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How the Common Cold Affects Fitness, Speed and Focus

The following article was previously published by Scott Moody, Teaching Fellow at the Cybex Research, on his own blog on Athlete Fit.

I have always wanted to look at the physical effects that a cold can have on performance. We see over 100 athletes every day in our facility, and during the winter months it seems like half of them are either getting a cold, have a cold or just getting over a cold. We try to make adjustments in the training for these players, but I have always wondered exactly how much they are affected by a cold.

Last week I came down with a cold. So as I felt I was reaching the peak of my symptoms, I put on a heart rate monitor and ran our 4 mile interval test on a treadmill. I was not trying to break any records, but I was giving it just about everything I had at the time. My heart rate was very high and I finished in just under 39 minutes. My speeds in the sprint intervals were between 13.5 and 14.8 mph. Five days later I felt as if I was almost over my cold and I decided to run it again and compare the two graphs. This time, my heart rate was much lower and I finished in 34 minutes. My speeds in the sprint intervals were between 15.6 and 16.4 mph

Here are the two graphs (top graph is with a cold).


What was most interesting to me is how I felt during the sprints. With a cold, my heart rate would not come down and seemed to jump up fast, even though I was not running very hard. Without a cold, my heart rate never got very high, I sprinted 2 mph faster and seemed to be much more focused. So focused in fact that I held my sprint speed on the last sprint all the way to the 4 mile mark (thus the HR spike at the end of the workout).

I think we as coaches need to be more sensitive to the effects that illness can have on the cardiovascular system. If players are sick and still trying to play at a high level, their HR may be higher than normal which would cause not only fatigue, but also a lack of focus. High HR, fatigue and lack of focus can create the perfect storm of injury risk factors. I know this was not a publishable research study (and it was not intended to be), but it does give us some insight into how the common cold can affect performance.

Scott Moody,Founder and CEO, Soccer F.I.T. Academy

Cybex is a provider and manufacturer of premium commercial fitness equipment.  Content featured in the Cybex Fitness Blog is meant to inspire healthy living and wellness and should not be taken as medical advice. For medical advice please consult a doctor.