Working [Out] Your Way to the Top.

Work is tough. Clients, competition, conflicts, change, constraints. While it might be tempting to sink more time and effort into your work in pursuit of success, would it surprise you that becoming a top tier professional in your field might start with getting into the best shape of your life? Peak physical performance brings several advantages that may help you achieve peak professional performance.

When I was a consultant 10 years ago, traveling and working long hours, I was reluctant to let anyone know that my wife and I had decided to train for our first ironman distance triathlon. Given the demanding training regimen, I was pretty sure my boss would be concerned that training might edge out my priorities at work.

And I was right. Six months into my training, he heard about my training through and reminded me that my clients had to come first.

The irony was that his concerns were unfounded. During my training for that race and others through the years, I found that my toughest training months were often my most productive. Based on my own experience and input from Harvard professor, John Ratey, MD, in his recent book, SPARK, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, I think I understand some ideas why.

Exercise delivers benefits across the entire human condition.

1. Physically. While most people think of stress as a bad thing, stressing the body through exercise is precisely the catalyst necessary for growth and improvement. Work a muscle, and it responds by getting stronger. Work the entire body, and you actually gain more energy as the body gears up to handle the next challenge. You also sleep better and alleviate the impact of emotional and mental stress.

2. Mentally. Though people often think relaxation is what frees the mind to dream and create, recent studies suggest the mind actually works better after physical challenges. The frontal cortex lights up, neurotransmitters and hormones kick in, and low and behold, the brain begins performing more effectively with respect to memory, creativity, focus, and processing speed.

3. Emotionally. No surprise, people who are in great shape often feel better about how they look. They possess a more positive self-image, and they more readily engage others…including prospects, clients, colleagues, competition, and friends. This leads to stronger work relationships, sometimes with people who lend their expertise to help that person succeed.

4. Spiritually. While there is no guarantee that the person with the highest fitness score goes straight to heaven, studies and testimonies do suggest that people often “get centered” through their work out. The feel closer to nature, to their inner selves, and to God. This comes in handy when the chips are down, and you’ve gotten a long slate of “No thanks. Maybe next time.”

In summary, working out may be just what the doctor (or performance psychologist) ordered if you are working to move up in your profession. There is no single magic bullet but the benefits are broad and deep.

Have you experienced something similar on your Journey to Greatness?