The Nest: Annual Recovery Plan


- by Andrew May

Working in elite sport for more than 15 years has taught me the importance of recovery and regeneration! The world’s best athletes and sporting teams now spend more time, more energy, more money and more resources on recovery than they do on training.

Think about the following examples:

•    Roger Federer winning 5 straight Wimbledon and 5 back to back US Open titles
•    Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France 7 times.
•    Layne Beachley winning an unprecedented 7 world surfing titles.
•    Michael Phelps winning 8 gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.
•    The Australian cricket team maintaining global dominance for 15 years.

These examples are not flukes or flash in the pan performances. They are sustained efforts, consistent performances game upon game, championship upon championship, year upon year. All of these athletes and teams plan their recovery strategies as much, if not more, than they plan their training and competition.

Recovery strategies and staying fresh are the key to sustained performance, whether in sport, business or life.

Brett Lee: Lessons In Recovery

When I was working with the Australian cricket team a few years ago, something had become apparent after a One Day match against India. Despite coming off the back of a fantastic test series, Brett Lee was missing his usual spark with the ball. We sat down and talked about why Brett wasn’t performing at his best – and the answer wasn’t all that surprising. He simply wasn’t getting enough time to recover. He had travelled to India during the previous off-season with his manager and while Brett should have been having a break (both physical and psychological) to freshen up for the season ahead, he was busy making corporate appearances and building his profile in India. While this was great for Brett from a financial perspective – from a performance perspective it had left him flat and fatigued.

We sat down and put together a recovery plan that would allow Brett to keep playing at the desired intensity. Every day, we got him out in the sun in the morning, filled him up with a good breakfast, followed by a swim and some light stretching in the pool. We locked in time away from the game and time where he was free of business commitments in the months ahead.

After each game, we worked out some of the fundamentals to allow him to get as much rest as he could. It wasn’t long before he was slinging the leather at his 150+ kph speeds again, much to the dismay of the opposition. My work with Brett and other elite athletes led to the development of what I call the Annual Recovery Plan.

Annual Recovery Plan = 1 + 3 + 30 + 300 + 365

Holiday Or Off-Season

A recent article in the Australian Financial Review reported a Tourism Australia survey highlighting the fact that the Australian workforce collectively has more than 123 million days of accrued annual leave. This equates to roughly $33 billion worth – and close to 25 percent of all Australian workers in full time employment have more than 25 days of annual leave stacked up. We are a nation that stockpiles holidays!

This amazing figure has led experts to try to prompt Australians to take their annual leave – in the name of striking a better blend between work and life. Tourism Australia’s “No Leave, No Life” campaign is a great example.

Remember, holiday time or leisure time is time off work. Stay off the mobile and avoid the temptation to regularly check your emails. Get organized before you go on holidays so that other people can manage projects that might need attention while you’re off recharging. A proper holiday will leave you feeling totally refreshed and revitalized.

We know that it’s imperative for elite athletes to take regular time out to recover and recharge, as this not only keeps them in the sport longer, but also dramatically decreases their risk of injury and burnout. So why do we try and play a five-day ‘corporate’ test match week in, week out? And then play a grand final game on both Saturday and Sunday?

Mini breaks

Remember the movie Bridget Jones’ Diary where Bridget and Darcy escape to the English countryside for a ‘mini-break’? Well, I’d like you to try and lock in at least three of these during the year – with your partner – not Renee Zellweger!
It’s great advice – and it’s advice that I personally took a short time ago. My wife and I took a Friday off work, packed a suitcase and decided to escape the rat race for a three-day weekend. We simply drove up the coast to Nelson Bay from Sydney, leaving early on the Friday morning to avoid the traffic.

It was perfect – no computers, no phones, and most definitely nothing work-related. Just pure R&R. When I was back in the office on Monday, my wife called around 10am. “I feel so relaxed, it’s amazing,” she said. “It feels like we’ve been away for weeks!” And I felt exactly the same. With my mental batteries recharged, Monday’s workload was a breeze, because everything just felt so much clearer.

You should plan for a mini-break at least three or four times a year to reboot your system. Here’s a list of suggestions that should get your mind ticking over the kinds of things you could do to enjoy some well-earned time off.

Book a beach house, head for the mountains, tour the nearest wineries, go camping, visit friends interstate – whatever takes your fancy, as long as it’s got nothing to do with work and you are going to have plenty of time to sit, relax and unwind.

30 Weeks of 100 Recovery Points

David Misson, the former Elite Performance Manager for the Sydney Swans, introduced a recovery program to the team where the players accumulate 100 ‘recovery points’ each week, to make sure they’re okay for the next big game. Each activity is worth a certain number of points – yoga could be 30 points, a light stretch could be 10 points, a massage worth 25 points, etc – and the players have to reach their 100 point goal.

