Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.
The holidays are here, and you know what that means! Holiday training camp, watching Elf on repeat, and of course, getting sick!
Swimmers have it twice as bad this time of year. Not only is it cold-and-flu season for everyone else, but we are gearing up to do some of our hardest training of the year, a period that leaves us more susceptible to illness. In fact, a French study found that top swimmers were 50-70% more likely to fall ill during heavy bouts of work in the pool.
The 1-2 combo is leaving many swimmers sidelined and wondering whether they can train or not. Or rather, whether they should be training or not.
The answer isn’t clear cut, and depends on the severity of the symptoms you are experiencing. Ebola? Yeah, you should be probably staying home. Common cold? That’s where things get tricky.
Is training while I am sick dangerous or going to make me sicker?
Again, it depends on the type of symptoms you are showing, but some research done at Ball State on the most frequently contracted form of the common cold (rhinovirus-caused upper respiratory illness) found that exercise of mild intensity didn’t change the severity or duration of the cold, either for worse or for the better.
Thomas Weidner, Ball State’s head of athletic training, performed research where he (rather controversially) inoculated a group of otherwise healthy subjects with the common cold and found that moderate exercise (duration and intensity: 40 minutes at 70% max heart rate) actually helped participants feel better even if the symptoms didn’t actually decrease (or increase, it should be added).
Weidner’s rule-of-thumb is if your symptoms are “above the neck”—runny nose, congestion, sore throat—you are most likely safe to perform some mild intensity exercise.
In another study done by Dr. Neil Walsh at Bangor University, he found that the oft-cited advice that a sick athlete should not engage in high intensity training as it is thought to suppress immune function (and thereby increase the duration of the illness) is misguided.
Subjects who performed 30 minutes of treadmill running at approximately 80% intensity were shown to have no decrease of immune response, while subjects who did two hours of slow paced exercise did experience a decline in immune function.
Between the two studies we can consider that doing some form of exercise is not going to effect the immune response of an athlete with a common cold, regardless of whether the exercise is high intensity or not, simply as long as the effort is not carried out over an extended period of time. (A theory for why extended exercise impacted the immune system was that blood stress hormones—cortisol being one of them—act to briefly disrupt the immune response.)
But should I be swimming?
Well, this is where things get muddy.
I know there are swimmers out there that will go to practice regardless of how they are feeling (there was one such gentleman at the YMCA yesterday, who I overheard unleashing mucus tornadoes into the water), and there are also coaches who won’t accept anything short of a missing limb as an excuse to miss a workout.
We have all had swimmers on our team or in our group that persisted with showing up to workouts even though they were sneezing and hacking their brains out. While it is a bit of an unspoken and disgusting reality that swimmers do in fact urinate in the pool, it is quite another thing to have a lane-mate blowing his nose into the gutter or in the water mere feet from you.
Simply because research has demonstrated that you won’t get sicker, and although the chlorine in a properly-treated pool should kill the mucus flying out of your nose, doesn’t mean that you should be going to practice and using the pool as a Kleenex.
YourSwimBook is a log book and goal setting guide designed specifically for competitive swimmers. It includes a ten month log book, comprehensive goal setting section, monthly evaluations to be filled out with your coach, and more. Learn 8 more reasons why this tool kicks butt.
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