Tech and Cycling Are More Similar Than You Might Think

Peak performers, at their best — Peter Sagan, Wout Van Aert, Sam Bennett, and Caleb Ewan (©roadbikeaction.com, 2020)

Le Tour De France is happening these days. Cyclists from all around the world come in their best shape to race in one of the hardest road races that exist. These cyclists prepare all season in order to race at peak performance. What is peak performance? How do they achieve it? Is it sustainable over time?

I love cycling — It’s one of my biggest passions. Cycling training theory suggests that the season is planned, aiming to build peak performance in certain events only.
It suggests that building peak performance means to perform worse in any other phase of the season. Pro cyclists build their fitness along the season, from base to build phases to peak. After peaking, cyclists rest and rebuild themselves from scratch for the next season, aiming to reach higher peaks all the time.

The suggested approach for “Performance Seasonality” is what enables cyclists to keep their body healthy, and to keep improving and building higher peaks in the next season. Can we argue that performance seasonality works the same for the tech industry?

Overtraining in Cycling is Burnout in Tech

Too much load on the body in training can result in very serious conditions that can end the season. This is a phenomenon known for “Overtraining”. Overtrained cyclists are often tired, stressful, and most importantly — not able to perform well nor to improve. This is why peak performance is not sustainable over time.

It is at this point where “performance seasonality” is demonstrated. After peaking, cyclists let their body rest in order to rebuild. The next season starts again with a base phase, in order to rebuild fitness while aiming for higher peaks. Without resting — you will just not be able to grow stronger later, you will plateau.

There are engineers around that try to maintain peak performance over long periods of time. They expect the most from themselves all the time. They believe this is the way to continue to improve and maximize results.

Cycling shows us that it just doesn’t work like that. Performance seasonality works the same for tech, and overtraining in tech is burnout.

Demanding too much from ourselves over too long periods of time, will cause burnout, and will prevent us from further improving our abilities. We will see diminishing returns as the time goes by, until we reach a point where we can no longer sustain anything and find ourselves stressed, tired, and mostly looking for ways out from what we’re doing now.

We need to accept that in order to rebuild stronger from one year to the next, we must have resting periods, and we need to understand that we just cannot maintain peak performance for long.

With the right amount of rest and planning, we will be able to keep on building our abilities and performance, systematically and successfully (and with patience), over years to come.

Your manager as the coach

The coach takes an important part in setting the goals for the season, in accepting and even pushing the athlete to take rest days, and in keeping track of the effort the athlete is putting in each and every part of the season.

Without the above, the athlete can find themselves either disappointed or over-trained with an inability to continue competing. They can find themselves hating the sport and eventually abandoning it.

Tech is no different. Our manager should be the one helping us to set reasonable goals that we are able to achieve. Our manager should be the ones to keep track of the efforts we put in each and every project. Our managers should help us plan the “season” and aim to perform at our peak at certain points only (while aiming for higher and higher peaks all the time). Lastly — our managers should push us to take rest days and rest periods in which it is expected to perform less than you and they know you can.

In my personal point of view, if the tech ecosystem would adopt such a Performance Seasonality approach, I would be so much more effective in my work. I would be more calm, and able to perform so much better in the long term — keeping a healthy balance of intense periods and rest periods, and performing at my peak when that’s planned and fits, while pushing for higher and higher peaks as the time goes by.

Writing on Software Engineering & Leadership. Enjoying writing code, reading and cycling.