How Sleep Helps or Hinders Physical Fitness by Jake Bush, CSCS, FMS, USAW

Author and his daughter

How Sleep Helps or Hinders Physical Fitness by Jake Bush, CSCS, FMS, USAW

As a professional Strength Coach and Personal Trainer, I began my career interning with UCLA’s Athletic Performance department working with teams such as Baseball, Men’s Soccer, and the Track & Field Throws team. Following that initial experience, I spent time working with several local high school sports programs and began helping personal training clients pursue better health.  In 2017, I began my time as a coach at Allegiate gym working under one of strength and conditioning’s most respected coaches, and where I continue to work as the Digital Director of our custom online training service. In 2018, I also had the opportunity to work as one of the first strength and performance coaches for professional Esport teams and a contract with Optic Gaming.

Most of these various coaching and training jobs I have worked at simultaneously, having to be one place in the morning, and another in the evening. For the past several years I have also been attending online graduate school, and am in my senior year now. Through these various experiences, sleep has been a consistent topic of conversation.  There is no shortage of articles or research to be found about the importance of sleep on both performance and general health. I’m not writing this to deliver new science. I am writing this to tell real experiences of how sleep, or lack of, has directly affected my clients and athletes, and myself as a professional in health and fitness.

Because most people have daytime obligations such as school or work, the majority of coaching and training takes place early in the morning or later in the afternoon/evening.  For some, it is not unusual to start working out as early as 4:30 or 5 am. At Allegiate Gym, we track sleep at the beginning of each workout. This serves two main purposes: first, it emphasizes the importance of sleep and that we (as coaches) strongly prioritize it.  But two, it also makes the clients stop and think about how much or little sleep they actually got, and that helps inform with how much intensity and safety we can proceed forward with during the workout.  Most people don’t stop to think about how many hours they get, they just get up and go.  But we all know that feeling of when we didn’t get enough and there is only so much caffeine and motivation can do to fill the gap.

I have seen many clients start to break down early in their workouts because of tiredness. It can be a frustrating situation for them, too, which only compounds the stress. They want so bad to “push through” but physically and mentally it’s not happening and only increases the risk of injury happening.

I had one specific client who I will refer to as GM, who suffered from chronic sleep deprivation and missed many sessions because of it. Consequently, he also struggled with performance during our sessions, specifically with push-ups. One day he showed up in a good mood having gotten 7 hours of sleep and knocked out the push-ups with no problem. I actually reached out to him by text and asked him for a statement to contribute for this article and his reply was “I can understand why I might seem like a good resource, unfortunately one of the side effects of my almost year-long sleep deprivation is that I don’t remember much about that time.  Sorry”. Little did he realize but that reply (in my opinion) was a great example of how lack of sleep can negatively affect your health, performance, and life.

Another long-time client Chris Benell, who is a former professional player and coach within the Esports Overwatch League contributed his experience with working out and lack of sleep by saying,

“As a pro player and especially as a coach, I’d have long days that would leave me with little time for sleep.  On the days I didn’t get enough sleep, I would have to cut my workouts in half from the lack of energy and even dizziness after pushing myself. Getting a good night sleep is absolutely a priority both for my professional and personal fitness.”

I share that same sentiment from the coaching perspective. I have had several jobs (UCLA and Allegiate Gym) where I have had to wake up at 3 am to get ready to be at work by 5, work all day, then train private clients to as late as 8 pm before finally heading home for dinner and getting to bed (with any luck) by no later than 10. And a day in the life of a coach/trainer doesn’t just consist of several 1-hour sessions with athletes or clients. There are many more hours spent creating training programs, doing research, reading, and hopefully getting some food and our own workouts, too.  Add to that having a family and wanting to be present with them when you see them. There is very little left in the tank after only 5-6 hours of sleep a night

Every athlete, client, or everyone in your family is expecting you to be at your best when they see you and spend time with you.

Paying attention to technique and making decisions that could affect the outcome such as load or exercise adaptation has an immediate impact. It is vital to make on the spot decisions and having the wherewithal to do so hour after hour can be taxing. Somehow, we make it work but is it really efficient?  Especially considering that we (as coaches and trainers) speak of sleep quality and quantity with such high regard and priority. But that is the key to success: prioritize.  You may not get the desired number of hours to sleep each night but there are things you can do to ensure a better chance of maximizing the hours you do get. For one, a quality bed. That is why we as a family came to SAMINA and have been sleeping on their system for several years now. We ordered our bed right as we began our first pregnancy and at the time of my writing this, we are at the beginning of our second. And while work has slowed some because of COVID, our priority for a good night’s sleep has not waivered one bit. Nor should yours.


Author’s Contact Information