With college sports about to start their seasons in under a month many athletes are reporting early for their pre-season training and testing. It is during this time that some coaches opt to go with the Midnight Madness session, where everyone comes in at Midnight for a practice to kick off the year. Sports coaches tend to look at Midnight Madness as a sort of team building and/or mental toughness type of event. I tend to look at things like this and shake my head at the insanity of it all.
I certainly understand the importance of team building; however, team building can take place just as effectively at 12-noon, 9am, or 4pm. The goal of training or sports practice is to apply a specific stressor to the athlete and try and obtain a specific response (adaptation). Obviously we can apply too much or too little and get either a negative response or no response at all. The key is trying to manage that stress and apply the right amount of it at the right time.
Undertraining is a much easier issue to fix than overtraining. As Vern Gambetta once said, “One workout won’t make an athlete, but one workout can break an athlete”. If we start slow with our progressions, volumes, and intensities, we give the athletes time to adapt and make changes. If we find that we are undertraining a little bit, and not get the results we want, we simply have to add a little more work – train only as much as you need to get the adaptation and then no more. If we start right out of gate with overtraining then we are constantly playing catch up, trying to figure out how to manage the athlete’s level of fatigue within the competitive season and with the coach’s expectations during games and practices – not a good situation to be in! Patience is the key and most want to rush into things and apply a massive amount of work right from the get-go without appreciating that fitness is not built in one workout, one week, or even one month, but rather, it is developed by an accumulation of many training hours, days, weeks, months, and years.
But Midnight Madness Is Only One Session!
This is the common argument that coaches will make for Midnight Madness and while it is correct that it is only one session, it is important to consider what is taking place in that session and how it will affect the sessions which follow it.
1. You are asking athletes to stay up past the time when they should be in bed and recovering.
2. You are asking the athletes to not only stay up late but come in and attempt to perform highly skilled and physically demanding tasks.
3. Interrupting a normal sleeping time and requiring the athlete to perform intense amounts of work wreaks havoc on their sleeping and recovery patterns for the next day (and probably the next several days!).
Sleep is a vital component for health and well-being (not just for athletes but everyone).
Sleep not only helps to regulate specific biological processes (e.g., physiological function, homeostasis, learning and memory, and physical recovery) but sleep deprivation leads to increased amounts of catabolic hormones and can change the normal secretion of anabolic hormones. Thus, sleep deprivation will negatively impair the body’s ability to heal and recover the damaged tissue sustained in training/practice. Additionally, given that the athletes are not only in a sleep deprived state, the fact that you are adding intense exercise on top of it, increases the release of more stress hormones which can further promote a catabolic environment.
Some studies have shown that sleep deprivation leads to increased heart rate, blood pressure, and a shift towards sympathetic dominance causing the athlete to have an inadequate response to stressful stimuli. Basically, you ramp up the sympathetic response by having the athletes come in to train at midnight and then you further ramp up that response by asking them to perform at a high level of exertion causing their body to go haywire in an attempt to figure out what is going on and how it can resistance the stress that is being applied to it in an effort to maintain some level of balance. Additionally, how much can you really get out of your athletes at this time of the night given that sleep disturbance has been shown to lead to a reduction in high intensity physical exercise!?
I think there is something to be said for athletes who are mentally tough and team building is a critical component for any sport, but please, save the midnight training sessions for the individuals who are enlisted in a branch of the military, a population of people who are required to perform at a very high level under extremely stressful and oftentimes inadequate situations like sleep deprivation.
Athlete safety is key in the training/practicing environment and making sure that your best players are ready to play on game day should be the goal. Trying to destroy people in practice in the name of team building or mental toughness is silly and potentially harmful to the health of your athletes. Please, STOP THE MADNESS!
Mullington JM, et al. Sleep loss and inflammation. Best practice & research clinical endocrinology & metabolism 2010; 24: 775-784.
Dattil M, et al. Sleep and muscle recovery: Endocrinological and molecular basis for a new promising hypothesis. Medical Hypothesis 2011.
Valenza MC, et al. Consideration of sleep dysfunction in rehabilitation. J Bodywork Movement Thera 2001; 15: 262-267.
Sgoifo A, et al. Effects of sleep deprivation on cardiac autonomic and pituitary-adrenocortical stress reactivity in rats. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2006; 31: 197-208.