How to Train Through a Stuffy Head & Sniffles

by | Updated: December 3rd, 2016 | Read time: 4 minutes

Nothing kills a runner’s high more than when your love for running literally runs you down. Whether you manned up and dragged yourself through workouts in the polar vortex or your germy coworkers just wouldn’t go home to rest, catching what’s going around is a real buzzkill. But you’re a trooper, and surely you can train through this.

5 Ways to Keep Exercising When Sick
Need a tissue? Take the whole box. I insist.

Like it or not, feeling under the weather should alter your health priorities. I’m not talking about a platonic shift in your training schedule; just a few tweaks to get you running at 100%. Depending on how you feel, exercising through the sniffles and sneezes is perfectly fine. (Note: I offer these tips from my own experience. Ultimately, you have to listen to what your body is telling you.)

Feeling of the day: Tickle me icky!
This is the first day you think, “I’m coming down with something.” You know that tickle in your throat or flush in your face. Don’t ignore it. The good news is this is your chance to kick it, or at least help shorten the duration and intensity.

Course of action: Do the healthy thing by not doing anything. Rest is important at the onset. You’ll probably feel more tired than usual, anyway.

Also, start increasing your fluid intake. I tend to get bored with plain water, so I’ll add an Emergen-C packet for more nutrients, fizz and flavor. (Sidenote: Raspberry Emergen-C in Sprite Zero is a real winner!) Hot green tea with honey is especially soothing if your throat is a little scratchy, plus tea’s health benefits are virtually endless. Studies have shown that elderberry is also a great immune supporter. I can vouch for its surprisingly tasty effectiveness. Another immune system tip: avoid alcohol at all cost! This may seem obvious, but when friends invite you to Sunday brunch and mimosas are included…well, a reminder never hurts.

Feeling of the day: I think I swallowed a boa constrictor.
Your throat is really sore, glands are officially swollen and you’re randomly coughing and sneezing.

Course of action: Light exercise is okay right now, but avoiding germ-filled gyms is a good idea. Instead, go outside for a long walk or light jog. Soothe your sore throat with fluids and suppress the urge to cough with herbal lozenges. For me, Ricola Natural Lozenges are a godsend.

Feeling of the day: Who turned off the air?
Your nose is too stuffy to breathe normally and your head feels heavy and compressed.

Course of action: I’m sorry to say it, but rest is best. Too antsy for that? Go for a walk, try a moderate bodyweight circuit (push-ups, squats and so on) or spin your legs for no more than 30 minutes. Going any harder can leave you feeling feverish and achy all over…at which point you should pop an ibuprofen and prop your over-achieving-self on the couch.

Feeling of the day: There she blows!
Your nose is like a broken sprinkler and you’re buried in a cloud of tissues. This is actually a good sign. Your congestion is running its course – right down the crest of your upper lip. Don’t be alarmed if the discharge changes color or consistency. Yellow, green or clear – it really doesn’t matter.

Course of action: I made up my own rule of thumb for my sick self: stay out of the pool if my nose is running excessively and/or I’ve become a mouth-breather. Chlorinated or not, no one wants a phlegm-filled swimmer in the same water. But if your body’s up for it, resume your regularly scheduled program (on land) at an easier effort. Either shorten the duration or lower the heart rate goal…or both.

It’s good to keep things moving, particularly your sinuses. A nasal rinse two to three times daily can help clear the way for you to breathe again. Neti pots are renowned for their cleansing ability, but I prefer a nasal spray to reduce the risk of tap water contamination. (Plus, sprays are easier to tote around and don’t require contorting my torso over a sink.) Coughing may be an irritant from post-nasal drip, so stuff your pockets with lozenges and flush your body with fluids.

Feeling of the day: At last, my body has come along.
You’re on the up-swing with your head out of the clouds and both nostrils open for business.

Course of action: Feel free to take a test ride and train as you normally would. However, if you feel ANY achiness or uncomfortable flush during the workout, scale it back or stop. I would also advise staying out of inclement weather conditions. I know how a windy bike ride can turn into a snot-fest. It’s not pretty, nor healthy.

Whether you make it through the workout or not, replenish with electrolytes, stretch and/or get a massage and take it easy for the rest of the day. Maintaining your health throughout the year is going to require loading up on immune-system-BFFs, such as the elderberry syrup I mentioned earlier, a basic probiotic and antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies.