The common cold, also called viral rhinitis, can do a number on your swim performance.
After all, the cold is often accompanied by symptoms such as a stuffed-up and runny nose, low-grade fever, sore throat, mild body aches, coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and difficulty breathing, particularly during exercise, according to Harvard Health. None of those things sound particular conducive to a great swimming workout.
But swimmers, especially those training for a goal or competition, may feel compelled to swim and finish a workout despite their symptoms. If you do decide to swim with a cold, you should pay close attention to the severity of your symptoms, monitor the intensity of the workout and try not to spread germs to teammates or other pool users.
When It Is (and Isn't) OK to Swim With a Cold
Do the neck test: Generally, if the symptoms you're experiencing are "above the neck," it's safe to exercise, according to the Mayo Clinic.
However, if any are below the neck — for instance, your chest is congested or you have a fever — it's best to avoid swimming with a cold.
If you have an upset stomach or body aches, put your workout off. Ask yourself if it's worth it. If you're swimming on a team, you may have no choice. But if you swim recreationally or for exercise, it's OK to give yourself a day or two off.
4 Tips for Swimming With a Cold
1. Lower the Intensity
If your symptoms are above the neck, it's safe to exercise, but consider making your workout easier or shorter, since your body is already working hard to fight the cold.
By reducing the intensity or duration of the swim, you're also decreasing the chance of the cold developing into something more serious that could sideline you for much longer. A few days of easy swimming, or not swimming at all, won't have much effect on your overall training.
2. Monitor Your Symptoms
Does swimming with a cold make it worse? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
It's possible that pools treated with chlorine or bromine can induce cold-like symptoms, including sneezing, runny nose and a cough, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
If you think you may be reacting to these chemicals, consult an allergist or try taking an antihistamine or wearing a nose clip when you swim.
However, unlike other exercises, swimming may help alleviate the symptoms of a cold. Moist air (like at the pools) helps to open up your nasal passages, allowing the mucus to drain and helping to improve breathing, per the Mayo Clinic.
A light swimming workout can also help bring blood to muscles, making you feel a little better.
3. Keep Your Face Out of the Water
If you suffer from coughing while swimming with a cold, try breathing through your nose, rather than your mouth.
To do that, you'll need to stick to swim strokes that keep your head up. Try the backstroke, treading water or pool running.
4. Take Precautions
Keep your germs from spreading. When you decide to swim with a cold, it's your responsibility to take precautions to avoid infecting others.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chlorine doesn't kill germs instantly, so wash your hands frequently, particularly after you sneeze. If you're on a swim team, avoid sharing water bottles or towels.
Discuss your workout regimen and health status with your doctor, who can give advice specific to your situation.