When you walk into the weight room, there are a myriad of factors that can and will influence your ability to push weight and perform that day. Yes, as an athlete, you want continual improvement and slowly adding weight each week, but that doesn’t often happen at a steady rate for long when it comes down to it. Why? Well, how did you sleep last night? Oh, you only got 4 hours of sleep because you were up studying for an exam until 4 am? Dang, that won’t help,
Now, while there is no official science to say that X hours of sleep will equal Y decrease in your performance, there is good data to support that poor sleep will have a detrimental effect on your overall health and performance.
So, before you add that extra 5 pounds to the bar and expect it to come easy, you might want to do an internal check to see where you stack up in four main categories that will drastically affect your performance.
What Affects Your Performance
The first category is sleep. Research shows that getting under 6 hours of sleep can greatly affect your health and performance.
Whereas getting 7-9 hours of recommended sleep will help improve performance, hence why it is recommended! So, how much sleep did you get last night?
- If you got lots of sleep (7+), give yourself a +1 score.
- If you got 6 or less, take a -1.
Now onto your diet/nutrition. What did you eat over the last 24 hours? Many people focus on the last meal you had, and while that will play a large factor, you can’t eat ice cream all day, then eat a chicken breast and rice before hitting the gym and expecting your body to forget the sugar rush! Now, there are tons of specific recommendations when it comes to hydration and macro breakdown before a training session or competition. While that is beyond the scope of this article, there are other things you can focus on. Eating is highly variable from person to person and what they consider healthy may not be what you do. Since everyone’s body is different and needs different things, the main thing to focus on is this:
- Drink 2+L of water in the last 24 hours
- Eat at least a few servings of veggies over the last 24 hours?
- Did you consume adequate protein (roughly 1g/lb of body weight) over the last 24 hours?
- Did you minimize highly processed foods and try to consume less processed carbs to fuel performance (rice, pasta, oats, fruit, etc.)?
If you can say yes to all of these, give yourself a +1 if you missed all of them, -1. If you landed somewhere in the middle, you could choose to place yourself in a + or – based on improvement from your usual, or you can simply take an even 0.
Stress. We all experience it. Some of it is good for you (eustress) some bad (distress). Having too much stress can play a huge factor in how you feel. I have had athletes come into the weight room countless times after getting lots of sleep, eating whole, nutritious foods, and having poor performance. Why? Well upon further questioning, it turns out they have a big paper due next week, their girlfriend just broke up with them, and their dog is sick—stress (distress to be exact). Once again, hard to come up with an exact science or logarithm on this one, but if you feel stressed when you head into the weight room (you are thinking about a bunch of other things and are distracted), that’s a -1. Having a clear mind, focusing on the task at hand, and limiting outside stresses give you a +1.
The last factor we need to consider is fatigue. Now this could also be termed soreness, tiredness, or energy levels. It doesn’t matter how strong your mind’s power is. If you are just beat down, you cannot affect your physiology that much just to shake off fatigue or soreness (although a good warm-up helps!).
Fatigue could be from numerous factors once again.
- Just worked a 12 hours day on your feet? -1.
- Lifting on a Monday after playing back-to-back 90-min soccer games this weekend? -1.
- Had a restful weekend with friends and took a recharging nature walk? +1. Spent time recovering, doing mobility work (yoga/stretching/foam rolling) after a normal workday (8 hours of non-manual labor)? +1.
Now, add up your score from those four areas. Hit a 0? Well, then you evened out and will probably have a solid session. Maybe no PRs, but no grinding either.
Scored a -4? Heads up, this might be rough, and you may have to drop the weight or reps to complete your session as written. Scored a +4? Oh baby, today is going to be a good day! PRs galore! (If only it was that easy)
Once again, all of these are very loose and highly individual, but the point is to make sure that you consider other factors than just what you put on the bar last week when you walk into your next training session. And yes, we can all think of a time when we had poor sleep, ate like crap, were stressed and tired (score was -4), yet still hit PRs. It happens. My point is that it won’t always (or often) be like that. Those days are rare and should not be strived for. The same goes for the other way around. We do everything right, yet someone seems to have cranked up the gravity in the weight room today.
The end goal should be to strive for a positive score to give yourself the BEST chance of success that you can, not guaranteed success. Having bad sleeps happen. Don’t throw away the rest of your score by eating like crap and stressing out about unnecessary items as well. If you recorded your +/- score each session, there will be days that are up and some that are down. At the end of a week, month, or year, we would hope to have more positives than negatives and end up higher than when we began. That is another sign of progress, but out of the gym. Your preparation is just as important as your will and ability when it comes to performance. As my Father-in-law says, “Remember the 5 P’s- Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance!”
Now, after reading this article, you might be thinking, “This sounds exactly like a readiness questionnaire that I get from my coach (or send to my athletes)”. And you are right. It runs along the same lines. I just find that some surveys don’t ask the right questions and cause athletes to reflect on it. Giving a score out of 5 is great, but there is no negative values. Which to me (and many athletes) insinuates that there is no detracting from their performance (when we all know these factors will).
So, I am not saying that we should ditch the surveys, or adopt what I propose in this article as law. All I am saying is that there are many factors to consider when you are trying to perform optimally (at your best). Second, readiness surveys are great, but can be time consuming, the data can be hard to use, and athletes can simply lie on them with no reflection. When it comes to learning about yourself and trying to improve your overall performance, having an honest look at your preparation and assessing how this will affect your session can not only help you take better care of your body outside of training, but also increase your chances of having PR performances and decreasing injury risk. Which, as we all know, is about all we can ask for from our athletes!
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