Should you train while you are sick?

Should you train if you are sick? That is a hard question to answer. The answer that I usually give is, “it depends.”

It’s sometimes easier to see a pattern and make recommendation to other athletes than it is for yourself.

When I have to make the judgment call for myself, I often struggle and second guess myself if I have truly made the best decision for me.

Sure, when you have a high grade fever, chills and the inability to stand up straight, that call is easy to make. But it’s not always that clear cut. Everyone has a bias or tend to lean one way or another. We all know that one person who is just released from the hospital and schedules a training session a few hours later. Conversely, we also know the person who misses a training session because the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. However, most of us fall somewhere in the middle.

Here is what the muscle PHD academy has to say about this.

I missed 8 training days in January of this year. I thought I was fighting off the flu. I had a low grade fever, chills and body aches. Everyone I worked with was sick with a long lasting cold or the flu. It’s not that I wanted to miss the training session, but I was just so exhausted, I went to bed as soon as I got home from work. I slept 10-12 hours a day during that time. In that situation, I think that I made the right call.

It’s now February and this week, I missed a few training session. Monday was a long weekend, I had a full day of travel and wasn’t home on time for my group run. Tuesday, I went for a trail run with my friend the beautiful Macy the running dog, and had an awful run. My calf cramped up so tight, it took forever for it to loosen up again. Once I got back to running again, it cramped up even tighter. I ended up walking the rest of the trail back to the car.

Wednesday, I was sooooo tired, I went to bed at 7:30 pm. Thursday morning, I decided to get the gym early and get on the spin bike for 45 minutes to at least compete the bike portion of last nights workout. While I managed to get my bike I couldn’t get into zone 2 very easily. I hovered at 1.9 most of the session.

The plan was to get on my bike once again when I got home to complete Thursday’s workout, with the possibility of completing a short run after that. My motivation was strong, but I was so tired once again, that I decided to get to bed at 7:30 pm once again.

As I am writing this, it’s now Saturday. I have a 3:30 zone 2 bike session with 10 minutes in Zone 4 towards the end of the session. While I am not sure this will be possible based on how I feel today, I will certainly get a solid 2 hours in today. I may decide to split up the sessions as well.

Why am I choosing to change the planned workout today? Here is may rational:

  • I am currently still in the pre training phase of my plan.
  • My actual Muskoka 70.3 race specific training plan starts in 3 weeks.
  • In 3 weeks time, my bike session will be 1:15 on the Saturday and will be gradually be ramping up.
  • Getting something in, even if it’s not the entire plan, its still better than missing the entire session all together.
  • Starting is the biggest thing. Breaking the session into a smaller chunk may just be what I need to get it done.
  • I want to save some energy to skate on the outdoor rink, play hockey as well a snowshoe later this afternoon with my family.
  • I fear that if I run myself down today, I won’t be able to complete my long run tomorrow.

This week I was listening to Dr Mark Bubbs book “Peak, the new science of athletic performance that is revolutionizing sports” on my commute. He said that resting when you feel ill may decrease the duration or the severity of the illness. He also said that if you are always taking days off because of illness, you should examine your training plan, your nutrition as well as the rest of your life and may have to make some modifications.

How do you determine if you need to push though a session or take a day off? Share your strategies? What is your rule of thumb? Share your personal story. Send us your voice memo to Be sure to add Sick as your subject line.

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