THE STRONGEST SCIENTIST
The periodisation principle.
Like everyone, I juggle a number of balls in my professional and personal life – which of course results in various over-commitments. So I’m keenly aware of stress and its effect on my physical and mental health. And having just returned from a family holiday, I know all about the benefits of rest and recovery.
As a high-performance cycling coach, I structure and plan the complete season of every athlete I work with, to ensure that they reach peak performance – without over-training. This structured planning in sport is called ‘periodisation’; in a nutshell, it’s the systematic planning of intensity, volume and frequency of training to ensure optimal performance.
When working with athletes, each training session and training week has a specific intensity and volume. As an important race approaches, training intensity increases and training volume decreases.
Although there are several ways to periodise, the most important principle is that variation is key. Good training programmes should reduce the monotony of training, and ensure adequate recovery.
One of the most basic principles of periodisation is the “general adaptation syndrome”, or GAS. Simply put, GAS describes your fundamental biological adaptation to a stressor: immediately after a stress – whether it’s a big training session, or working hard to get that report submitted on time – your performance decreases. It’s only after recovery that a rebound adjustment occurs, which will return your body’s ability to cope with further stress.
In sport, failure to recover sufficiently leads to a progressive decline in performance; until eventually, there’s a good chance an athlete will fall victim to chronic over-training syndrome.
Guess what? Every day, you’re affected in exactly the same way as a pro athlete: and maintaining a high level of intensity over extended periods of time, whether at work or at home, can lead to burnout.
In fact, only through sport was I able to fully appreciate the benefits of periodisation outside of sport. It can be applied to performance in everything.
So at work, beware of the pit of exhaustion that leaves you feeling completely unproductive and unable to concentrate for long. You can’t keep working at full capacity every day of the week (and sometimes even weekends) without risking burnout.
If you want to keep on being productive at work, you have to have enough time away from work: by resting, for one thing. And by making sure you have enough variability (if your work circumstances allow) – or alternatively, by finding balance in other areas of your life. For instance, if you’re able to change your workspace to your favourite coffee shop, or work from home occasionally, that may be all you need.
But it’s critically important to plan specific periods of rest, to ensure recovery. If you want to be highly productive all year round, a few nights a week on which you don’t go home with your laptop may make all the difference.
Obviously, sufficient sleep is the most important aspect of recovery, but there’s another positive step you can take: in sport, we monitor athletes closely to ensure that they’re recovering and coping with stress optimally. One aspect to monitor is performance. You can monitor yourself in your workspace, if you pay attention and know what to look out for.
So next time you start feeling you can’t maintain focus, or you’re excessively tired and moody, put your foot on the GAS. Rest and recovery are essential to ensure your optimal performance. In order to be more productive, you have to ensure recovery.
Pay attention, and act to reduce your stress – and you may prevent a breakdown.
“Maintaining a high level of intensity can lead to burnout.”