There is no doubt that COVID has impacted endurance sports – athletes, coaching, and events. Since 2020, COVID-19 has touched every aspect of the industry. Last week, I was on a call with several coaches from across the U.S. One coach said that 60% of his athletes had or have COVID. And many other coaches report a high number of athletes being diagnosed with the illness. The numbers are staggering, and how an athlete manages COVID could impact how quickly they can come back to the sport.
So, what do you do if you come down with COVID? If you’ve had a positive COVID test and you have consulted with your physician, it’s time to come up with a plan. If you are a coached athlete, let them know right away so they can modify your training schedule accordingly. Some of the information about the Omicron variant suggests that it is similar to a cold with many people, but that doesn’t mean we need to treat it the same. COVID can be much more serious, and things can change rapidly.
So, should I work out if I have COVID?
This depends, but we will always want to air on the side of caution. It is important to remember that structured exercise might not be the best thing to do while ill. As pointed out in this article1, exercise, especially intense or longer sessions, can stimulate a stress response in our body.
When sick, like with COVID, our bodies will always try to divide resources to deal with the stresses the body is experiencing. If you continue to work out while your body is trying to recover from illness, the recovery process may take longer, or your condition might worsen. So, be wise!
Here are some general guidelines that I like to follow as an endurance coach:
- If you test positive for COVID, I recommend you automatically take 2-3 complete days of rest to give your body the best chance to organize a response to the virus. Then reassess from there. Generally speaking, I would not recommend any exercise when having significant symptoms of COVID like fever, shortness of breath, or fatigue.
- For any illness that implicates symptoms below the neck, it is always best to take some complete rest days.
- If your symptoms are above the neck, it might be okay to try some lower-intensity exercise. This would all be unstructured easy runs or bike rides 30-45 minutes in duration. Stay out of the pool! Water could make symptoms worse.
- If you have a fever, it is best not to exercise at all. Complete rest until the fever is gone for at least 24-48 hours.
- If your symptoms remain for more than five days or your illness worsens, I recommend complete rest until you feel better.
- As always, you need to consult with your general practitioner about illness, including COVID and exercise. Always use good judgment based on how you are feeling and your physician’s guidance.
Resuming Training after COVID
Once you feel better and show no symptoms of COVID, it is advisable to ease back into things. The general recommendation is to slowly begin very easy exercise within 5-7 days of being symptom-free, then resuming more intensity or longer duration the week after.
Just remember, if you try to train through COVID or any kind of illness, you are just prolonging being sick. It is always best to address this right away with rest. That way, you can get back to better quality training sooner.
The author is not a physician nor in the field of medicine. This article is based on opinion, accepted guidance, and experience as an endurance performance coach on how athletes should navigate training through illness, as well as COVID-19. Athletes should always consult with a physician on their health and endurance sports.
1. Exercise when sick: Should we sweat it out? Or rest and recover? By Ryan Andrews, MS, MA, RD, RYT, CSCS
Jeff Lukich is the owner and head coach of Drive Multisport and leads Better Triathlete's coach match program. He is a USA Triathlon (USAT) Level 1, USA Cycling (USAC) Level 2, and USA Track & Field (USATF) certified coach. A 10x Ironman finisher and Boston Marathon Qualifier, Jeff specializes in coaching long-course triathletes, ultra-runners, marathoners, cyclists, and athletes with unique events, such as double Ironman, staged races, and SwimRun events. Learn more about Jeff.