In my previous life working with professional baseball players, the number one predictor for injury was a sudden increase in a player's stress or workload. My colleagues, who work with elite special operations soldiers, see the exact same thing. Interesting enough, it's been my observation that the same is true for executives.
In baseball, one surefire way to break down or injure a pitcher is to drastically increase the number of innings he throws year to year or the number of pitches he throws game to game without adequately planning for his recovery. For that reason, most teams have long-term training plans to gradually increase the pitcher's load and create resilience over time. The more players did on the field, the less they did in the gym, and if possible, the less they did away from the field.
This phenomenon applies equally to executives even though it's often overlooked. One reason this happens is that compared to an athlete, your load is much more difficult to quantify. You probably don't count the number of time zones you cross, the number of critical conversations you have, or how many fires you put out on a daily and weekly basis. Think about the last time you were promoted or took on a new role. Did you modify your exercise program to account for the increase in your meeting load or the number of direct reports you just inherited? You may not have thought of it, but you are most likely to get injured during these times (at least initially). Unlike professional athletes, who have a medical team to adjust their movement and recovery programs, many executives tell us that when they are under stress, they often like to train exceptionally hard to blow off steam. While this may emotionally make sense, it does not make sense from a physiological and recovery standpoint.
The right amount of movement can be an excellent way to recover, but extremely high-intensity workouts or new movements during times of increased load may only pile physical fatigue on top of the cognitive and emotional fatigue you are already experiencing. This can even cause the opposite of what you intend by causing brain fog due to the increasing amount of stress on your body. But that's not the worst possible outcome. Time and time again I hear stories from clients about getting off a long stretch of travel full of negotiations, meetings, and presentations only to jump back into their intense workout and severely injure themselves.
Don’t let this be you. Build your capacity and resilience through more difficult workouts when work is relatively slow, on weekends, or during vacation. Increase intensity gradually as you get used to higher intensity loads, and back off a little when your travel, emotional, and cognitive loads are especially high. Being strategic by putting your movement program into context with your overall load can help you show up with your best game on when it matters most to you.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
Tignum // Performance Coach