The Biology of Business Performance

Prior to the application of sport science in the 1960’s, elite athletes suffered in much the same way as employees do today. After the introduction of sport science, athletes took a multidimensional approach to training, with excellent results. Let’s review how sports science has changed the way athletes train to perform at their best and compare them with employees of today and possibly the future.

Before the use of sport science, the elite athletes coping strategies were limited. The approach was typically to push harder, train longer and not allow for recovery. The same can be said of employees today who work harder, longer and without sufficient recovery, just to get the job done. For the elite athletes, the outcome was often anxiety, depression, injury and other symptoms of stress. For 54% of American workers, it means disengagement from work (according to research conducted by the Gallup Organization, 2010) and similar symptoms of stress. The results have been shortened careers and lifelong health issues for athletes, and burnout as well as both physical and emotional health issues for the employees of today.

Sport science has combined the disciplines of exercise physiology, nutrition, psychology, biomechanics, motor learning, and sports medicine and its application has resulted in an incredible progression in athletic performance during the last 40 years. Athletes are typically bigger, faster, stronger and more emotionally resilient. They eat better and recapture energy quickly to perform well the next day.

Progress in sport science has been founded on three important discoveries:

  1. Multidimensionality: optimal performance is reliant on not just the physical dimension but also the emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions
  2. Recovery: enhanced techniques to recapture energy
  3. Periodization: breaking up training and competition into manageable work/rest periods to allow enduring high performance

Applying these sport science principles, employees of the future should see themselves as multidimensional and ensure that they get adequate recovery in each dimension. Chronic stress, that is stress without recovery, can lead to health complications and impact performance. Just like an athlete, the employee needs to replenish energy in the form of sleep, hydration, nutrition and physical activity. In addition, employees should be encouraged to use periodization. That is, balancing work with rest. For example, taking short breaks during the day, disconnecting from work on weekends and truly enjoying earned vacation time. Intentional downtime, even as short as 1-2 minutes, enables us to come back stronger when we get to work. Businesses that take a page from the world of sport science and deploy a multidimensional approach to employee performance can help improve productivity, innovation and engagement.