Triathlon Training – Should You Train with a Cold?


Triathlon Training – Should You Train with a Cold? The average adult will catch a cold between 2 and 3 times per year. Colds are annoying at the best of times, but when you’re working towards reaching new fitness goals or training towards competition, it can be disheartening to wake up to the familiar foggy feeling of the first stages of minor illness.

You’re left wondering is it really that bad and can’t I just carry on with my training programme as normal?


Reasons to take a break


A few days off sick won’t impact your performance – it’s easy to feel like the improvements and gains you’ve worked so hard to achieve could be erased by a day or two’s rest. But resting when your body is signalling stress, through cold-like symptoms or otherwise, is an important part of building long-term strength and fitness.


It may take time after catching a common cold to get back to achieving those personal bests but in comparison to the time it took you to reach them in the first place, and all the time you’ve put into your fitness thus far, it’s pretty minor. What’s 3 – 7 days on those months or years you’ve already put in?


And straining your already sick body can prolong the illness or even make it worse – high-intensity exercise can raise stress hormones which could further suppress your immune system, exacerbating your symptoms.

So while you may think, what will be training how I’m used to hurt, or be feeling stressed about potentially performing badly in an upcoming sports event, it’s important to remember that carrying on as normal when your body is showing signs of illness will only lead to worse performance or missing that event altogether in the long-run.


What do pro athletes do?


Many medical professionals advise seasoned athletes to a) listen to their bodies and b) go by the above the neck/below the neck rule. If the symptoms are above the neck – sneezing, runny nose, headache, congestion, minor sore throat; it’s okay to take OTC medicine and train almost as normal, at half of their average pace or at a reduced intensity (60 to 75 percent of their V02 max is advised).


If the symptoms are below the neck, however – chesty coughing, fever, chills, muscle/joint pain, stomach trouble, it’s important they take time off of a training regime to allow the body to recover properly.


This being said, if above the neck symptoms are severe, professor of kinesiology Dr Jeffrey Woods tells “I’d say severe above-the-neck symptoms warrant cessation from regular exercise until the symptoms abate”.


When the benefits outweigh the downfalls


In some cases with a very minimal cold, mild exercise is actually advisable, it can boost both your mood and recovery. If symptoms start to improve at the beginning stages of attempting a gentle workout with your cold, you can see this as a positive sign and gradually build up the duration and intensity of your workout over a few days. 


If you are approaching a competition date and the symptoms are above the neck and mild, swapping out your regular training for milder intensity options can be beneficial. Go for an easy hike instead of running and try yoga instead of lifting weights or swimming. Make sure you’re going extra lengths to stay hydrated, warm and rested before and after your workouts to prevent symptoms worsening.


A good test to see if you are well enough to exercise is walking up a flight of stairs, health community founder Dr Xandra Middleton tells The Independent, “If you can walk up a flight without coughing, feeling dizzy or needing to have a rest, you can move onto a 15-minute outdoor walk”.


And if you have taken a break from training because of illness, it’s important to gradually ease back into your past regime to prevent injury. It’s generally advised to start at 50% of your intensity and duration and wait until one day after symptoms have subsided.


Prevention is often better than cure, so check out our article on how to prevent colds and flue here:


Amy Moretsele