Cool & Interesting Stuff (30/1)

DATA – Great little read on the use of data in sports and other organisations.

FOOTSTRIKE – An interesting article discussing the use of forefoot strike in endurance runners. Fore foot striking is all the rage these days, but this article provides a bit more context and information.

FREEZING – It’s pretty cold in the UK at the moment (and even colder on the East coast of the US). But what is it like to freeze to death?

POWER – What effect does strength have on the adaptation to power training?

INTENSITY – Interesting piece in the New York Times on why training workouts should be high intensity (note: this is for recreational athletes as opposed to professional athletes).

POLARISED – I came across this from Joel Friel this week. Although it is over a year old, it provides some very interesting insight into the use of polarised training in high level endurance sport.

BOOK – This weeks read is Birth Order: What your position in the family really tells you about your character – an interesting book on the effects of birth order on personality traits. I’ll be using it to wind my brother and sister up!

Cool And Interesting Stuff (23/1)

Hi Everyone, hope you have had a good week. Mine has been pretty busy – I’m getting ready for some presentations I am giving over the next few weeks in the Netherlands and Canada. I still managed to find some interesting stuff for you to check out:

DETOX – Examine ran a really good article looking at the evidence base behind detox diets. Surprisingly there isn’t one.

ACL – Matt Jordan posted up some slides discussing ACL injury risk and prevention strategies. From my own prior research I can tell you that a key risk factor for ACL injury is having had a prior ACL injury – so don’t get one in the first place! There are also really promising genetic markers linked to this type of injury, which I think is a direction that professional sports are going to go down.

SITTING – Everyone knows (or should know) that prolonged sitting is less than ideal. Check out this article on Outside on what you can do about it.

CARDIAC SCREENING – Another article from Outside, this time discussing both sides of the debate on cardiac heart screening in sports people. Personally, I think it’s a good thing to have the screening available – I took up the option when it was offered to me in 2011.

FEET – When you run, the only parts of your body that touch the floor (all being well!) are your feet. It is imperative that you look after them and self treat. This blog from Athletes Treating Athletes examines the feet, and provides self treatment advice.

What I’ve Been Doing (aside from work):

BOOK – For Christmas I got Slaughterhouse 5, or The Children’s Crusade – A Duty-dance with Death from my girlfriend’s sister (sister in law?), who co-incidentally is one of the few readers of this blog. Thanks for the present @thelynnroberts. I’m about halfway through and it’s weird.

MUSIC – Bowing to popular demand (from Lynn), I will also tell you what music I have been mostly listening to this week: The new album from Enter Shikari – The Mindsweep

TV – Finally, and also by popular demand, I will tell you what I have mostly been watching on TV this week. I don’t really watch a lot of TV, but my girlfriend does, so our evenings have had a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race on. Wonderful.

What I Learned Reading 52 Books In 2014 (Part 4)

So, here we are, at the conclusion of my overview of books I have read in 2014. If you missed it, you can revisit Parts One, Two and Three before reading.

40. Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection
by A. J. Jacobs (4/5).

 

This book was really really funny. There is such a large amount of information out there about what we should be doing to ensure we stay healthy, and most of it is impossible to do on a daily basis. However, over a two-year period, A.J. Jacobs has tried to do everything to improve his health. He has a list of over 1000 things to work on, and attempted to work through them all. Frustratingly for him, things seemed to get added to the list quicker than he could cross them off. It was good to see someone try a ton of health promoting things, and see his conclusions regarding what worked and what didn’t. It’s especially important given that a lot of the information we receive about health today can be conflicting, or difficult to do. I would definitely recommend this book as a light-hearted read.

 

41. Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Hooks, Helps and Hurts Us
by Murray Carpenter (4/5)

 

In this book, Carpenter looks at caffeine, and both its positive and negative effects on the human body. The book starts by providing a social view of caffeine, meeting cocoa and coffee growers in South America, and illustrating how the Western worlds reliance on this drug is helping, in part, to create a local booming economy in these regions. Carpenter then goes on to discuss the downsides of this, such as gang related crimes. The book them moves on to discuss the methods by which we get caffeine into our systems, whether these are safe, and whether caffeine in general is good or bad within our society. Again, really interesting points were made, and overall I really enjoyed the history of caffeine, along with the discussion regarding how “healthy” our caffeine habits are.

 

42. Psy-Q: You know your IQ – now test your psychological intelligence
by Ben Ambridge (4/5)

 

Yes! A popular psychology book. It’s always interesting to see how your brain works, and this book certainly does that, explaining some common psychological myths along the way. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, it exposed why some well known psychology experiments are a bit misleading, and was also full of fun little games and challenges used to illustrate the authors points on various aspects. Very good!

