The 6th Layer of the Hierarchy – By Coach Jason Yule
By now most people are familiar with the “Theoretical Hierarchy of the Development of an Athlete.” This is the pyramid that Greg Glassman created to show what we need to focus on in terms of normal fitness development. The graph is as follows:
At the foundation and most important is nutrition, followed by metabolic conditioning, gymnastics, weightlifting and throwing, and finally, sport. What this means is we shouldn’t worry about moving up the pyramid until we optimize each level. So we shouldn’t worry about making the perfect workout program if we aren’t 100% dialed in with our nutrition. We shouldn’t worry about perfecting Olympic weightlifting and gymnastics movements without making sure our cardiovascular endurance is improving through metcons. We shouldn’t be worrying about the sport of fitness until we’ve fully optimized everything below. By skipping levels of the pyramid, you are only going to get marginal returns on the effort you put in. If we want to fully maximize our effort, we need to make sure our efforts are prioritized properly.
I fully agree with CrossFit and coach Glassman that these 5 components are prioritized in the proper sequence. However, I’m going to make a case that there should be a 6th layer added to the bottom of this hierarchy, and that is sleep. The reason I believe this is because without proper sleep, everything else will only give you marginal returns on your effort, not the 100% maximum returns we are looking for.
So why is sleep so important, more so than even nutrition? Let’s look at one of the most important parts of our body – the central nervous system. The CNS is referred to as the “information highway” of the body. That is, it is what sends the myriad of signals from the brain to the body. When we are experiencing chronic insomnia (lack of sleep), this normal flow of information is disrupted. So how does that play out in the gym? Let’s say you are practicing a technical movement like the clean or snatch. These movements rely heavily on neurological adaptation. If you are in a sleep deprived state, those important neurological adaptations don’t develop because the normal flow of signals is blocked. So while you are practicing the finer details of the snatch, your brain isn’t retaining any of it. You are doing the work, but won’t get any lasting benefit in terms of improved technique.
But that isn’t the only concern with lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation also affects nutrition by manipulating your hormone levels. Without proper sleep, your brain reduces the hormone leptin, and increases the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin is a natural appetite stimulant, so by default, lack of sleep causes you to feel hungry more often, even when you shouldn’t be. Furthermore, due to the general lack of energy from being tired, your body tends to release higher levels of insulin after you eat because it thinks it needs more energy. This promotes hyperinsulinism, which has its own laundry list of issues.
So, as you can see, if we aren’t getting a proper amount of sleep, multiple layers of the hierarchy will be impacted. Nutrition will be harder due to inaccurate appetite signaling and an increased insulin level in the blood. Metabolic conditioning will be less effective because we will have less energy to maximize intensity. And the more technical gymnastics and Olympic weightlifting movements will take longer to develop if we are only getting a fraction of the neurological adaptations required to be proficient in the movements. If you want to truly maximize your efforts in the kitchen and in the gym, you need to be taking your sleep seriously!