Illness: When to train & when to rest

We all know consistency is key but sometimes, despite our best efforts, we will get ill. Knowing when to rest completely and when to push on lightly can make all the difference. Here are our tips on how to decide when to rest, how to optimise your unexpected rest time and how to stay healthy.

To train or not to train

We spoke with Dr. Lotte Koopmans, a pro mountain biker on the Orbea LTD Team and bona fide medical doctor for her advice on nipping illness in the bud.

“The generally accepted rule of thumb is that if your symptoms have hit your chest, you have a fever or generalised muscle and joint aches, you must stop training. It can be hard to accept but be strong! If your symptoms are mild and above the neck, you can usually continue to exercise but reduce the intensity – no intervals!”

Dr. Lotte Koopmans © John Parren

If you are new to sport, it can feel like your exercise routine was hard won and you worry you will lose all momentum. Trust us, after a few illness recovery cycles, you will see that the main thing that will derail your plans is to not rest when you need to. Most of us learn this the hard way!

Dr. Koopmans admitted that it can be hard to listen to your body as the desire to train can overpower your judgement. Tracking your resting heart rate (HR) can be a tool to help. For Dr. Koopmans, her “resting HR is usually between 42 and 47 – anything over 50 often signifies illness, overtraining or tiredness. If in doubt, I rest. Sometimes you will get away with it, but ‘pushing through’ almost always makes things worse. Ultimately it is better to lose 2 days now than 10, days later.”

Positive things to do when you are too sick to train

You have had to accept you are sick, your stress levels are up and generally you feel miserable. Here are a few things you can do to recover quickly and get your body and mind back on track:

Keep warm, eat, hydrate and sleep

Eat well. Hydrate. All the good stuff. These tips and recipes are a good starting point.

Your body needs to repair so help it do its thing. Sleep is your secret weapon. Dr. Koopmans shared a quote with us from Joop Zoetemelk, retired Dutch cyclist, Olympic Gold medallist, 1 time winner and 16 time finisher of the Tour de France. Apparently “the Tour is won in bed’. We rest our case.

Find your grit | “We are so focussed on strength, we forget to strengthen our focus”

Meditation to relax…and to train. Meditation will help reduce stress, helping to focus your energy on recovery. You can also use the time to train your mind and develop your mental grit. Use your unexpected break as training for your mind to overcome a setback. There are many apps to help guide you – the Calm app has a mental fitness series with LeBron James which is a good place to start.

Reflect on your goals

This is an opportunity to re-evaluate your goals. Try to have multiple goals for the same event. The first goal is always to find the enjoyment in training and racing. A vaguely attainable time goal can guide your training and give you a target whilst a stretch goal – your dream outcome – gives release to your wildest ambitions. Multiple goals mean that when your training gets derailed for whatever reason – work, illness or family – you stress less because you don’t have one singular unforgiving goal.

Take it easy
That book you’ve been meaning to read. The cycling holiday you wanted to book. The film everyone has been raving about. Now you have time.

Avoiding more illness

You have taken the rest and you’re starting to feel better. Time to crack on?

With illness, try to rest at least an extra 24 hours after the point you want to start training. Dr. Koopmans recommends doubling up on rest time, especially in the case of a fever – “Recovery is absolutely vital. If you have had a fever for 1 day, rest for 2. No shortcuts.”

Don’t play catch up. The worst thing you can do after missing a couple of training sessions is to then cram them all into a shorter period of time and flog your newly recovered body. As you start to feel better, ease in – take a gentle walk, go for a short spin or do a light stretching routine. Write off missed sessions and start refreshed.

Sounds obvious perhaps, but diligent handwashing in the winter months – especially if you have a busy city commute – is your first line of defence. A good multi-vit, making the most of snippets of sunshine and sleeping at regular times will all help boost your immune system. Wrap up warm and dry off straight after hard sessions outside on the bike or in the pool. Top off with well-planned recovery time and you should avoid most winter bugs.

Overall, with the busy lives we lead, getting to the start line of an event, healthy, is an accomplishment in itself. Use your illness as a moment to pause and be proud!

Disclaimer: Other than the wonderful Dr. Koopmans, we are not medical doctors. If you feel seriously unwell, we 100% recommend going to your GP or local health practitioner. Your bicycle will wait!