Keep'er Fit

Gary Wallace

Why you should not train when you’re ill

This week I was away on a training camp with the Northern Ireland U19s and picked up an eye infection. Nothing serious, just probably a bit of shampoo that may have went into my eye.

Not sure why I had to share that information but anyway, it’s more annoying than sore.  However, I did notice my general energy was down, especially when I worked out.

So was it the infection or was I just run down?


It posed a great question which I researched and had a discussion with our team doctor about.

We spoke not only about the impact of infections, but with flu season fast approaching, he explained to me what the effects are of training when the dreaded cold/flu strikes.

The first thing I must point out is that exercise helps build the immune system and prevent infections.

Studies have shown that moderate aerobic exercise for around 30 to 45 minutes a day, such as activities like walking, biking or running, can more than half your risk for respiratory infections and other common winter maladies.

But that all changes once you catch an infection or cold.

Many studies suggest that anything from the neck up was OK to train, as it doesn’t really help or hinder.

But below the neck or if you are experiencing fever like systems, it’s not recommended that you train at all. So the idea of ‘sweating a cold out of you’ is a bad idea.


One leading researcher said that when a person is suffering from flu or some other fever-causing infection, their immune system is working overtime to fight off that infection.

Exercise is a form of physical stress which makes the immune system’s task more difficult.

What you are doing is prolonging the infection and not ‘sweating it out’.

One scientist said that athletes suffer from this form of prolonged, virus-induced fatigue. Even after their infection had passed, they’ve reported feeling weak and tired, and some have not been able to perform at their previous level for months or even years.

Our NI U19 doctor also said that when you have a chest infection or chesty cough, exercise is a way of keeping the bacteria happy in its environment.

When we exercise it fills the lungs with moisture and heat which is perfect for any bacteria to live and grow in.

For some people this may be a bitter hard pill to swallow (forgive the pun), while for others it may sound like sweet music to their ears.

Either way you must let the infection and cold pass and slowly build up your training and immune system.

Yes, that means you have to move after the infection has left your body. Don’t go all guns blazing.

Even though you may feel much better, there may still be a risk of setting that bad boy infection off again.

Once the symptoms have subsided give yourself another week and then start to ease back gently. Start with a walk in the fresh air and then progress to your moderate workouts.

If you are feeling good after another week then return to your normal training routine. This may seem like a long return to training protocol but it is better giving it two extra weeks rather than coughing yourself through each session for another few months.

Think of it like a broken arm or sprained ankle, your flu-weakened body needs time and rest to fully heal before it can stand up to the rigours of exercise once again.


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