Models for Success: Lessons from Elite Exercise Planning

Have you considered the carry-over between your exercise program and business? If not, you might have overlooked how similar the two are. Today we’re going to cover how elite-level exercise planning provides a fantastic model for success in business and other areas of life.

Exercise: You Should be Familiar

If you push yourself to be the best, you’ve probably already got an exercise routine. Staying in shape and developing your body is a great way to improve on yourself while developing important character traits: confidence, determination, grit, and an attitude that embraces challenge instead of shying away from it.

There’s also a certain expectation on executives and entrepreneurs to present themselves in certain ways. The first impression is a key aspect of good business (consider how many hours you spent writing and re-writing your sales emails), and presenting yourself as a fit, healthy individual with good posture is a great way to communicate your values and those of your brand.

Similarities Between Sport and Business

An analogy is only ever as good as the similarities between the two things you’re comparing: are sports/exercise and business sufficiently similar? We think there are some key parallels that are important for context:

1.       Competition: both business and sports are highly-competitive, with a 1% advantage being the difference between winning or losing. They’re zero-sum games: there will be winners and losers.

2.       Goals: both fields are defined by fierce adherence to goals that are ambitious and measurable.

3.       Positive change: done right, business and exercise are all about effecting real positive change – improving conditions, adding value, and focusing on overcoming challenges.

With a few notable exceptions, great tactical athletes make great entrepreneurs. This is all down to the key concepts that underlie success in both fields – concepts that you might not have examined until today.

Shared Principles

These key principles underpin the correct approach to success in any field. This is why there are so many effective methods that are superficially different in any area: they share the essentials but differ on trivialities.

Goal-Setting: Planning 2.0

Many Olympic athletes’ training programs are 4-years long. Despite this crazy quadrennial planning, they also have yearly, monthly and weekly goals. Goal-setting is a process that is heavily-involved in determining whether you’re going to achieve your goals or not.

The way that you set goals should be a real sit-down process: draft up your long-term, mid-term, short-term, and daily goals. This is a great way of setting up ambitious goals to keep yourself motivated, while also having the specificity to provide actionable day-to-day tasks. A plan is no good if it doesn’t provide you with an idea of what to do now.

Technique and Training

Have you ever really watched an Olympic gymnast? Everything about their movement is purposeful and based on thousands of hours of practice. This is what you should endeavour to present in your own practice – whether it’s gymnastics, sales, or simply your SOP.

Amazing, memorable performance in sport and business are both the result of developing foundational skills and preparing for the more complicated tasks ahead. Practice your craft relentlessly and with attention to detail. When the time comes to test yourself (through an investor pitch, important sale, or simple customer service), everything should be purposeful and based on an extensive foundation of expertise and practice.

Overload: How Getting Better Happens

Weightlifters don’t start their Olympic journeys with huge strength and power – they begin as normal people and develop kilo-by-kilo over decades. Progressive overload is the nature of effective exercise and it’s an unavoidable fact of development: you only develop by challenging yourself to perform better every time.

This might sound self-evident, but complacency is an easy and common trap for the success-motivated to fall into. Every action you take with your business or personal development should be based on performing slightly better over a long period of time.

This also provides an important lesson for your brand itself: do you continue to innovate and progress, or are you satisfied with short-term dominance in the market? Success is not the reward for a constant forward momentum, it is a symptom of always looking for the next opportunity to progress, innovate, and re-define your medium.

Long-Term Planning: Volume vs Intensity

In exercise planning, volume is the amount of work done and intensity is the relative demand of each repetition or task. In simple terms, volume is reps, intensity is weight. An effective program – at least one aimed at a specific goal or competition – has an inverse relation between the two: as time goes by, volume decreases to facilitate greater intensity.

The application might seem a little less obvious than other points we’ve discussed, but for anyone working with their first business, or in a new field, it’s unmistakable. When developing a reputation and authority within a field, this is the perfect model for development.

Developing reputation in the first place is all about putting out as much high-quality work volume as possible. This means networking until you have a sore throat and being willing to put in the necessary hours to develop a huge reputation for outstanding quality. As this reputation increases, the requirement for this basic output will decrease and the opportunity to increase intensity (as an hourly rate, premium products, or consultancy) will present itself.

Remember: a pyramid’s height is a direct result of the size of its base. In the early days, remember that you’re building a foundation, not a pinnacle.

Long-Term Development: Specificity vs Variety

The balance between specificity and variety is always 2 things: challenging and rewarding. A well-balanced exercise program is all about providing enough structure on important movements to progress, but also ensuring that you don’t stagnate or tire of the same tasks.

Success, once again, demonstrates similar problems: great technicians in a single field are often unable to develop because they’re too specific while the jack-of-all-trades businessman can fall short on technical knowledge. This is why we value the T-type: individuals with extensive technical expertise, as well as a breadth of knowledge in other fields.

The renaissance man might be an old concept, but it’s still relevant today. Providing technical expertise is a key part of many service-based (specifically consultancy) companies but developing extensive networks and building out your corporate infrastructure is benefitted by a wider understanding of other areas.

You don’t need to be an accountant to run a bakery but knowing tax law is going to be key to scaling up, or at least evaluating the services of a tax lawyer/accountant. Cultivate expertise, but don’t forget that you need to be a well-rounded person to achieve the greatest success.

Fall in Love With the Process

This is the last principle that we’re going to discuss, but that doesn’t say anything of its importance. Falling in love with the process is mandatory for becoming the best in any field: high-level sports and business share huge time-demands, as well as incredibly challenging working conditions.

If you’re going to make it to the Olympics, you’re going to be performing physical training and strategy research for dozens of hours every week. Similarly, if you’re going to make it to the top of your field, you’re going to be spending almost all your waking hours developing your brand, marketing your ideas, and dealing with clients. If you’re going to do anything for 80 hours a week you need to love it, or it might drive you mad.

Falling in love with the process of training or business practice is also going to be essential for producing the very best results. Attention to detail, constant focus on quality and long-term innovation are all symptoms of a commitment to the basic process of your field. Dig into what you love most about the niche, and make sure that it is exaggerated in your work life.

Closing Remarks

It is possible that you reached this point and haven’t learned anything – we hope that’s the case, and that you’re always aware of the lessons life provides. However, experience working with small business suggests that these are principles that are often neglected or overlooked. Experience working with large business suggests that they’ve been forgotten.

Next time you see a feat of athletic excellence, think about the process that was necessary to make it possible, and the lessons that it might provide to your own victory on the highest stage.