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Early Morning Team Workouts for High School Athletes?

Early Morning Team Workouts forHigh School Athletes?

By Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E

Some coaches believe that 6:00 am team workouts are a good way to instill the values of hard work, determination, competition, team unity, and mental toughness and develop a common bond through “shared suffering. But, is this the best thing for teen athletes? Many coaches are effective when prescribing the right exercises and optimal number of sets and reps, but ignore the research on sleep, diet, stress, and risk of injury in young, developing athletes.

Today’s athletes have a lot on their plate: family, school, homework, SAT / ACT prep, social life, training, and sports practice. When you combine all of these with the shifting of a teen’s biological internal clock back about two hours, you have the potential for problems. This internal shift is like daylight savings time on steroids and causes teens to get up and fall asleep later than when they were children.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t gel with 5:00 am wake-ups to get to 6:00 am workouts. Regular early morning workouts can contribute to chronic sleep loss. Research has shown that it can take up to four days to recover from one hour of lost sleep and up to nine days to eliminate sleep debt. While napping and sleeping in on weekends can help athletes catch up on sleep, it can take several days to fully recover from the negative effects of sleep loss.

Two things that teens don’t get enough of are sleep and food. Early morning workouts provide the stimulus for growth, but recovery and growth occur during sleep, and a lack of adequate sleep limits the ability to recover and the potential for growth. Athletes get bigger, faster, and stronger if they have sufficient time between workouts for the body to recover and grow.

Early morning workouts can limit recovery, increase fatigue, decrease performance, and increase the risk of illness and injury. Research indicates that teen athletes who get less than 8 hours sleep are almost twice as likely to get injured than those who get more than 8 hours of sleep.

Early morning workouts can limit an athlete’s ability to consume enough total calories to fuel workouts, recovery, school work, etc., and obtain the essential nutrients to fuel recovery, growth, and personal health. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and many athletes skip eating a solid breakfast because of the short time between waking up and leaving for workouts. Breakfast should provide approximately one-third of the body’s energy needs and nutrient requirements (vitamins, minerals, etc.). Those who skip or skimp on breakfast often fail to meet their daily caloric and nutrient requirements which affect their ability to concentrate in school, focus in practice and games, and resist illness and injury. When an athlete wakes up in the morning after fasting all night, his/her blood sugar level is extremely low. Working out in a glycogen-depleted state early in the morning can have significant negative effects on the quality of training and amount of improvement.

Failure to get enough sleep, calories, and essential nutrients to fuel intense training, focus, concentration, recovery, and growth can lead to chronic fatigue, limit improvement, and increase the risk of illness, injury, and physical and mental stress. These potential problems are magnified when early morning sessions are not properly supervised by a certified strength and conditioning coach.

Coaches who favor early morning workouts should ask – “Are these workouts making my players better, or just making them tired?” You get what you train for – bigger, faster, stronger, and more athletic or tired, hungry, stressed, ill, and injury-prone. Athletes should train before school only if there is no other option.

Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM, has over four decades of experience in
MLB as a Head Strength and Conditioning Coach (Houston Astros) and consultant
(Texas Rangers). He is Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences
Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and Website Education

2 thoughts on “Early Morning Team Workouts for High School Athletes?”

  1. That is a good take, and I completely understand where you are coming from. I do also see (because I have personally seen it be effective in the past) that the early morning workouts can prevent these kids from staying up all night and playing video games (or even sometimes partying.) So, in a way, these early workouts actually helped the kids recover. On the other hand, I have seen some kids that stayed up to play video games or whatever, whether they had early morning workouts or not.

  2. Great article!..Most coaches want to instill the discipline and conformity but it’s probably not going to last past the first couple of workouts. You tend to have less than 10 kids show up and not be fully engaged due to fatigue, lack of sleep, and most likely little to no calories in their systems at those times of the day.

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