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High Performance Training on No Sleep

No sleep is no longer an excuse to avoid build muscle.

As a fitness model and strength coach to NFL athletes at Bommarito Performance Systems in Aventura, FL, Marc Megna keeps a tight schedule. In fact, on many days he wakes up at 3:45 AM and works as late as 7 PM, with hardly a break in between. He almost always finds himself getting less than the recommended eight hours of sleep that hard-training athletes require to make optimal gains, but he’s learned to adapt. Here’s how he does it—and how you can too.

Strengthen Your Nutrition

Eating better will give your body more of the nutrients it needs to make repairs when you do sleep. Megna also recommends having half your day’s water intake by mid-morning. “Staying hydrated will energize you,” he says.

Skip the Hard Stuff

“Avoid highly technical lifts such as power cleans and snatches,” says Megna. “They require extra awareness to be done safely.” A foggy-headed person who needs a nap should stick to more basic lifts done at a slower speed.

Cold, Wet & Tired
For Navy SEAL trainees, lack of sleep is hell.

By Sam Dehority
Navy Seals, the most elite force in the U.S. military, are required to pass a brutal marathon training session known simply as “Hell Week” to earn their golden trident. What constitutes hell to some of the toughest men on the planet? Over the course of five days, prospective SEALs get about four hours’ sleep mixed with drills that include carrying a telephone pole with arms extended overhead and running up to 36 miles a day. An anonymous member of SEAL Team 6 says the only way to survive the ordeal is structure. “You have to use mental checklists and focus on one item at a time. You just make a decision and act on it.” No matter how bad it hurts, the SEAL says, “you can’t feel sorry for yourself. Once you do, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole.” Remember this the next time you want to hit snooze on your 6 AM lift.

Try to Be Consistent

As best you can, attempt to get up and go to bed at the same times every day. Even the craziest hours can begin to feel normal as your body adapts to the routine.

Train as Soon as Possible

If working out in the morning is impossible, train as early as you can in the evening. The later you do it, the more likely you are to be wired when you go to bed, potentially cutting back even more on the little time you do have to sleep. “Avoid TV, intense music, stressful phone calls and messaging before bed,” says Megna. Dim the lights and try to relax.

Shorten Your Workout

Your body’s most potent growth hormone surges happen when you’re asleep, so losing sleep is, in effect, costing you muscle. If you can’t sleep more, at least cut back on the stress of your training in order to recover better. “Stick to low reps, and reduce the total workload,” says Megna. “Lack of sleep makes it more challenging to stay focused, so shorter, lighter sets will help you keep good form.”

Marc Megna, C.S.C.S., is a Team MuscleTech performance coach. He is also a former NFL linebacker for the New York Jets and the New England Patriots. www.marcmegna.com.

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