Should You Go Running With A Cold? When It’s Time To Take A Break

Follow these tips to figure out if you can keep running or need to recover

When your immune system is trying to fight off a viral infection, there are fewer resources to help your muscles recover from a workout. 

This means that running may increase the risk of developing a more serious illness due to the added stress of your training session. 

Furthermore, running with a fever or other prominent virus symptoms can also compromise your ability to recover from that workout.

This may then increase your risk of injury and compromise your ability to hit your next workouts in a strong and healthy place.

In this guide to running with colds, we will discuss when you can go running with a cold and when you should skip your workout.

A person wrapped in a blanket, blowing their nose.

Should You Go Running With A Cold?

A good rule of thumb when trying to decide if you can run when you are sick with a cold or respiratory illness is to consider the following two questions: 

  1. Do I have a fever?
  2. Are the symptoms confined to above the neck, or do I have symptoms below the neck?

If you have a fever, you should not exercise. 

Your body needs to rest to help you recover, and when you have a fever, your body is already working overtime to try and lower your core body temperature to homeostatic normal body temperature. 

Physical activity increases your heart rate and produces body heat, further raising your core body temperature.

This is why we sweat and experience increased blood flow to the skin during a workout, as these are both thermoregulatory mechanisms that help cool the body and dissipate excess body heat to prevent the core body temperature from rising too high during high-intensity exercise.

A person sitting on the couch holding his head.

Therefore, doing a cardio workout with a fever increases the risk of heat exhaustion or excessive thermal strain because normal sweating and cutaneous blood flow will not be effective enough to regulate your body temperature.

Additionally, moderate-intensity and high-intensity exercise are physical stressors for the body even when you are healthy, which is why we see things like cortisol, the stress hormone, and certain pro-inflammatory cytokines increase after vigorous workouts.

Therefore, when your immune system works hard to fight a virus or infection, you don’t want to further stress the body. 

Exercising with a fever can worsen your illness and prolong the course of the viral infection.

In terms of the location of your symptoms, use the neck rule:1Tips for working out with a cold. (2017). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20058494

When your symptoms are confined to above your neck (sore throat, headache, nasal congestion, stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing, etc.), it’s typically safe to run or work out, as long as you have the energy to do so and feel okay during your workout.

When cold symptoms are below the neck—such as a deep chest cough, wheezing, or productive sputum from the chest—do not do any vigorous exercise, or consult your healthcare provider beforehand.

A person sick on the couch.

As a certified running coach, I always advise my athletes to follow the rule of thumb that you should not run if your symptoms are below the neck level (chest congestion, coughing, etc.) but that you can use your common sense to decide whether you can run if your symptoms are above the neck.

However, in full disclosure, as a competitive runner myself, there are certainly times that I will run when I am having cold symptoms below the neck. 

For example, if it is the day of a half marathon and I’ve been training for weeks, I am most likely going to run the race as long as I do not have a fever or really don’t feel up to running a half marathon.

Of course, as a running coach, I would advise my athletes to look for another half marathon a few weeks out, and we would adjust the training for that rescheduled race date.

That said, I recognize that registering for another race at the last minute is not always practical, especially with the half marathon or marathon distance or for runners living in remote areas or traveling for a destination race.

Plus, many runners are stubborn, so I understand that you may make different decisions in race situations.

Therefore, I understand that some runners may run a race when they are under the weather, but it is certainly not advisable and not something we would ever recommend doing without medical clearance from your doctor.

A person sick on their couch.

Can I Go Running With a Sore Throat?

I always suggest that runners take a rest day the first day that they notice symptoms of the common cold or some type of upper respiratory infection coming on.

For example, if you have a sore throat, nasal congestion, sniffles, a stuffy nose, head congestion, or overall malaise, rather than trying to get in your run, take the day to rest and recover.

Hydrate with plenty of fluids, fuel well with some extra carbs and protein, and try to get extra rest.

You may be able to stave off the cold altogether, and then you will have made virtually no adjustments to your training plan.

Even if you still have the same symptoms the following day, you can continue to hydrate and do an easy workout if your body is feeling up to it.

If you still feel crappy, lethargic, and congested, or seem to be developing lower respiratory symptoms such as a hacking cough, any kind of wheezing, fever, chills, muscle aches, or swollen glands, you should definitely not run.2Association, A. L. (n.d.). Can You Exercise with a Cold? Www.lung.org. Retrieved February 12, 2024, from https://www.lung.org/blog/can-you-exercise-with-a-cold

A person coughing.

Can Running Help Ease Cold Symptoms Or Help You Get Better?

With above the neck symptoms, moving your body—particularly if you go for a brisk walk or run outside—can often help alleviate nasal congestion by increasing circulation, boosting your energy, and giving you a dose of “feel good” endorphins and endocannabinoids.

This isn’t to say that you can “sweat out a cold“ or that running when sick will actually help you get better faster, but the physical and mental health benefits of a short, low-intensity workout may help you feel more comfortable and more like your usual self.

Make sure you have tissues or a handkerchief if you are running with a stuffy nose, nasal congestion, sniffles, or a runny nose because physical activity will generally increase nasal secretions, especially if you are running outside in cold weather!

You will also certainly want to listen to your body during your workout; if your symptoms get worse, or you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or coughing, you should slow down or stop.

Most importantly, when you are running when you are sick, you should reduce the intensity and duration of your workout so that you don’t overtax your body.

A person jogging.

Don’t do any speed work or high-intensity interval training. Run at a conversational pace and stick with moderate exercise intensity (don’t go above 75-80% of your max heart rate),

Furthermore, it’s extremely important to stay hydrated before, during, and after your workout and to refuel your body with carbohydrates and protein with a nutritious post-run snack as soon as possible when you are done. 

Even when abiding by the neck rule for running and colds, if you go running with a cold one day, and you feel worse the next, you should take that as a sign that your body needs rest, not exercise. 

Take time off until you are feeling better.

Overall, the best rule of thumb is to use common sense and listen to your body whenever you are trying to decide whether to go running while sick.

Running coaches or your regular doctor can tell you that it is generally okay to go running with nasal congestion, sniffles, or other symptoms of upper respiratory infections.

However, you should not go running with a cough, chest congestion, body aches, or fever.

A person with a fever on the couch.

You should also not go running when sick if the very thought of running seems ill-advised or makes you want to crawl into bed, even if you have only head cold symptoms; instead, you should absolutely heed your body’s signals and adjust your training plan accordingly. 

Taking a few extra rest days when sick is often the smartest way to reduce the risk of developing a more serious illness by pushing your body when your immune system is already battling some viral infection.

Dragging yourself through a training session when you have symptoms of the common cold or potentially a more serious sinus infection or lower respiratory infection will only set you back.

If this guide was helpful to you, check out this next one:


Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.