 

43. The Sports Gene: Talent, Practice and the Truth About Success
by David Epstein (5/5)

 

I read this book in two days. It is excellent! Epstein explores what makes elite athletes different from the layperson, and whether or not this might be genetic. It’s an adventure that takes us to Jamaica, Kenya, and other talent hotspots around the world. Throughout, Epstein discusses genes that might be linked to sprint or endurance ability, baseball, and other sports. Interesting aspects include a family in Finland with a genetic polymorphism that causes them to have very high levels of EPO – and they just so happen to be good at endurance sports; whether there is a gene that can place at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s from multiple concussions, or a gene that increases the risk of sudden cardiac death. The genetics of the NBA was also very interesting.

 

Another important aspect of this book is that it adds to the 10,000-hour debate. Epstein does a good job at debunking this arbitrary score by illustrating that Donald Thomas won the 2007 World Championships at High Jump having only been doing high jump for a year. In my opinion, it seems like in sports where physical attributes are more important, such as athletes, genes play a larger role than in skill dependent sports, where skill-level and experience is also important. Throughout the book, Epstein also shows the important of a good environment to enable you to get the most out of your genes.

 

Please read this book, it is brilliant.

 

44. The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease and Inheritance
by Nessa Carey (3/5)

 

Enthused by “The Sports Gene”, I decided to pick up another book about genetics. This one was still an interesting read, but based more about general health and well-being. Because my interest in this area isn’t so great, and this book goes into a good amount of scientific detail, I found it slightly harder going. It was well written, and good examples were given to simplify various aspects, so I was still able to enjoy the book. Of particular interest was the section on obesity – our grandparents and our mothers nutritional status at various points in their lives can have a big effect on how likely we are to be obese or not. Fascinating!

 

45. Ready to Run
by Kelly Starrett (4/5)

 

I’m a big fan of Kelly Starrett, and I think you should be too. Kelly runs the website www.mobilitywod.com, where he has regular videos showing and explaining the need for various mobilisations. Kelly’s first book, Becoming A Supple Leopard, was excellent, and really changed my thinking about how I move, as well as how I look after my body. In today’s world, we as humans are engaged in motor patterning and positions that wreck or biomechanics. These poor patterns and positions then lead to pain and/or injury. People involved in exercise at any level are then at an increased risk of injury and poor performance during physical activity. For example, most people slump at the shoulders, which causes issues at the cervical spine. Taking this forward into physical activity, a cervical spine that is not functioning correctly places unnecessary risk on the shoulders, and also reduces cervical rotation in certain exercises.

 

This book was written by Kelly for runners. The primary audience will be people involved in longer distance runs, but as a sprinter I still found it useful. Kelly introduces 12 different standards that he feels are necessary to be able to run injury free, and then provides ways to hit these standards.

 

His first book is a be better introduction into the general themes of human movement and mobility, but this book is also useful for individuals involved in running activities. If that is you, you should consider checking it out.

 

46. The Lazarus Effect: The Science That is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death
by Sam Parnia (3/5)

 

This is another book split into two parts – the first examines the historical and current practices involved in resuscitation, and the second is a slightly philosophical discussion about what happens to our consciousness when we die. The main premise is that with today’s resuscitation science, it is now possible to be dead for a longer period of time (hours), and then come back to life without any real negative effects. Take Fabrice Muamba, who in 2012 died on a football pitch, and was then successfully resuscitated. Fabrice was without a heartbeat for well over an hour, and in this time showed no sign of consciousness. So where were the constructs of Fabrice’s consciousness, the things that make him who he is, in this time? Do they just exist on a cellular level, as some people think, or are they a bit different? Parnia himself is particularly interested in near death experiences (or as he terms them, actual death experiences). He has set up a large, multi-centre study in the UK to examine the frequency of near death experience, and then record some of the individual’s experiences of this experience. It’s certainly very interesting, and it does raise some very interesting questions. However, the incidence of near death experience is so low (I think the study recorded two cases of NDE) that the questions aren’t really answered.

 

47. The Geek Manifesto: Why science matters
by Mark Henderson (4/5)

 

This is a really enjoyable book, exploring and discussing the role that geeks can play in shaping public policy. It looks at politics, education, the judicial system, and healthcare (among other things), explain what geeks can do to make these areas better. Similar to Ben Goldacre’s book “Bad Science”, there is a really good discussion of the scientific process, as well as how the scientific process has failed with homeopathy. I’m not a political person, but this book has made me more determined to ask for more evidence when politicians or people making decisions make bold claims. I want to understand the process by which they have arrived at these decisions. Anyone that likes science should take a look at this book to see how you can better shape the world you live in.

