To Cycle or Not to Cycle When You're Under the Weather

The 411 on when it's okay to ride and when you should take a break

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Once you get into the groove of a regular indoor-cycling routine, you may be reluctant to shirk a workout when you’re feeling under the weather. Depending on your symptoms and their severity, you may not have to. When deciding whether or not to exercise, experts often recommend doing a “neck check”: If all of your symptoms are above the neck—for example, if you have a headache, nasal congestion, sinus pressure, and maybe a mild sore throat—it’s generally fine to exercise.

Working out, breaking a sweat, and pumping up your circulation may even unclog your sinuses, boost your energy, and make you feel slightly better.

But it’s wise to dial down the intensity and perhaps the length of your workout a bit, especially since by their nature indoor-cycling classes are vigorous. You might consider giving the workout a 10-minute trial at a gentle pace to see how you feel: If you feel okay, keep going but if you feel sluggish and achy, opt out for the day. (As a courtesy, give the instructor a heads-up ahead of time that you’re doing this.) If you do stick with it, instead of taking a go-hard-or-go-home approach, use a more moderate one, perhaps staying between a 4 and a 7 on your ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) scale. Be sure to stay well hydrated during the ride by drinking even more fluids than usual. And keep in mind that some cold medications that contain antihistamines could affect your balance, coordination, and other aspects of cycling performance.

By contrast, if your symptoms extend below your neck—if you have a fever, severe fatigue, a cough, body aches or chills, an upset stomach or diarrhea—you should skip your indoor cycling workout entirely until you’re well again. For one thing, there’s really no point to cycling your heart out when you feel like you’ve been hit by an 18-wheeler; your body needs to conserve energy to battle the illness.

For another, you could end up feeling even sicker afterward. Your immune system is already taxed as it battles the infection and stressing it with intense exercise could sabotage your recovery and perhaps make the illness last longer. When you do feel well enough to get back to indoor cycling, resume your usual routine gradually to prevent a relapse. 

So listen to your body and let your symptoms guide your decision. But do consider your fellow cyclists, too: If you’re coughing or sneezing up a storm, and you can’t avoid spewing your germs everywhere, the proper, courteous thing to do is to stay home until you’re less contagious. Or, if you feel up to it, you could take a gentle walk outside where you won’t infect anyone. Likewise, if you have a fever, the flu, or another illness that spreads easily, you’d be better off taking a hiatus until your symptoms go away entirely—for your own sake and for other people’s. Even if you were to diligently clean off your bike with sanitizing wipes after the ride, there’s still a good chance that germs will linger.

You wouldn’t want to catch someone else’s sickness so follow the golden rule and do unto others . . .

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