Having worked with a large number of athletes and clients, I can safely say that we all have bad days in the gym or on the field. Whether it be a stressful day at work, aches, pains, injuries, nerves prior to a tough session, financial stress, illness in the family, or perhaps your day just isn't going to plan, all of these factors can significantly affect your state of mind going into a training session or event.
Of course, increased levels of motivation and psycological factors are a huge contributor to success, however I thought that I would look a little more into elements of training, nutrition and recovery to see how these can affect training performance.
When a client first walks through the door at Cheshire Barbell I can almost predict their training performance within the session based on how they look and act around myself and other members of the club. If they arrive, tail between their legs, quieter than usual and respond with one word answers, I'd piut my money on it that they're either physically or mentally fatiged. On the other hand, if a client arrives in with a skip in their step and likes to converse with others about their experiences over the last few days then I like to think that they're in a good position to work their butt off.
In order to try and establish the common causes for such change in mood and performance, I decided to introduce a wellness questionnaire. A series of 5 questions that each client will answer with a value of 1-5. The higher the sum of all answers, the more that person would potenially be physically and mentally prepared for a tough training session.
Using this scoring system I would then categorise their preparedness and give that individual specific instructions as to whether they should regress or progress their session. For example, if an individual scored between 21-25, they would be asked to follow their programme at the prescribed volume and intensity and if possible hit some new PB's! On the other hand, an individual with a score of 16-20 would be asked to follow their programme at the prescribed volume and intensity and if required reduce their training volume by 1 set per exercise or work at an RPE of 8-9.
Now of course, the problem with this system is that the client is able to control the diffculty of their training session based on whether they can or cannot be arsed. It is a case of trusting those who I ask to use this system and this trust can only be established after working with each individual for some time. I do, however, like to continually monitor their performance throughout a given session and if i believe that they are capable, I'll give them the green light to go for a new PB.
After a number of months of using this system, it was interesting to see that the most common cause of individuals achieving a score below 20 was in fact both quantity and quality of sleep.
It appears that reduced sleep quantity will not only affect state of mind, but it is also likely to increase chances of injury! Milewski et al (2014) found that those who sleep less than 8 hours per night have 1.7x greater risk of being injured than those who get more than 8 hours!
Now I know that for most of you, getting more than 8 hours of sleep per night seems impossible. However, there is some good news...
According to Faraut et al (2015), power naps have the ability to increase stress release and normalise immune irregularities as a result of sleep deprivation. In fact the authors of this study noticed these improvements after the participants had only 2 hours of sleep! The good thing is that power naps can easiy be included into your daily routine as you only need 15-20 mins. Here are some tips on how to implement them:
• Find a comfortable and quiet location, for example your car.
• Have a good quality black coffee before your nap to reduce sleepiness once you wake up.
• Place your phone onto airplane mode and turn off other distractions.
• If their is background noise, then wear headphones and play some relaxing music (I personally like Ludovico Einaudi).
• Set an alarm to go off in 20 minutes. If you tend to hit the snooze button then place your phone in the boot of your car so you have to get up to switch it off.
• Wear an eye mask to simulate darkness.
• Ensure that you wake up on time as sleeping more than 30 minutes will cause you to enter into a deeper sleep.
• Perform some physcial activity once you wake, press ups perhaps.
• Wash your face and expose yourself to daylight.
In addition to the above, you should also look to improve your sleep quality during the night time. Even if it is less than 8 hours. Here are some tips that we give to clients at Cheshire Barbell:
• Avoid all cafeinated drinks after 1pm.
• Avoid eating within 1 hour of bed time.
• Consume a ZMA supplement approximately 30 minutes before bed.
• Switch off all electrical items in your bedroom. If you require your phone as an alarm then place it outside the door. This will also ensure that you have to get up to switch the alarm off.
• Ensure that your room is in complete darkness. Use black-out blinds and again switch off all electrical items.
• Use a fan. This is one exception to the rule. A fan provides white noise and also helps to keep the bedroom at a comfortable low temperature.
• If you have a lot on your mind, then right your thoughts down on paper.
• Take long, slow and deep breaths to try and slow the heart rate.
The importance of sleep quality and quantity is hugely underestimated when it comes to recovery, particularly in the general population. Try implementing these strategies, and get in touch to let us know if improving you sleep has helped you perform better in the gym!