The dreaded man-flu (and woman-flu) season is well and truly upon us. The common cold and flu spreads amongst colleagues, friends and family like wildfire and can put you out of action for days. Having said that, some people will battle on through, even carrying on training, stopping to blow their nose between every rep.

So when is it OK to train on a cold, and when should you be resting?

If you have any of the following symptoms, you should not even be thinking about training:

  • Chesty or very dry cough
  • High temperature/fever over 38.5oC
  • Diarrhea
  • Sore muscles/joints
  • Pressure within sinuses
  • Headache
  • Vomiting

If you are lucky enough that your cold only entails a runny nose, sneezing, mild cough/sore throat it is permissible to train lightly, given you feel your illness will not worsen in the coming days.

As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t do intense training with any sort of cold. A study by Thomas G. Weidner, Ph.D. at Ball State University, Indiana showed that 40 minutes of MODERATE cardiovascular exercise (below 70% maximum heart rate) every day for the duration of a cold had no effect on the severity or duration of the illness – nor will it compromise the body’s immune system. But heavy weights, intervals and circuits are out of the question since these push the heart rate above 70% maximum, which is shown to weaken the immune system reducing your body’s response to the infection.

As a rough guide: Maximum heart rate = 220 – age (years)

Therefore: 70% Maximum heart rate = Maximum heart rate x 0.7

If you really cannot bear to not lift a weight, just make sure you are keeping your heart rate below that golden 70% max.

If you are going to train at the gym, cardio or weights, please take everyone else into consideration. The illness is at its most contagious when symptoms first appear – so try to avoid the gym then, or make sure you are using antibacterial hand wash, using tissues to catch your coughs and sneezes and wiping down any equipment you use with a proper surface cleaner afterwards.