a few days of training is not the end of the world, and the best option is not to run.

However, sometimes physical activity can help you feel better. For example, running a short distance can sometimes temporarily clear head congestion when you have a cold. The times when you do think exercise might help I suggest trying the “neck check” for your symptoms. If your symptoms are located above the neck like a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing or a sore throat then exercise is probably safe. I suggest you start running conservatively and if you feel better after 10 minutes then you can increase your pace and finish the workout. Obviously, if you feel really bad then stop running.

On the other hand you may want to pay close attention to “below the neck” symptoms. I suggest you avoid intense physical activity if you have muscle aches, hacking cough, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and a fever of 100 degrees or higher. Running when you have below the neck symptoms may result in feeling weak and dehydrated.

I often inform my athletes they can resume running when below the neck symptoms subside. However, when recovering from an illness that prevented you from running, it’s important to ease back into activity gradually. A good rule to follow is to exercise for 2 days at a lower than normal intensity for each day you are sick.

About Coach Paul Greer

Coach Paul Greer is Professor in Health and Exercise Science at San Diego City College and has a Master’s Degree in Exercise Science and 32 years coaching experience. Greer ran the mile in under four minutes (3:59.79) and was a 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier at 1500 meters with a 3:39.05. In addition to teaching at San Diego City, Greer also coaches for the San Diego Track Club; the largest running club in San Diego. He works with over 500 runners and is the Director for the Rockin N Runnin full and half marathon training program preparing athletes every year for San Diego’s Rock N Roll marathon/half marathon in June. Greer’s workouts cater for runners of all ages and abilities and he provides training schedules to his athletes on an individual basis.

Coach Paul Greer was featured in The Game Changer, the debut episode of Milestones, a video series that celebrates and commemorate the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series history.