Sleep vs. Training: Which is More Important?

It is 5:00 AM, and my phone alarm begins playing a soft melody, attempting to gently coax me out of a restful sleep while bluntly reminding me: “You are an adult. This is not a vacation. Get up and face reality.”  I roll out of bed, wake up my son and daughter, and try to put on my best parent/coach face along with whatever workout clothes are on top of the stack.  Weightlifting training begins at 5:15 AM.

Some mornings, however, I do not want to get out of bed.  I find myself questioning the early morning training sessions and wondering . . .

  • If an athlete is tired, is it better to sleep than to train?
  • How much sleep does a young athlete need?
  • What is the worst that could happen if an athlete trains tired?

And I always vow to go to sleep earlier the next night . . . which rarely ever happens!

Recently, I discovered some great articles written by Tuck, a sleep consultant firm, that contain research on sleep and athletes.  Of particular interest to youth weightlifters:

An adolescent athlete needs at least 9 hours of sleep per night.

Thirty-second Snatch Grip Lift-Off Holds are a favorite way to develop the posterior chain. They can be done with minimal weight (50 to 65% of snatch max) and build strength in the first pull.

Sleep allows the body to recover from the physical stresses of the day, as well as process new information and commit it to memory.  During sleep, the body experiences higher activity levels of cell division and regeneration, which speeds up muscle recovery.  The stress hormone, cortisol, is also regulated during sleep.

In addition, during REM sleep, the Hippocampus works to transfer recently learned information to the neo-cortex for later recall.  In other words, you are creating so-called “muscle memory” during REM sleep.  “Muscle memory” is the ability to quickly recall how to conduct frequently performed tasks.  This is important in a sport like weightlifting, which requires fast reaction time.  Fractions of a second can be the difference between missing and making a lift.

The Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine conducted a study in 2014 that found adolescents who played a game after getting fewer than 8 hours of sleep were nearly twice as likely to get injured.  

Lack of sleep can shorten an athlete’s career.

A 2013 study published in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine followed 80 Major League Baseball players over three seasons. Their sleeping habits were recorded before the start of the 2010 season and ranked according to a sleepiness scale. Players who scored high for sleepiness were less than 40 percent likely to still be playing three seasons later, compared to 72 percent of players who scored low on sleepiness.

Growth hormones are released during deep sleep.  

Human Growth Hormone (hGH), which promotes muscle strength, tissue repair and recovery of the body and muscles, is produced during deep sleep.  An natural increase of hGH can be promoted by both exercise and sleep.

Some top-level athletes attempt to gain a competitive advantage by taking supplements of human growth hormone.  However, hGH is prohibited both in- and out-of-competition under section S2 of WADA’s List of Prohibited Substances and Methods.  You can encourage your body to produce more hGH naturally by getting extra sleep.

hGH is a powerful hormone.  Maximize your body’s ability to make it by getting more sleep.

More sleep = better athletic performance.

The researchers at Tuck presented four sleep studies performed on athletes.  In all four instances, increased sleep led to improvements in athletic performance:

  • Swimming: In 2007, researchers asked a group of swimmers to sleep 10 hours a day for six to seven weeks and found notable improvements. Swim times were faster, and reaction times and turn times in the water improved. Kick stroke count increased as well.
  • Football: A similar regimen (10 hours of sleep per day during heavy training) for football players also produced improvements. Sprint times for both 20-yard and 40-yards declined by 0.1 seconds. The players also reported improved mood.
  • Tennis: When women’s tennis players increased their nightly sleep to 10 hours, they also experienced improved sprint times by 1.5 seconds as well as their serve accuracy by 23.8 percent.
  • Basketball: A 2011 study of basketball players found that getting two hours more of sleep each night boosted their speed by 5 percent and their shooting accuracy for both free throws and three-point shots by 9 percent.

Bottom Line: Sleeping less to train more is the equivalent of trying to fill a bucket full of holes with water by turning on the faucet to full blast.  No matter how much water you put in the bucket, you will not make progress until you stop to fill the holes.  Similarly, sleeping less to train more will produce sub-optimal results.  Sleep allows the muscles to recover and rebuild, “filling the holes” of the body’s water bucket, and allowing a weightlifter to make gains.  

If you want to improve your weightlifting performance, try sleeping more!

As for my family, we are going to experiment with 10 hours of sleep.  5:00 AM minus ten hours–ooh, that means bedtime moves to 7:00 PM.  Is it even possible to go to sleep at 7:00 PM?  I will keep you posted.

For more research on sleep and athletic performance, review these articles by Tuck:

Sleep and Athletes

Sleep and Human Growth Hormone

Are You Doping?

Me?  Doping?  Of course not!  I don’t manipulate doctors for unnecessary prescriptions, buy from shady characters in dark allies, or even buy generic supplements.  I only buy brand-name supplements from reputable manufacturers at legitimate retailers.

