College students who enjoy starting their day before the sun has risen should consider trying a dab of holy water and an exorcism. They are few and far between, and yet many of our student athletes have been subject to the torture of lifting at 5:45 in the morning. While our complaints are often presented as jokes, there are legitimate reasons making them less than ideal.
An important factor in athletic performance that is often majorly impacted by early morning workouts is nutrition. Many athletes will not see optimal performance because they are not providing themselves with the necessary nutrients beforehand. We all roll out of bed at the latest second possible, some even sleeping in our workout attire to cherish every sacred drop of sleep. This often does not leave us time to eat anything at all, much less a breakfast of much nutritional value. This is detrimental as working out on an empty stomach causes the body to resort to burning less common sources of energy, and athletes will see a drop in stamina. An overwhelming majority of research comparing athletic performance in the morning and the evening found that athletes used less energy to get the same intensity in their workout later in the day. The bottom line: athletes looking for optimal performance levels will get better results from working later in the day rather than earlier.
During the times I feel most compelled to pull on a festive hat for a pity party, I remember football has the field from ten to eleven on Monday nights with a quick turnaround to a 5:45 a.m. lift Tuesday. If they don’t shower (and let’s be honest, that could really be a 50/50 shot), they still get less than six hours of sleep. It’s recommended that college students get no less than an average of seven hours of sleep a night to not see harm done to memory, mood, coordination, and immune health.
I am well aware that especially considering COVID-19 constraints, Juffer Athletic Fieldhouse’s weight room can only accommodate so many athletes at one time and there are well over 500 athletes working out almost every day. However, there are a variety of ways we can keep all our athletes in top shape without pushing teams to wake up at the butt crack of dawn. I propose we have one designated team session a week where we run through a workout with lifting coaches and assistants as well as get any questions answered, but athletes should have the freedom to complete lifts for the rest of the week on their own time. This method would provide athletes with more success in and out of competition, preparation for life after college and more self-reliance.
Placing the responsibility of choosing a time and group to lift with on the athletes would better help prepare them for the transition from highly competitive play to workouts for personal enjoyment. We will need to figure out where a workout fits in our schedule while juggling new endeavors ranging from careers to perhaps even raising our own little athletes. Teammates are more than capable of holding each other accountable, and athletes who aren’t willing to put the work in by themselves or with small groups should reconsider why they are playing at the collegiate level.
I guarantee there are flaws with my proposal and some of you are poking holes in it right now. I don’t think any method can perfectly accommodate the wide variety of preferences and restraints represented by our student athletes. If the demon in some would prefer to sweat at 5:45 a.m., more power to them. However, I believe giving athletes the choice will best allow athletes to train at their highest level as well as combat the physical and mental challenges tied to nutrition and sleep.