Folks, a couple of months ago I didn’t think I would be writing about this topic in a January 2022 Sunday Special, but here we are, and it seems important. The tidal wave of Omicron is washing over much of the world, and is leading to an immeasurably higher case count across the whole population, vaccinated or otherwise. The positive news is that - assuming vaccinated - the disease seems less violent than it’s cousin, Delta variant. The increase in transmissibility, while staying out of the lungs for most recipients, means a lighter illness to navigate. I should point out, this highlights the success of the vaccine in protection, but the disease still deserves respect. We still want to protect the compromised (and those unvaccinated, yes), but the deeper danger is less. So, with more people getting it, but bouncing back relatively quickly, I should answer the many questions received around navigating Omicron so far as training - and a return to training. Here are a few thoughts.
Note: Please remember that I am not a doctor, and cannot ‘prescribe’ treatment plans specific to the individual. Always follow your doctor's orders, specific advice and counsel around your health. The outline below is anchored around my management of athletes over the last months, and provides a general guideline grounded in good sense.
- Everyone is different: The general pattern seems to be 1 to 4 days of symptoms (that do vary quite a bit), followed by a gradual ramp toward being more normal. Some folks have symptoms that are much shorter, others have experienced extended illness. You want to build your plan based on what your own body is doing, so respond to it with pragmatism and patience.
- Heavier symptoms deserve rest: In the initial days of heavier symptoms (such as fever, sore throat and cough), your body cannot positively adapt to any additional physiological stress from training. It is better to rest, hydrate and allow the body to navigate the illness. Patience is key. Any movement should be very easy - but most folks will just rest.
- Symptoms recede: The next window is the 24 hours following a radical improvement in symptoms (no fever, sore throat evaporating etc). You might have a little drainage or niggly cough, but you are ready to move the body. This can be several days in duration, but it is important to have high flexibility in the approach. For most athletes, the best approach is Zone 1 to Zone 2 work for up to 45 minutes (no more than 60 minutes). Don’t train yet, move the blood. You can do a video-on-demand bike, or a swim, but I would drop a ZONE across all levels - or keep to Zone 1 or Zone 2.
- Energy returns: The final phase is when it truly feels like full energy is returning. You can now integrate right back into training, and look back at a week or so of illness. But, and it is a big but. You need to remain pragmatic. The vast majority of athletes I have helped had a couple of good days of training, then a day or so off feeling like a regression. No need to panic, just don’t push through. Take an easier day and then go again. Typically things get better from there.
What about very low symptom cases? You still want to respect the illness. I would simply begin your training process in the 2nd stage (labeled - symptoms recede above). In other words, isolated from others you can do 45-60 min sessions, maintain sessions, but all low. After a few days, if things stay on the improvement path then press on into normal sessions, but with pragmatism leading the way.
And for everyone? Take the illness as a non-negotiable week to amplify sleep and rest. This might be ‘lighter’ than the original illness, but it is still tough for many. Remember, the original has killed almost 6 million folk, so ‘lighter’ doesn’t mean apathy to it is warranted.
I hope it helps, and stay sensible and moving forward. We are getting through this craziness now. Let’s keep driving forward.
If you have been struck by a cold or other mild illness that isn't covid, check out our illness protocol.