If these are your thoughts, keep reading . . .

On March 29, 2018, Abby Raymond, a 14-year old weightlifter from Roselle, Illinois, was sanctioned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for consuming the illegal performance-enhancing drug, ostarine.  Ostarine is an Anabolic Agent that is prohibited under the USADA Protocol for Olympic and Paralympic Movement Testing, the United States Olympic Committee National Anti-Doping Policies, and the International Weightlifting Federation Anti-Doping Rules, all of which have adopted the World Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List.

How did a 14-year old athlete get her hands on ostarine?

On February 15, 2018, Raymond provided USADA with an out-of-competition urine sample, which tested positive for ostarine.  In the course of the USADA investigation, Raymond provided information on the supplements she used.

One of the products was tested by a WADA-accredited laboratory in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The testing results confirmed the presence of ostarine, although the label did not list ostarine or any known synonym on the Supplement Facts label.  The supplement was subsequently placed on USADA’s High Risk List – Supplement 411.

So … please … stop reading this article for a second, go to USADA’s High Risk List – Supplement 411and confirm that none of the supplements that you are taking are on this list.

As a result of the positive drug test, USADA rendered Raymond ineligible to compete for three months from the date the sample was collected.  Raymond was also disqualified from all competitive results obtained on and for three months subsequent to February 15, 2018, including forfeiture of medals won and records set at the American Open I Series (March 1-4, 2018) in Columbus, Ohio.

In determining the period of ineligibility, USADA applied the contaminated product rule set forth in its Code, which provides a substantial reduction in the period of ineligibility if the athlete can establish a reduced degree of fault or negligence for the violation and establish that the positive test resulted from use of the contaminated product.

USADA also considered Raymond’s age.  Brad Horn, USADA Communications & Media Relations Director, explained, “In all USADA cases where there is a strong evidence of contamination, the result is a significantly reduced sanction. The typical sanction range for an adult with a contaminated supplement is in the 6-9 month range.  This is the first contamination case we have had featuring a minor. Because of the athlete’s age, the slightly lower sanction length is warranted.”

If you think this could not happen to you, consider this–

An examination of the products placed on USADA’s High Risk List in 2018 include the following product claims:

  • No: Artificial flavors, colors, fillers, binding agents or synthetic ingredients.
  • FOCUS / ENERGY / PUMP / ENDURANCE
  • 100% PURE NATURAL GOODNESS GUARANTEED
  • Manufactured in an FDA Inspected Facility
  • POWERFUL ENERGY, EXPLOSIVE STRENGTH, LASER FOCUS
  • 100% NATURAL
  • NO ADDED SUGAR, NO FILLERS, NO PRESERVATIVES
  • LONG LASTING CLEAN ENERGY

If you spotted a new, all-natural supplement line at your favorite store, with claims that the products would boost your performance, would you buy them?

You would likely research the products and ingredients.  If everything seemed to check out, you probably would buy the products.  You would have no reason to suspect banned substances in the products, and you certainly wouldn’t hire an outside laboratory to double-check the products’ ingredients against the Supplement Facts labels.

The moral of this story . . .

You can get punished for taking a banned substance even if it was a mistake!  Raymond received a three month sanction.  However, other athletes have received much longer sanctions for mistaken use of the same drug.  For instance, in  February 2018, a 33 year-old UFC athlete received a 9-month sanction from USADA for testing positive for ostarine from a contaminated supplement.  Will you get a three month sanction for making the same mistake?  Don’t count on it.  USADA evaluates the circumstances of each situation independently, and you may not be so lucky.

How do I prevent this from happening to me?

Examine the supplements you are taking.  Are you very, very, VERY sure they contain no banned substances?  You may think you are protected by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a government agency that protects the public health by assuring the safety of our food supply.  The FDA, however, regulates dietary supplements under a different set of rules than conventional foods.  Per the FDA website:

The [FDA] does not analyze dietary supplements before they are sold to consumers. The manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that the “Supplement Facts” label and ingredient list are accurate, that the dietary ingredients are safe, and that the content matches the amount declared on the label. FDA does not have resources to analyze dietary supplements sent to the agency by consumers who want to know their content. Instead, consumers may contact the manufacturer or a commercial laboratory for an analysis of the content.

If I can’t rely on the FDA to keep me safe from banned substances, who can I trust?

You are liable for what you put in your mouth.  Period.  Only use stuff you trust.  This is easier said than done, though.  How are you supposed to only use “stuff you trust?”  Are you supposed to set up a laboratory in your basement and test every supplement before using it?!  Surely there is an easier way.