 

48. How to Take a Penalty: The hidden mathematics of sport
by Robert Eastaway (3/5)

 

This is an enjoyable short read about how maths shapes sport. Subjects covered include where to aim a penalty to increase your chances of scoring, the best tactic for average darts players, how angles affect snooker, and world record progression in athletics. Throughout these subjects, the authors introduce and simplify various statistical techniques, such an extrapolation, as well as a very light introduction to Bayes Theorem (they don’t call it that). Overall, very readable, and not too heavy on the mathematical proofs, making it very accessible.

 

49. No Easy Day: The Only First-hand Account of the Navy Seal Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden
by Mark Owen (5/5)

 

I’m sure just about everyone knows about the operation to kill OBL in 2011, in which US Navy SEALs carried out a raid in Pakistan, killing the leader of al-Qaeda. The film Zero Dark Thirty does a really good job of showing the whole process, and this book further adds to that. It gives really good insight into how SEALs prepare for missions, and tells a bit more of the story about what actually happened (as an aside, in November 2014 Robert O’Neill claimed that he was the individual who fired the shots that killed OBL. The author of this book, of whom Mark Owen is a pseudonym, disputes that – he states that a person ahead of him fired the critical shots, and then both he and O’Neill fired secondary shots into OBL to ensure that he was dead and no longer a threat. Newspaper reports with SEALs speaking anonymously tend to corroborate Owen’s account over O’Neills. By all account, the actual shooter, who is known only as “the point man” in this book, is an individual who doesn’t want any fame from this act. After firing the critical shots, he was rushed by two women who he thought were wearing suicide vests. He grabbed both of them and used his body to shield them from the other SEALs, in the expectation that he would absorb the bomb blast and save his team-mates. Fortunately there were no suicide vests, but this guy is undoubtedly a very brave, but humble, man). I really enjoy books like this, as they give a really good outline of the preparation involved. I always try to draw parallels between Special Forces and elite athletes; Special Forces are the military’s version of elite athletes, and they do things in training and preparation that have similarities between both. Really good advances come from the military that elite athletes can utilise in their training and lifestyle. The pre-mission prep that Owen describes is very similar to my own pre-race routine, checking and re-checking important pieces of kit. Obviously, the danger is much higher for him!

 

An interesting addition to this story is that the author is now being sued by the US Government for publishing this book, as they feel he has given away secret information. The author counters this by stating that everything is the book can be found in other sources. To check this, I watched the film “Zero Dark Thirty” after reading this book. The film mirrors the book’s telling of the raid almost exactly, to the point where I can pretty much determine which actor is playing the author. But Zero Dark Thirty was filmed before this book was released, which means that the author isn’t responsible for this telling. The book also doesn’t mention the use by the US of stealth helicopters, something that the US media widely reported. Overall, it seems a bit odd that Owen is being prosecuted for this, despite the fact a Hollywood blockbuster shows the raid essentially exactly as he tells it, and Owen purposely holds back other information.

 

50. Armed Action
by James Newton

 

James Newton was a helicopter pilot in a naval air squadron during the 2003 Iraq War. He was involved in conflict with Iraqi tanks in a dangerous environment, and as a result was well decorated after the war. This book was decent – I’ve certainly read worse war memoirs. I liked that it detailed some of the training that the crew had to go through to be war ready. One of the aspects that stuck out most to me was that they weren’t able to do much desert combat training in the run up the war. Instead, they had to fall back on their Arctic combat training. Apparently snow behaves very similar to sand when you are hovering over it in a helicopter – it billows up around you, reducing visibility and making you and easy target. The important lesson to take away from this is that you can’t always have sufficient training time in your “game” environment. Instead, you need to look for parallels and lessons learned in other environments. In addition to this, you need to think about how the “competition” environment differs from your usual, well-known environment, and what you need to do to offset this. So, using this example, flying a helicopter is pretty much the same across the board, with a few differences. In a desert, due to the heat it makes it harder to hover and take off, so the pilots had to find a way around this. In the end, they did a rolling take off, similar to a plane.

 

Another aspect covered really well in this book is that of stress. Now, of course the stress of being a competitive athlete pales into insignificance next to the stress of being in a combat zone, but it is still possible to learn from military personnel. Newton details some of the down time methods used by his team, and also mentions the decrease in performance he found with increased fatigue – a timely reminder that consistent rest in a high stress environment is important.

