What Elite Sport can Teach Driven People About Recovery for High Performance

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In this topic ‘What Elite Sport can Teach Driven People About The Importance Of Recovery For High performance’. My aim is to offer an observation regarding the way a sports performance coach would approach recovery in an athlete with the goals of high performance at an important event and what we can learn from this as driven people.

In elite sport it is understood that within an athlete’s training program, that has been strategically build to target key events in a year and built to focus in on developing key parts of that athletes performance, be that areas that need strengthening, or an area identified to work on to help an athlete win a given event. There are training sessions, which are the stimulus to provoke adaption in the body and there are periods of recovery, where the physiological adaption occurs. There is both an art and science to this dance between the two, but all sports coaches and athletes appreciate that performance gains in training as well as the best performance on event/ race day are dependent on both. To have too little stimulus from training (stress), be that not intensive or extensive enough the body doesn’t make adaption’s, too long periods of rest in between training sessions and fitness declines.

On the flip side of that coin, to not have adequate recovery in between training sessions, will compromise the adaption process from the work done in the recent training sessions, plus limit the performance in the upcoming training session (as the athlete would not be able to train as intensively, or they could tire too quickly due to fatigue) and compromise future results. If the athlete had too much fatigue, training and or recovery approaches for that week would be modified. This is also a consideration leading up to a big event where a taper of training is seen, where we create a surplus of recovery, whilst minimize loss in form, or fitness for event day. Yes professional athletes have all day to train and recover, plus many stresses most people face day to day are reduced with this group, however I believe the concept is relevant to all of us.

To help provide a visual representation of this point, below is a performance management chart form the WK04 program from Training peaks. Don't worry about the numbers, what I want you observe is the purple line ( accumulative stress load from training sessions) and the yellow spikes (indicating form, which for our purposes here being when the yellow is pointing down we are in accumulated fatigue (longer the line greater fatigue). At times that is planed, but training is coordinated that come race day the yellow line is positive (pointing strongly up) at which time you see a corresponding drop in stress (as are recovered from previous training sessions), so fresh to compete with high performance.


So my observation is that in sport at the highest level close attention is paid to the relationship between stress and recovery and its correlation to high performance is well known, yet outside of sport in areas where we aim for high performance we seem to miss this concept totally. I also observed that I properly get more excited as a coach about a performance management chart than is healthy.

We can be masters of creating stress in various forms in our lives, which commonly takes the form of chronic low levels of stress for most of the day, with repeated bouts of high stress events, then we might throw in an exercise session (stress) for ironically our health, then have a family, work or emotional stress to contend with, or simmering away in the background.

Yet in all this apart from sleep (assuming that’s working OK for you) I find the levels of recovery tend not to be sufficient, or are not protected in someone’s diary to offset the volume of chronic stress we face day to day. As such the potential path of chronic depletion to fatigue to exhaustion to burn out is not hard to see as a real possibility, especially with driven people. So what to take from this?

  • If you get the concept of recovery and its importance in optimal performance and the need for recovery, in proportion to stress, great. That’s all I want to get across here.

  • As an additional step for awareness you can take a quick stock take of where recovery has been in your schedule/ life in recent weeks and months (years) up to this point. Can you get a broad sense of the degree of imbalance? A quick look at a diary over recent months can help, however I expect that for many people the penny has dropped by now and they know the imbalance has been big.

This topic is huge however bringing this concept to your attention can be powerful in itself. As one person said recently, after I had helped them to address this recovery imbalance for them said that for them: “recovery time is such a huge part of my life now. It was a total blind spot for me before”.


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About the author, Shaun Mckeown: could be labeled as a performance strategist, or coach, or a life balance specialist. In essence Shaun is a strategic, creative problem solver, with a holistic view. He has over 15 years professional experience helping people with health, well-being, sport performance, reducing stress and life balance. He has a BSc.(Hons) degree in Sport and Exercise Science, as well as experience coaching and teaching in exercise conditioning, holistic lifestyle and nutrition, sport performance and Reiki. So has both science and holistic perspectives. 


The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. Shaun Mckeown, disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.