Sleep is Sometimes a Logistical Difficulty

Every place you live has realities to it that make living optimally a little less… optimal.

Being far removed from an urban center makes certain training methods impossible because no one in the area has a gym. Try training jiu jitsu in the far reaches of a town 3 hours from the nearest semi-urban center. Maybe there’s no real gym within a few hours drive either.

Cold, far northern climates may have issues with diversity in food crop and livestock.

NYC’s issue is sleep. I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise for a city whose catchphrase is “the city that never sleeps.” The same goes for any large, first-tier city’s population: they’re under-slept.

I’ve been having this conversation with people for the past 8 years: I would deem the chronic lack of sleep that happens here (or doesn’t happen here) as the number one barrier to living a healthy, high-performing life in NYC 

I am no stranger to this. I dole out sleep advice regularly, and practice much of it, but if I had to pinpoint the number one thing I would change about my health and performance, it would be sleep.

One slightly disturbing image I often heard as a young 20-something who had just moved to NYC was the reports of people who had once lived here, but left. “It chews you up and spits you out” they would say. They were usually talking about rent, work and life though.

But I think that if they just slept a little better, they may still be here.

Let’s explore:

This whole conversation starts and ends with circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythm refers to your body’s ability to pick up on the time of day wherever you find yourself. This is important because it helps your body produce the right hormones at the right time, and ultimately regulate when you’re awake and when you get tired for the evening.

Little things like light pollution, low-hum (or loud) noise disturbance, and a lack of time in nature, can all contribute to you being kicked out a little farther from your natural circadian rhythm.

The one thing that cities, and even larger suburbs, have in common is excess light. It comes from light poles, buildings, shopping centers, traffic, and anything that emits light. That’s why it’s such stark contrast when you go to certain states or countries that have light ordinances or are just simply more secluded, and you can actually see the light that comes from the stars in the sky.

Regardless, the artificial light, especially if it’s of the blue variety, has a powerful effect on you. It can make you more sensitive to detecting the time of day, and thus, your body has a difficult time going through it’s normal hormonal rounds during the day.

I also believe that low level noise that isn’t therapeutic has an effect on us. If you understand the science and theory behind binaural beats, you could quickly surmise that there’s probably negative frequencies of sound that can have an effect on us. I often call the low level noise of traffic or street noise in the background of life in NYC/big cities the "negative binaural beat-" that even when you’re not paying attention to it or actively bothered by it, it is still causing a slight disturbance in your body’s ability to chill and find itself a little more parasympathetic dominant (which ultimately aids recovery).

If you care about your body and its performance, like I do, then you need to be serious about having healthy sleep hygiene. Otherwise you are literally digging a recovery hole that will be harder and harder to emerge from. Specifically, you're very likely to undermine the very mechanism in the body that helps you develop a healthy circadian rhythm. 

I don’t like to take things lying down. It became enough of an issue for me that losing an hour of sleep here and there (and also already having the deck stacked against me for every reason I outlined above), was enough to start actively working on it and make a list of solutions for the urban city-dweller who needs more sleep.

Here's what I am doing to change it:

Set a timer to go to bed.

I’m not starting with the ideal of 9:20PM or earlier. I’m simply starting to wind it back by 1 hour and will add 15-20 minutes to wind back more each week. Habits take time to build and you must make your environment conducive to accepting these new habits (more on that in future blogs).

It’s easy to lose track of time in the evening, so I have an alert set for 9:45PM each night to tell me to go to bed.

 

Ritual

I make sure my next day’s equipment/gear is packed earlier in the day, and not before I go to bed.  When I am sleepy, I don’t want to do anything. The act of preparing for the next day will wake me up.

 

Sleep Mask

I have always found sleep/eye masks remarkably useful on road trips and plane rides for sleeping. Before using them, I never was able to sleep anywhere besides my bed. However, when I use those things, I turn the lights out-- literally and figuratively

 

Black out shades

I grew up with these as a kid- they work, and you won't want to return to sleeping without them. Sleep masks are unnecessary if you have true blackout shades.

 

Airplane Mode on the phone.

