Training: Sick? Don’t Panic – Here’s a Cure

Training hard, your chances of getting sick are relatively high. ironguides Coach Alun “Woody” Woodward has the cure that will help get you back on your feet as fit and fast as possible.

Sickness seems to be hitting plenty of athletes right now with the very changeable weather this spring. Training hard in the final weeks before the main races of the season start, your chances of catching an illness are high.

If you’re unlucky enough to pick something up, what should be the protocol with training?

Firstly, maintaining your level of training as normal when you’re sick is not wise and can do a lot of damage to your body. It can also prolong, or increase the intensity of, the illness. As soon as you start to display any sign of illness, you need to move away from your planned training and into recovery mode.

How you approach the next days really depends on the symptoms and the intensity of the infection. The main workouts that need to be stopped are any that stress the cardio system, which means anything that raises the heart rate significantly and increases breathing rate above a comfortable level.


If you have a fever, then training is a no go—you need rest until the fever has passed. In this situation, normally your body is going to tell you quite clearly it does not want to train and all you have to do is listen, which is harder to do than to say, I know.

As with all our training at ironguides, we really want to teach athletes to better listen to their body.

Once the fever has gone, and you are feeling better and motivated to train again, then I like to set 2 easy aerobic days with some power work on the bike, before resuming your regular training.

Power training on the bike is going to activate muscle fibres helping to maintain fitness while ensuring your heart rate remains low and does not stress your cardio system.


The illness to strike most frequently is the common cold. The intensity of the cold is always different and affects different people in different ways. The main point though is that it usually hits an individual with the same symptoms so you know how it is going to affect you. Again, the main thing is to listen to your body; if it says you shouldn’t train then rest.

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If you still feel like training, then keep workouts lower-end aerobic and keep your heart rate from climbing above walking-pace level. I would advise that training be limited to cycling at this time as it is much easier to maintain heart rate in the lower levels on the bike.

The same power training I mentioned above can be used during these bike sessions in order to help maintain fitness. Once you feel good enough to resume training as normal then take 2 more easy aerobic days but this time in all 3 sports.


The chesty cough can be your only symptom or it can follow after a cold. Regardless, as soon as that cough moves to the chest then it’s time to rest and go to see the doctor. I find a lot of confusion with this one in terms of where the cough is coming from.

Sometimes when you have had a blocked nose that starts releasing, it will drain downwards into your throat which will lead to coughing up mucus. This is not a chesty cough that would require rest.

A chesty cough tends to be dry and very deep in the chest, almost producing a rattle when you breathe.

When resuming training following this illness, I would always recommend one full easy week of aerobic work at normal training volume before you start to train with intensity.


The time it takes to fall back into your full training plan depends on the period you have been sick. If the illness has lasted less than a week, then 2 days of easy aerobic training at normal daily training volume should see you able to resume your pre-sickness training schedule.

If the sickness has lasted 7-10 days, then I would set the easy training duration to 4 days, again at your normal daily training volume but keeping the intensity way down.

If the sickness has persisted for any longer than 10 days, then a full week of easy training is advisable before you jump back into full intensity.


As I mentioned above, power training on the bike helps maintain fitness while sick.

When I say power training I am talking about riding with a low cadence and pushing against a high resistance; you are going to feel more muscular fatigue building than cardio stress. This is a great way to train while sick as it helps maintain neuromuscular pathways, making it much easier and faster to get back to normal training speeds and feeling once healthy again.

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On the run we can also use tricks to maintain fitness. One of the things we don’t want to lose with running is leg speed as this can take a long time to build up.

We can do a short treadmill session that is designed to maintain leg speed without placing stress on the cardio system. Warm up on a bike at a very low intensity and then head over to the treadmill and set it to your 5km speed; now perform 10 x 10-second runs at this speed and take 50 seconds complete recovery between the efforts. After this session, it will not feel like you have done anything, but when you come back to full training it will seem like you had no time away.


Nobody has the perfect solution for training when sick as we are all very different. The above are a good set of guidelines to follow but the most important thing is to listen to your body’s signals. We all panic when we get sick and imagine we will lose all our fitness. This is not really going to happen unless we are out for more than 10 days and even then we still only see a slow rate of decline. Follow the tricks I have outlined in this article and you will find yourself back to normal much faster than you believed possible.

Enjoy your training!

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