The Corporate Recovery Toolbox is a similar format designed for you, which combines indoor and outdoor activities. Your goal is just like the players for the Swans – hit 100 points each week.

Here’s a table of activities you can follow – or you can add your own.

Indoor recovery Oudoor recovery
Massage 50 points Relaxing swim 25 points 4
Strech/Yoga 40 BBQ/Picnic 25
Meditation 40 Golf 25
Social catch-up 25 Gardening 20
Dancing 25 Easy cicle 20
Sex 25 Slow walk 20
Warm bath 15 Sightseeing 20
Relaxing music 15 Festival 20
Reading fiction 15 Fishing 20
Go to a movie 15 Amusement park 15
Watch TV 5 Shopping 15

You’ll notice that these activities are all about taking things easy – there’s no huge score for grinding out a punishing 10km run on a hot afternoon. The idea is to give both your body and your mind the chance to rest. If you’re a fitness fanatic, you should aim to be doing these tasks as well as keeping fit – try swapping one longer run for a leisurely walk or stretching class. It’ll give your body a chance to unwind a lot better and free valuable time to think.

For thirty weeks of the year I want you to make sure you focus on recovering properly. Each week your goal is to get 100 recovery points.
300 nights of quality recharging sleep

The plan is to get 300 nights every year, or six nights each week, of quality sleep. Quality restorative sleep is one of the major keys to health and vitality. Research by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research has found that fatigued workers are 3 times more likely to be absent from work and 7 times more likely to make mistakes or have an accident. Human motor performance and cognition reduce exponentially with lack of sleep. Reducing your average sleep by just one hour per night over a week-long period will result in a 20% reduction in daily alertness and ability to perform.

Ensure you are getting quality restorative sleep. This means you need to have an adequate amount of time asleep (usually 7 – 8 hours for most people), and that sleep needs to be deep and uninterrupted.

Regular sleeping time:
Keep bedtime and rising time as similar as possible each day to settle your circadian rhythm. Stick with it, and it will get easier.

Draw the curtains: An uninterrupted night is required to get deep and restorative sleep. Sometimes interruptions can be out of your control, but measures such as ensuring your room is sufficiently dark will help you get to sleep and also to drift back to sleep again if you do wake up.

See the day: Serotonin is associated with mood elevation and is synthesised during the day from sunlight. It’s used at night to make melatonin, which induces sleep, so getting good amounts of natural daylight will promote better restorative sleep.

Try some milk: Milk contains an amino acid called tryptophan that the body uses to manufacture melatonin (the sleep hormone). Grandma certainly had it right when she insisted that you have a glass of milk thirty minutes before you go to bed!

Taking a bath 60 minutes before bed, using earplugs to block out excess noise and ensuring your bedroom is a comfortable temperature all night can also help. 

365 days a year – go SLOW

Every day of the year I want you to spend at least 10 or 15 minutes taking it easy. Going slow is transition time where you give your conscious mind permission to change gears and engage your subconscious thought patterns. Some people pray, others meditate, while others just sit and be mindful. Do what works for you as this is all about stimulating the relaxation response, the exact opposite of the stress response.

This is a great activity to employ before charging into your home after a busy day’s work. It is way too easy to walk through the door as corporate boy or corporate girl – still thinking about all of the deals you’ve crunched in the past 8 to 10 hours. Slowing down before you race through the door at home is a great skill to help you connect as a partner, family member, parent and friend.

SLOW activities

•    Walking at a gentle pace
•    Relaxing bath
•    Listening to quiet music (sorry … ACDC, Wolfmother and Metallica don’t count!)
•    Relaxing in the outdoors
•    Meditation
•    Sitting in a chair closing your eyes and relaxing
•    Gentle stretching
•    Floating in the ocean.

Final tip – lock it in the diary

One more thing before you race off to your next appointment. Please grab your diary – now! Sit down for 15 minutes and plan your recovery program for the next 12 months. Even better, if you are in a permanent relationship sit down with your partner and plan your next holiday and quarterly mini breaks. It’s amazing that even knowing about an upcoming getaway can help you through the crappiest of days. Lock in weekly activities to help you get regular recovery points and make yourself accountable.

Setting an annual recovery plan is a proven strategy to help busy people get through the mountain of work that we are all facing these days. We make life so much harder than it needs to be by burning ourselves out, and constantly being distracted by technology and digital devices. Maintaining the discipline and sticking to an annual recovery plan might just be the missing piece of the puzzle that helps you sustain performance and take control back of your life.

Happy recovering!


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