How High-Intensity Exercise Makes Me a Better CEO

By Gray Skinner – March 1, 2018
Photography by Weston Carls

As the CEO of a rapidly growing tech company, I prioritize and schedule high intensity exercise four to five times per week. It is not a luxury—it is a requirement to do my best work. 

Training and racing provide me with a low pressure crucible where I can explore new parts of myself and hone my focus. I find that intentionally setting performance goals, training, and competing give me a distinct edge at work, in addition to the well-documented health and wellness benefits of exercise. 

Pursuing multiple challenging (high-intensity) workouts each week has two primary benefits. The first is that I can stay in top competitive shape very efficiently. This allows me to select three to four competitive events per year and set ambitious goals for each. 

The second, and possibly more important, benefit is that these workouts provide several low-risk chances to “fail” each week. Many people go months or years in their careers without taking significant risks or experiencing a true opportunity to fail. Having a no risk arena to practice going beyond my comfort zone and seeing how I react is invaluable to begin building confidence and momentum towards my professional goals.

Proving to myself that I can persevere and break through in training creates strength and confidence that I can do the same at work. 

Here is how I pull this off. I design my workouts to be 85 percent knowingly attainable with 15 percent representing a stretch goal. So there is a built-in guarantee to either not hit the workout as planned (fail) or to achieve more that I thought myself capable. The value is in actually taking the risk, so there is no downside to “failing” a workout. 

When the workouts start to get uncomfortable, I often visualize accomplishing something really important at work. I connect it to the workout by visualizing a potential investor or prospect there watching, and, if I hang on and push through, the deal will close. Conjuring up specific thoughts of professional success both distracts me briefly from the pain and screams from my body to stop and associates a positive sense of achievement with the work goal that I am pursuing. 

Associating a positive sense of achievement with a work goal is a technique I picked up from meditation (metta), and it works well for me. The next time I think about the professional goal, I have a physical experience imprinted in my body that is associated with success. Once I lock in a positive emotion and experience with something I want to do at work, I have effectively taken a very proactive step towards achieving that goal by starting my momentum in the right direction. I am using my training and racing to become a more confident risk-taker. 

If you needed any more reason to schedule in high-intensity exercise, groups like Rogue Running or a cycling team provide a community and networking benefits. The group setting also offers a competitive outlet. Finally, the purely physical aspect of training offers a break from the relational and cognitive grind that consumes most work days!

Gray Skinner is an elite triathlete and cyclist as well as the CEO of Droplr, a growing tech company with of a team of many high-performing athletes. He just hired their first Austin employee, Andy Jobin, a Cat 1 cyclist and winner of the season-opening Oatmeal Road Race. Gray previously competed as a professional triathlete after working at Bazaarvoice (2010–2013) and Executive Stamina (2013–2015). 



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