Powerlifting With A Cold: Should You Do It? (Science-Backed)

powerlifting with a cold

Some lifters will push through anything in an attempt to maximize their athletic potential, this includes training while they’re sick. But is it better to push through and train with a cold, or is it better to wait it out?

Should You Powerlift With A Cold?  You should not train if you have symptoms that include fever, extreme fatigue, or any other symptoms that are below the neck. With these symptoms, it is recommended to allow the body to rest and recover to build back immunity and reduce the risk of further illness.

Although some colds keep us away from training, there are some colds that we can most likely train through without further damage to our immune system. In this article, we’ll discuss when it’s okay to powerlift with a cold, and how we can adjust our training when we are sick.

Is Powerlifting With A Cold Okay?

There are times when we can train through a cold, and times when we should stay home and recover instead. The current information for training with a cold, tells us the following:

Signs Of When It’s Okay

Medical professionals give the advice that if our symptoms are “above the neck” and considered a mild cold, then it is most likely acceptable to continue training. Symptoms above the neck consist of:

  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Watering Eyes

Signs Of When It’s Not Okay

It is recommended that if our symptoms are below the neck and/or more severe, that we should not train and instead focus on rest and relaxation to promote recovery.  Symptoms below the neck may include:

  • Coughing
  • Body aches
  • Fever (A temperature at or above 101 degrees)
  • Illnesses involving the digestive system

It is also important to be courteous to other gym members of our gym by keeping our distance, washing our hands, and keeping our coughs and sneezes contained. With that said, if we think we may be contagious, it’s better to stay home and keep everyone safe. 

Research On Powerlifting When Sick

research on powerlifting when sick

Research suggests that intense exercise sessions temporarily decrease immune system function; therefore, it is not recommended when we are sick and immune function is already compromised. 

Exercise at low-to-moderate intensities when sick can enhance immune function, but training too hard (long duration, high volume or high intensity) can suppress immune function after training. Researchers refer to this time of impaired immunity as the “open window”, when we are more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. 

Research also indicates that a fever is considered the most dangerous symptom to try and train through, as exercise will raise our internal temperature further while we already have a high temperature. This can cause more stress to an already compromised immune system.

Training with a fever also increases the risk of dehydration, which can be dangerous at extreme levels.

To learn more about how to promote longevity in powerlifting, check out my article Will Powerlifting Destroy Your Body? (No, here’s why)

How Should You Train When You’re Sick

When we’re sick we should avoid high volume and high-intensity training. The reason for this is that training stresses the body, and when we are feeling good and can recover from said stress, we become stronger and more resilient.

However, with a cold, the body is already stressed to the point of compromised immune function. If we push too hard in training, we will only make the situation worse by further suppressing immune function and putting ourselves at risk for a more serious illness.

In addition, when we are sick we tend to be more fatigued because our body is fighting off an infection. If we try to train at higher intensities while fatigued, we significantly increase the risk of injury.

The reason for this is because when we are fatigued, we are more likely to have breakdowns in technique – which can lead to failing attempts and compromising recovery, or injury due to the overloading of tissues.

Instead, we should train with light-to-moderate volumes and intensities, that will encourage recovery so we can get back to our regular training schedule as soon as possible. The training that will be the most beneficial at this time is focusing on technique work, as it needs lighter percentages – and we could probably use the practice.

Wondering if you’re strong enough to compete? Check out my article on How Strong You Need To Be At Your First Powerlifting Meet.

My Experience Powerlifting When I Have A Cold

I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid more severe illnesses that would keep me out of the gym, and I attribute this to following a periodized training program that encourages adequate recovery and eating a sufficient amount of calories and micronutrients to promote immunity.

Research suggests that nutrition plays a major role in helping to maintain immune function while training, especially in the “open window” of immunosuppression following a training session.

In the past when I have experienced mild symptoms, I went to the gym with the attitude that it wasn’t going to be the best training day; but those sessions actually turned out to be very productive, because I was able to take a step back and focus on technique work that I’d been neglecting.

My advice is to be realistic with how we are feeling, but not to count ourselves out completely unless we are experiencing more severe symptoms or symptoms below the neck.

If I’m not sure I feel well enough to train, I go to the gym as usual and take my time warming up. I will then adjust my training based on how I’m feeling after warming up –  If I still feel fatigued, I will do some light cardio and mobility/stability work.

If I feel good after warming up, I’ll continue with the workout I had planned  – with less volume and intensity. I do this to enhance recovery and boost immunity, rather than stressing my body beyond its tolerance and prolonging the sickness.

Interested in learning how to incorporate deloads as a recovery tool? Check out the article How Often Should Powerlifters Deload?

Returning To The Gym After A Cold

returning to the gym after a cold

When returning to the gym after taking some time off due to sickness, it is recommended to build back up to previous volumes and intensities gradually. The more time off a lifter takes to recover from a cold, the more time they should dedicate to building back up to their previous training capacities.

Although we may feel better when returning to the gym, our immune system is likely still not at 100% (depending on the severity of the cold). Therefore, it is important to continue training at a level that promotes increased immune function, rather than overreaching and compromising immunity once again.

To learn more about how to resume regular training after being sick, check out the article How To Get Back Into Powerlifting After A Break.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to monitor our symptoms and be realistic with how we are feeling. It’s better to focus on promoting recovery, to get back to our regularly scheduled programming. Trying to push through a more severe sickness, will only delay progress further and put us at risk for more serious illnesses.