You asked: To improve your work performance, think like an athlete!

Recovery, overcompensation, overtraining: these fundamental concepts of sports training also apply to the world of work! In both cases, it is a question of improving performance through adequate stress management.

Dr. Sonia Lupien is adamant that the parallel between training and work is a close call. “While there is no scientific evidence to support this idea, the fact is that both cause stress reactions in those who experience them,” says the neuroscientist and director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress.

Interestingly, it was the theories of stress pioneer Hans Selye that led Soviet scientists to enact the science of sports planning, or periodization, in the 1950s. Coincidence? No! Here’s what you need to know to improve your performance at work and – who knows? – become the next gold medalist in your department!


Athletes know this: it is during the recovery phases that they improve, not during the training phases which, on the contrary, precipitate them even further down the valley of fatigue. The same logic applies to work, where evenings, weekends and holidays serve as recovery periods. And where overtime or vacation time is often unproductive and damaging to health.

There are no thirty-six solutions to getting back to work,” says Dr. Sonia Lupien: “You have to fight or run. In concrete terms, that means temporarily withdrawing from the workplace, eating well, getting enough sleep, and so on. “It often feels like you have no control over stress in the workplace. But we do have control over our recovery,” she says.


It is only after sufficient recovery periods that an athlete returns to and, better yet, surpasses his or her previous performance level. Muscles are stronger, the heart pumps more blood, reflexes are sharper, and the body has adapted to the stress of training. This phenomenon known as overcompensation can also be seen at work, where an employee returning from vacation is performing better than ever.

Better yet, in the long run, the succession of work/recovery cycles makes it better,” says Dr. Sonia Lupien. The employee has adapted to his workload and thus frees up resources to improve his performance. If he continues to do this, promotion is just around the corner.


What if recovery is neglected or even rushed? Then it is overtraining, a state of complete exhaustion and generalized fatigue that awaits the athlete. The athlete no longer has a taste for anything. A desire to vomit takes him at the mere thought of training. It takes several months or even years to recover from this condition, which is similar to burnout.

Unfortunately, overtraining, just like burn-out, can leave lasting after-effects. “The future resistance to stress is never the same. The brain puts in place mechanisms to avoid going back down so low,” warns Dr. Sonia Lupien.

In order to avoid this spell, the solution is even better to prevent instead of cure…

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