Buy into it or don’t: but you should put your phone on airplane mode at night (and preferably out of the bedroom) to help kill some of the vibrations and sounds you’ll inevitably forget to silence. You’ll also be less likely to be on your phone and exposing your eyes to blue-light. There's also the whole electro-magnetic wave thing that may or may not be true, but I certainly notice a difference.

Perhaps most importantly, talk to your spouse or partner about your plans

I didn’t expect my girlfriend to buy into everything I was doing wholeheartedly (as we are on different schedules), but it’s important that the people closest to you support you. She did, and is now even more on board than me in some ways! 

I started drafting this blog about 2 weeks ago, and can say that after 2 weeks of these changes, I am doing much better already. Try them out and feel free to share any of your own in the comments. 

 

Be well, be strong,

Mark

Newton's Second Law in MMA (and why Dan Henderson can hit so hard at any weight)

I like physics. Admittedly, like most, my understanding of it gets very convoluted very quickly, but I do enjoy it. To be a successful strength coach and performance trainer, you really need to at least understand the basics, specifically Newton's Laws; they're EVERYWHERE in sports.

This was especially true at UFC Fightnight 68: Dan Henderson vs. Tim Boetsch. So much so, that I decided to make a little video breaking it down.

If you're not a video person, or for the sake of notes: let's use our (written) words and talk a little about what I mean.

Applying the SCIENCE

What should you take away from Newton's Second Law and what it has to do with strength and conditioning?

If you recall, Newton's Second Law is:

Force = Mass (x) Acceleration

 

or more concisely:

F = MA

 

For a very long time, strength coaches and trainers in nearly all conventional sports tried to build the biggest, largest, most hypertrophied muscle-bound athletes they could, operating under the idea that manipulating the mass (M) in this equation would deliver more force. They were right in many cases too. If either number in the equation is larger,  you get more force (F). Simple math.

Well, this can present problems for a fighter. One of the biggest problems is that fighters have to weigh-in. A linebacker doesn't have to hit the scale to get access to the field, but a fighter of any combat sport does.  They have specific weight classes and they have to be as strong as possible at that particular weight. How do you make someone strong without putting on (too much) weight? The answer is in the "A."

Acceleration (A) is a tricky one to train. Strength trainers and coaches, in increasing numbers, are beginning to consider it more and more as a vital variable in producing more striking and takedown power in conditioning programs.

It's also the answer as to why a 135lbs man can brutally dish out a knockout punch, and why a guy like Dan Henderson can crank out incredible blows at any weight he fights at (even down 20+ lbs from his "prime years"). 

When Dan Henderson winds up to deliver a straight right, like he famously did to Michael Bisping, he's effectively putting the optimal amount of force into the punch by how effectively he accelerates via his technique. If he committed too much (or too little) of his weight into the punch, he no longer has the optimal striking power; his "M" is reducing his "A"/acceleration. 

Combat sports are a great example of acceleration in athletic performance because both fighters are roughly the same size. Their weight class ensures and defines this, so any talk of a "size advantage" (or Mass advantage) goes away quickly. 

The Takeaway

So there you have the theory as to why we want to manipulate and put a premium on acceleration in strength training. Now, of course, we have to answer the "how do you train for increased acceleration in generating force?"

 That's a topic for a future blog or article (something I think we'll do very soon- how's that for a tease?), but for now I want you to consider something:

4 of the 5 fights on the main card ended in knockouts. The only heavyweight bout ended in a submission victory for Ben Rothwell (go figure!). All other fights were under 155lbs, and two fights were at 135lbs. Two knockouts in a row from men weighing 135lbs certainly isn't just because of size.

Let me know if you guys like breakdowns like this, and I'll do more of them. If not, I'll stick to my long-form posts on programs and techniques, like the How to Build a Better Gas Tank (if you're a Jiu Jitsu or Combat Athlete)

- Mark

 

PS:  I know some of you will say this is all relative: if each fighter weighs the same, the force (and their tolerance to absorb it) is relative. You're right. However, you are generating much more than your body weight in force if you're properly striking. If I weigh 135 lbs and deliver a punch that only has 135 lbs or less of force, the chances of that punch being a knockout blow are probably pretty low.