Take your time ……

And yes, I have been taking my time the last 4 weeks, working with Chinese speed skaters, coaching a management team of a major international company in Holland, watching the best track meet in the world in Zürich, enjoying a great Internet and mobile phone free holiday and yes, reading and reading a whole lot.

Chinese speedskaters, training in Holland
Chinese speedskaters, training in Holland

No matter what: there is something that connects us as long as we live, something invisible, intangible, almost ignorable: time, ticking away as I write this and you read things, always into the same direction, leaving us with a longer past and a shorter future.
Strange that such an important phenomenon in our lives is hardly taken into consideration as far as training is concerned; we focus a lot on periodisation, but that is about it. Ever thought about if there was a difference in effect of a workout done in the evening or the same workout executed the morning? Would there be a difference? And if so, is there an optimal time during the day for a workout?

Welcome to the interesting field of chronobiology, the science that studies the effects of different rhythms on our life and behaviour. I started adapting the knowledge in this field in 1987 when dealing with jet-lag and the desynchonisation of the body clock with the local time, preparing for the first World Championships Indoors in Athletics in 1987 and after that as an integral part of my courses. Still very few people picked up the importance of this knowledge.

In the former GDR sport scientists already found that training elicited a significant better effect when executed at the time of the day when the athlet ‘s circadian biorhythm is at its peak. From experience we already know that some people are morning types (“larks”), while others are evening types (“owls”), and some are rather indifferent in this aspect.

I won’t go too deep into this matter here but there a few different cycles like:

  • BRAC-Basic-Rest-Activity-Cycle (Kleitman), approx. 90 minutes cycle with a 60          minutes “high” and a 30 minutes “low” phase.
  • circadian rhythm or day-night cycle of 24 hour
  • septadian cycle or weekcycle of 7 days, not existing in nature, but a cultural cycle that we adapted to, in Muslim countries the weekend is different.
  • circamensual cycle, the lunar cycle or monthly cycle approx. 30 days
  • circa-annual cycle, the year cycle of approx. 365 days, with the for most people the four seasons

These are the most well-known cycles, but there are many other. These cycles may exert their influence e.g. through hormonal output, with e.g. cortisol being high in the morning hours of the day, while growth hormone sis high during first two hours of sleep. We also know that testosterone, at least for man, peaks during summer, partly due to the exposure to UV-light.
All of these cycles influence our responses to training one way or another, and by taking these into account valuable performance could be gained.

When we speak of cycles we know the amplitude of a parameter changes from the averaged value over time, most of us are well aware of the so-called supercompensation-phenomemon.
This doesn’t make things easier for us as coaches, just more complicated, and therefore more challenging and rewarding.
Suppose I have a sedentary life-style and never work out but feel tired. My friends tell me I should workout to feel more energetic. Well, I start running only for 20 minutes, come back home and guess what? I feel even more tired than before…. But my friends tell me two things: 1. I should wait until tomorrow, things will get better and 2. I should repeat this more often.
Lesson learned: after a negative phase a positive phase will follow.
But we know that also the opposite is true: feeling so well after a few glasses of wine, followed by the slight hangover-feeling the next morning.
Now here is the clue: many times the things that work out well in the shorter term backfire in the long-term (hangover) and things that don’t feel well (working-out) give us and advantage in the longer term (better physical shape). This cannot be new to you, but do you really use this knowledge in your daily practice?
Maybe it is even so that some of our valuable recovery methods might aid recovery in the short term but might limit performance in the longer term. Some snippets of research start to look at the longer term effects of non optimal applications of recovery methods.
So:  a faster recovery in the short term might lead to a diminished training effect in the long term.
But these positive and negative phases might differ in length and amplitude and can be influenced by different other influences. So measuring is better than assuming.

Time perspective
But also in mental functioning time has been neglected as a factor. It was mainly Philip Zimbardo who in his book “The time paradox” pointed at this. As we are all living and thinking within a certain time scale, but some people relate to the past, others mainly live in the present and other predominantly think into to future. Understanding this simple concept of time perspective contributes to a better understanding of the thinking and the behaviour of our athletes, and of ourselves.

Time perception
Also the immediate perception of clock time is of importance. Example: look at the first few minutes of the movie Blue Thunder, where Roy Schneider checks by his watch his ability to estimate a one minute time span (not looking at his watch of course). We know that an inability to estimate time accurately tells us something about our internal clock(-s) and about the balance in neurotransmitters in our brain. This inability might hint at psychopathology. Now some track athletes might be phenomenal at this: some of them could estimate the time they had run in time trials, let’s say 300 meters, within 2 tenths of a second.

Limited bibliography:
Time and phases:
–     Kokkari, W; Sothern, R: Introducing biological rhythms; Springer, 2006.
–     Albrecht, U (Ed.); The circadian clock; Springer, 2010.
–     Wever. R: The circadian system of man; Springer, 979.
–     Johnson, L.C; Tepas, D.I; Colquhoun, W.P; Colligan, M.J.(Eds.): Advances of sleep                  research; Vol.7: Biological rhythms, sleep and shift work; Spectrum Publ, 1981.
–     Refinetti, R: Circadian physiology; CRC Press, 2006.

Time perspective
–    Levine, R: A geography of time; Basic, 1997.
–    Zimbardo, P; Boyd, J: The time paradox; Atria Books, 2008.
–    Evans, V: The structure of time; John Benjamins Publ, 2003.

Time perception.

–    Melges, F.T: Time and inner future; John Wiley, 1982.
–    Meck, W.H.(Ed.) : Functional and neural mechanisms of interval timing; CRC, 2003.

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