There are a few solutions to this problem:

Do not use supplements.  Brad Horn, USADA Communications & Media Relations Director, advises:

All athletes have a responsibility to investigate the supplements that they are using. From USADA’s standpoint, any supplement use should be avoided, as athletes assume some amount of risk that a product could contain a prohibited substance due to the unregulated nature of the industry.

Look for the “NSF Certified for Sport icon on supplements.  Products that display this emblem have undergone a certification program, which verifies that:

  • The products do not contain any of 270+ substances banned by major athletic organizations.
  • The contents of the supplement match what is printed on the label.
  • There are no unsafe levels of contaminants in the tested products.
  • The product is manufactured at a facility that complies with the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practice and is audited twice annually for quality and safety by NSF International.

Use only supplements from trusted manufacturers.  This is a viable alternative, but carries some risk. You are relying on personal relationships and trusting that the manufacturer has taken every precaution to ensure no intentional or unintentional contamination of their products.

 

Finally, remember that supplements are not substitutes for good habits.  Show up to practice consistently, train hard, fuel your body with healthy foods, and get adequate rest.  These habits will take you further than any chemical substance ever could.

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Should Girls Train Differently?

The sport of weightlifting is the same for males and females. At competitions each athlete executes six lifts: three in the snatch and three in the clean & jerk. An athlete’s total score is determined by adding the highest successful snatch and the highest successful clean & jerk.

So, if competitions are the same for males and females, shouldn’t they also train the same way?

Not according to Anna Martin, president of the Missouri Valley Weightlifting Association. Coach Martin, owner of Kansas City Weightlifting, knows a little about female weightlifters. Now a Masters weightlifter, Anna began weightlifting at 14-years old. In the course of her career, she made two international teams, participated in a World Team trials, and was the first alternate in the Olympic team trials. She has also coached at some of the most reputable weightlifting facilities in the country, including the Olympic Training Center and Northern Michigan University.

Anna currently coaches a number of successful weightlifters, including Janelle Schafer (63 kg), winner of the 2017 American Open Finals in Anaheim, California.

Coach Martin has observed over years that female weightlifters perform better with a higher volume of repetitions than their male counterparts. Says Martin:

My female lifters perform better when I keep the volume high. In practice, I always program doubles for the snatch and clean & jerk and sets of 5 or more for squats. Even when a lifter is going for a max, I make them double it.

If we are not in a major competition, I make my female lifters double everything in the warm up area.

I think girls perform better on the platform and recover better with more reps.

What does this mean for you?

As a coach, try giving your female athletes more volume in their workouts. Be careful, however, not to overwork the joints through a combination of heavy weights and high volume.  Increasing the number of reps may require backing off the weight on the barbell.

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Photo Credit: Lifting.Life

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Programming Pointers from Hassle Free Barbell

A good coach is always searching for the best tools for his athletes.  One tool is the plan, or program, used to develop an athlete.  A good program generates growth while keeping the athlete injury-free.  As mentioned in an earlier article, a weightlifting program is not like a cookie cutter.  A plan designed for one athlete will not produce the same results for another athlete because each athlete is different.  However, experienced coaches have some tried and true methods for producing good results.

In this article, Kevin Doherty, personal coach of Olympian, Jenny Arthur, and coach of Hassle Free Barbell Club in San Francisco, California shares some pointers for creating a successful plan:

Coach Doherty, pictured with Olympian Jenny Arthur, knows what it takes to create a successful weightlifter.

Use warm up exercises to transition into the lifts.  Doherty’s lifters progress into the Olympic lifts with a series of exercises.  For example, on a day with a snatch emphasis, the program might include:

Snatch Push Press + Overhead Squat: 6 sets x 3 reps (up to 80% of snatch)

Snatch Pull from the Knee + Snatch from Knee:  6 sets x 2 reps (50-70% of snatch)

Snatch Pull + Snatch: 4 sets x 1 rep (80% of snatch)

Snatch: 2 sets x 2 reps (80%)

Mix it Up.  Change up your weightlifting complexes regularly.  Complexes are a great way to increase intensity without increasing weight on the barbell.  They are also a great way to keep your lifters from getting bored.  Some of Doherty’s complexes include:

Power Jerk + Overhead Squat

Clean + Front Squat + Jerk

Snatch Push Press + Overhead Squat

Front Squat + Press

You do not have to work the Olympic lifts every day.  Weightlifting is all about the snatch and clean & jerk.  However, you can step away from the full lifts during some training sessions to focus on a specific muscle group.  For example, a training day with a shoulder emphasis might look like this:

Back Squat: 6 sets of 3 (75%)

Push Press: 6 sets of 3 (75%)

Power Jerk: 6 sets of 3 (75%)

Jerk: 6 sets of 3 (75%)

Romanian Deadlifts: 6 sets of 3 (75%)

Hassle Free lifter, Seth Tom, is one of the best youth weightlifters in the U.S. He holds all three American Youth records for the 50 kg weight class, including an impressive 98 kg Clean and Jerk.

