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Principles of Progress No. 1 - Sleep

Tyler Welch
12 December 2009
Principles of Progress No. 1 - Sleep

Although this series of articles is technically entitled “Strength and Conditioning for Combat Sports,” I’m going to spend some time this week discussing outside factors that affect both performance and body composition.

I find that most of my clients are interested in aesthetic improvement. I’m sure if I were able to get an honest answer out of them, I would discover that the number was even higher. I’ve previously discussed this emphasis on the external, and it’s not the focus of today’s article, though the advice contained herein is still relevant.

The simple truth is that people want to look, feel and perform better, whatever their activity of choice. When considering the HOW of these goals, most people look at exercise first and take a cursory look at diet. Unfortunately, our culture is overrun by gurus, pseudo-scientists and corporations all looking to sell you, the consumer, the next best thing – whether it be exercise program, supplement, vitamin, diet or food product.

We live in a capitalist culture (unless you’re reading this in say, China, and then I say to you: awesome, thanks for reading my column in China – though I don’t know how the hell you found it), and profit is a driving force in capitalism. So anyone who tells you their method or their philosophy is the only way, and it costs just $39.95 is trying to sell you something – not improve your life.

We’ve got four major components that either lead us to success in fitness or hinder us: exercise, sleep, water and nutrition. Exercise is a no-brainer - that’s what this column is about, and if you’re training hard, it’s going to lead you to some sort of result (whatever it may be). We address it every column, and we’ll continue this trend in the future.

Today we’re going to talk about rest, and by rest I mean sleep. You need it, and you probably need more of it. If you are undertaking an exercise program of a demanding nature (heavy weight training, BJJ, kickboxing, boxing, MMA, wrestling, football, basketball, interpretive dance – you get the point?) you need to increase the amount of rest you get. Here's a couple important points regarding sleep:

  • Consistency: you can’t fire on all cylinders all week on four hours of sleep a night and then sleep fourteen hours a night on the weekend. It doesn’t work that way. You accumulate what’s called “sleep debt” during the week, and this isn’t your credit card – you can’t pay it off on the weekend. I had a chemistry teacher in high school who would let kids sleep through class, then wake them by dropping an info packet about sleep debt on them at the end of class and assigning it as homework. Needless to say, I never did well in chemistry, but I know a hell of a lot about good sleeping habits now.
  • If you are training at a moderate to high level of intensity, your body needs about eight to ten hours of sleep per night. Again, consistency: not three hours tonight and nine tomorrow and six on Tuesday. Eight to ten hours of sleep EVERY NIGHT. Your body absolutely needs that time to rest, recover and rebuild. If that time isn’t there, your body won’t progress – it’s that simple. I have clients come to me all the time asking why they aren’t making progress, whether it’s strength gains, body composition or performance-related. I ask three simple questions: 1. Are you on an exercise program? 2. What’s your diet like? And 3. What’s your sleep schedule like? Inevitably, they tell me they sleep like crap. Whether it’s stress, partying or poor time management, they just don’t get enough rest.
  • Quality: It can’t just be nine hours on a crappy futon, too – get yourself a quality mattress, supportive pillow and one of those night mask thingies. I know you think its lame, but if you’re going to get some good rest, you better be in a dark-ass room with no distractions. Make your room your sanctuary – dark curtains, no night-light (unless you’re really scared of the dark), and make sure to give yourself at least a half-hour to fall asleep.
  • Naps don’t hurt, either. One of my little joys is throwing down a crash pad between clients during the day and catching a few Z’s. Maybe your job isn’t as lax as mine, but find some time during the day, especially if your schedule is disrupted (by travel, stress or even late-night partying) and give yourself some quietude.

If you want to achieve your goals, you need to pave the road. Consider all the factors in your life, and realize that they all have an impact on your progress. Sleep is an essential part of a thorough exercise program, and make sure to use it to your advantage.

Tyler Welch is the Strength & Conditioning Coach at Neutral Ground Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He is also the founder of Second Nature Fitness, an active Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor, and a whole lot of other stuff that means he paid a bunch of people to teach him things about fitness. Follow him at www.twitter.com/secondnaturefit, www.myspace.com/secondnaturefitness, Facebook and www.secondnaturefitness.org

See a list of previous USCS Strength & Conditioning articles here.

Last Modified:
01 August 2011

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