• Does Long or Intense Training Put Me at Risk for Coronavirus? Should I Defer a Race Entry?

    Over the past several weeks I’ve consulted with many athletes concerned about how to move forward with training during the COVID-19 crisis. In today’s blog, let me address a few of the questions I’ve received:

    • Will long training rides or runs put me at a higher risk for catching the virus?
    • Does intensity within workouts put me at higher risk for catching the virus?
    • I’m entered into a race that allows transfer of entry to next year. Should I take advantage of the entry or just keep on track to race this year (if the race happens)?

    These are great questions for athletes navigating life during COVID. For the athletes I work with, the highest priority is always given to building “bulletproof health.” Boiled down to two basic categories, bulletproof health means a very strong immune system and an injury-resistant musculoskeletal system. For this column, let’s focus on the immune system.

    It is well-reported that exercise can boost the immune system. It gets messy when we attempt to define “exercise.” What is an easy, stress-reducing exercise load for one person can be described as over-the-top, stress-producing exercise for another person.

    Another consideration is lifestyle and life in general. Think about your personal life. Imagine you had no worries about a job, money, mortgage, rent, nutrient-dense meals, mental health, quality sleep, health insurance, family, friends, etc. In other words, given a perfect life, you could handle a much higher training load than if you are struggling with any one of the issues listed, much less if you struggle with a combination of these issues.

    Often when athletes end up ill or injured under normal circumstances, it is the stress and worry caused from “life” that causes physical and perhaps mental breakdown.

    Let’s circle back to the column questions. Below is a summary of my opinion and advice I’ve given to those that I coach.

    Will long training rides or runs put me at a higher risk for catching the virus?

    If your long workouts are typical of what you have been doing in recent past and the long workout is part of a mix that is normal for you, I don’t think you are significantly increasing your risk for catching the virus.

    That written, the more “life” issues you have added during the COVID-19 crisis, the greater risk you have of overall body stress. Consider reducing your normal long workouts if life stresses are piling up.

    For athletes needing to begin building the time or distance of long workouts in order to prepare for a long-distance event some three to four months out, there can be added risk of getting the virus.

    Does intensity within workouts put me at a higher risk for catching the virus?

    Some intensity within workouts has been shown to beneficially improve immune function. However, high training workloads (volume and intensity) combined with life stress is linked with immune system disturbances, inflammation, oxidative stress, muscle damage and increased illness risk.

    What defines “a high workload” relative to intensity? First let’s define intensity. You can find a description of the intensity zones I use for my athletes in the free document download section.

    Generally, training done in Zones 1 and 2 puts a very low load on the athlete – unless – volume takes a big leap.

    Training that contains high accumulated time loads of Zone 3 to Zone 5c is where there can be trouble. Similar to the section on long training sessions, what is a high load for one person is not for the next. The easiest way to control your volume of intensity is to plan the number of days per week you intend to include 15 minutes or more of Zone 3 to 5c. Some sites such as TrainingPeaks and Strava track training stress scores, which can help you monitor intensity and training load.

    A high-intensity workout that is very effective for improving fitness and putting a relatively low load on your immune system is Miracle Intervals. I have written about these intervals in the past. They are high power output intervals followed by generous recovery. (In the next blog I’ll post a running version of Miracle intervals, perfect for quarantine.)

    I’m entered into a race that allows transfer of entry to next year. Should I take advantage of the entry or just keep on track to race this year (if the race happens)?

    This is a highly personal decision. In addition to keeping track of long workouts and intensity, you need to monitor is your life stress load. As life stress increases, you need to adjust training load, and perhaps  endurance goals.

    In all cases, don’t forget to include recovery days and weeks in your plan.

    Some people are inspired by a race goal in the midst of this crisis, while for others it adds another life stress. When looking ahead at a race, consider if the training load necessary to meet your race goal is realistic given everything previously discussed in the column.

    The primary goal for your current training plan should be to do what’s best to keep or build bulletproof mental and physical health.


    Resources and References

    The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system

    Use a base training plan to help you keep fitness without overdoing intensity

    More high intensity workout options from Bicycling Magazine’s Selene Yeager

    Lessons from athletes that contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Part I and Part II



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