Accessory Work Counts.  Finish weightlifting sessions with some accessory work.  Hassle Free lifters perform movements such as:

Sit Ups (5 sets of 20)

Tricep Extensions (5 sets of 10)

Rows (5 sets of 10)

Pull Ups (5 max effort sets)

Romanian Twists (5 sets of 20)

Glute Ham Raises (5 sets of 10)

Mobility Matters.  Flexibility is important for success as a weightlifter.  It wards off injuries and allows a lifter to execute the lifts efficiently.  Try these movements at the end of your training sessions:

Wrist rolls (5 sets of 10)

Bridges (5 sets of 20)

Foam Rolling (legs, back)

Keep workouts under 90 minutes.  Coach Doherty has produced numerous record holding youth weightlifters.  He says, “It is very rare that any of our record holders train for more than 90 minutes daily.”

 

Photo Credit: Viviana Podhaiski at Lifting.Life

 

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Representing in South America

In December 2017, Team USA sent four Under 15 lifters to Lima, Peru to compete in the South American Junior & Youth Championships & Tamas Ajan Cup on December 13-17:

Haley Trinh – 53kg
Abby Raymond – 58kg
Dean Goad – 69kg
Julia Yun – +75kg

All four lifters represented Team USA admirably bringing home multiple gold, silver, and bronze medals and a Best Lifter award.

Dean Goad brought home six medals: 3 Gold for 15 & Under and a Bronze/Silver/Bronze for 17 & Under. Goad also won the Male 15 & Under Best Lifter Award.

I spoke to event coach, Ben Hwa, of Hasslefree Barbell Club, about Team USA’s trip to Lima:

Why did you attend this competition?

There are levels that lifters go through.  When you lift in a gym, it’s one thing.  When you go to an international meet and win a medal, you are motivated to work even harder and you want to experience it again.

When I saw the invitation to this competition, I immediately recognized it as a good opportunity for our kids.  When kids go to these meets, they come back so motivated.  I took two of our 13-year old lifters, Julia and Haley.  I wanted to show them how good they are in this sport to really help them commit.

Lima is located in west central Peru between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains.

Did the competition meet your expectations?

Abby Raymond brought home nine medals: 3 Gold medals for 15 & Under, 3 Gold medals for 17 & Under, and a Bronze/Silver/Bronze for 20 & Under.

My expectations of the competition were low.  I had gone to Columbia a few months before, and I was not expecting much.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Lima was very nice.  It is right by the ocean.  The food was really good.  The people were friendly.  And the meet was well organized for a South American event.

More importantly, though, it was great to see all of the 15 & Under kids–kids who I could see at the next Youth Worlds or Junior Worlds or even the Olympics.  Even in other countries, everyone starts at the same place.

What lessons did you learn from this competition?

Julia Yun competed against the European Under 15 record holder, Irene Blanco of Spain. Yun earned nine medals: 3 Silver medals in 15 & Under, 3 Bronze medals in 17 & Under, and 3 Bronze medals in 30 & Under.

Being in Peru gave me full faith in my reason for coaching.  I like being able to guide kids into a path that is full of success and growth and opportunity.  I saw the Peruvian coaches and the Columbian coaches.  They were all so supportive of the kids.

It also made me want to be a better coach.  My athletes invest their time training with me, and I always want to be there for them.  Sure, these competitions cost money–a lot of money sometimes–but as a coach, you have to be willing to give back to your athletes, even if it means taking time off work and spending money to travel.  As a coach, you can preach all you want, but when it comes down to it, are you willing to sacrifice your money to be there for your athletes?

Why are competitions like this so important for youth weightlifters?

Weightlifting offers travel opportunities like no other sport.  When kids get to see the world, they mature.

They see that the world is bigger than their neighborhood.  They see others who are in true poverty.  It helps them appreciate the things they have.

They understand how lucky they are.  This perspective helps these lifters focus better in practice.

When you give kids opportunities to learn and grow, they become more mature, and their weightlifting comes along with it.

Hayley Trinh brought home 9 medals for Team USA: 3 Silver medals in 15 & Under, 3 Bronze medals in 17 & Under, and 3 Bronze medals in 20 & Under.

Do you want to see more opportunities like this in the future?

Absolutely.  This is how we invest in the future of weightlifting.  Something that we can do as a governing body is invest in trips.  These kids come back different lifters.  The more kids we can give this opportunity, the better.

 

Will Team USA return to this competition in 2018?

According to Phil Andrews, C.E.O. of USA Weightlifting, “We plan to go again this year if we are invited to do so.  I thought it was a great competition, and Ben did really well in his coaching position.”

Photo Credit: Amy Yun

 

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