Is there any benefit to early morning workouts for high school athletes?
In the past decade or so, 5am and 6am workouts/practices have became very popular among high school sports programs, in particular football and basketball (swimming has been doing it for a while). At one time, near the beginning of this trend, the teams who were getting up early to workout assumed they had a mental advantage over other teams since they were "working while others were sleep", and this may or may not have been true. Since these early teams had success (mainly because of the talent on the team, not early AM workouts), other coaches blindly followed along hoping to see the same or similar results.
So why are teams adopting the early workouts/practice times?
I've received a few answers when asking coaches these questions, most as you can guess, had no real rhyme or reason. Here are the most common answers.
One explanation I've heard when asking why behind this is that the athletes will have more time after school for homework/studying (which most of them are not going to do), or for practice or extra training which many of them don't need. This is a nice answer when a coach has no logical reason for what they are doing and sounds good to parents, but I know there is very little truth to it.
Another reason I was given for the early morning workouts, was because that's what the coach did when they were in high school (with relatively good success), or that's what another successful team did (as I stated above). I know this is not exactly the groundbreaking evidence required to add or take away something from a program, but I digress.
So is the early morning grind really effective, or does it build the mental toughness that many coaches preach about to maintain compliance? My answer would be no and the science is there (free to research), to support me.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high school start times should be at 8:30am or later to ensure students get the proper amount of rest. If 6 or 7am is too early to start school, wouldn't that mean it is too early for a workout, which also requires the brain to be fully awake for best results?
Research also shows that the best time to perform speed, power, and/or strength training (practices included) are between 12:30pm-6:30pm, when the Central Nervous System is fully awake and functioning at is optimal level. Your body will also perform the best at the times you that you are used to practicing/training, so since most games/competitions are in the afternoon/evening, wouldn't it make sense to train or practice then?
I doubt this will change many coaches minds, since they treat sports like a religion and it's hard to alter beliefs, but I hope this at least sparks a conversation.
As always feel free to comment and/or share.
Joshua Gray BS, CSCS, NASM CES, USATF 1
Owner of Gray's Academy LLC