 

 

51. No Hero: The Evolution of a Navy Seal
by Mark Owen (5/5)

 

I really enjoyed this book, written by the same author as No Easy Day (#49 on my list). This book focuses more on the other missions and aspects of training during his career as a US Navy SEAL. Each chapter looks at a specific lesson or aspect, and then uses a real life example to illustrate this point. A lot of the lessons can be applied to sports, which is part of the reason why I thought this book was great.

 

One particular example regards the aspect of fear. As a SEAL, the author is put in extreme environments, such as having to jump out of a plane at night, or climb huge mountains as part of their training. In sport, we often also experience fear, although probably to a lesser extent, in the form of nerves. For big races in both athletics and bobsleigh, I used to stand on the start line not being able to feel my legs, and with my hands shaking. One trick the author utilised is that of the “three foot world”. In situations that were causing fear, he learned to only focus on things he could affect. So, when doing a night-time parachute jump, he focused on his gear and altitude, as opposed to looking around and focusing on how fast he was going, or how high he was. Similarly, when climbing a mountain, he would focus on his process, not how high he was. This crosses over into professional sport too; you have to learn to detach yourself from the larger goings-on and focus instead on what you can affect. So, in a race that is your performance – not the size of the crowd, or the people to your left and right.

 

Another useful lesson comes from the author’s experience of working within small teams of elite soldiers. These soldiers have all passed a gruelling selection and training process to get to this point. The parallel here with elite sport is that selection for high-level sports teams is also a selection process. For example, selection onto an Olympic relay team means that you have proven your speed and relay ability through both competition and training. What both teams have in common is that team-members do not need to be micromanaged. The author recalls a time where, as a team leader, he made the mistake of micro-managing a team member, who called him out over this during the after-action review. I’ve seen this quite a few times during my experiences with relay teams; once a coach starts to get a bit nervous close to competition, they start to micromanage the athletes. This can result in the coach passing his anxiety onto the athletes, or giving them too much information, which lessons their capacity to focus on the time in hand.

 

There are plenty of other lessons within this book that I think are applicable to sport, which over all made this book a very enjoyable read for me.

 

End

 

So that is the end of my 2014 reading review. As you can see, I missed out on getting 52 books by just one book. It was a really close call!

 

There were plenty of other books that I used in 2014, but because I didn’t read them cover to cover, I feel like I can’t count them in my list. Strength Training for Speed: Scientific Principles and Practical Application by James Wild was really useful for me when writing presentations on how to get people to run quicker, as was The Mechanics of Sprinting and Hurdling by Ralph Mann. I’ve read specific chapters from High-Performance Training for Sports by David Joyce, and really enjoyed what I came across. Stability, Sport and Performance Movement: Practical Biomechanics and Systematic Training for Movement Efficacy and Injury Prevention by Joanne Elphinston gave me some really good ideas for my coaching of younger children in fundamental movement skills. I aim to read all these books from front to back in the future, if not this year.

 

On top of these books, for 2015 I also want to read I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That by Ben Goldacre, as well as re-visiting Bad Science by the same author to refresh my knowledge of the scientific process (my girlfriend says I need to do this). I need to increase my knowledge of endurance exercise physiology, and to that end I aim to read The Science of Running: How to find your limit and train to maximize your performance by Steve Magness, and Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?: Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise by Alex Hutchinson.

 

Overall, the end result of this challenge has been an increased amount of reading for me in 2014 compared to previous years. I have deliberately set aside times to read, usually pre-bed, and done all I can to protect these times. It has been a useful endeavour, although with some much new information I do tend to forget certain books that I didn’t find all that useful. I also found myself not attempting to read books that were more than 300 pages, as I knew I would struggle to finish. This year, with no specific goal in mind, I can relax a bit more, and read longer books if possible. I’ll update you on my progress this time next year!

 

 

 

 

Cool & Interesting Stuff This Week (16/1)

GENDER – Strength theory put up a really good article regarding the gender differences and their effects on training and metabolism. It’s the first in a 4-part series, so be sure to check out the other parts once they are released.

REACTION TIME – FreeLap hosted this interesting article by Dominique Stasulli this week, discussing reaction time in track and field athletes. During my dissertation on the sprint start back in 2009, I came across research indicating that having the right foot at the back of the blocks can lead to a better reaction time. One thing I do recall, and that this article doesn’t mention, is that by having the left foot at the back the athlete may sacrifice reaction time, but they tend to produce more force. This can be important in a 100m race, as sacrificing a few hundredths at the start in order to produce more force (crucial in acceleration) may create a greater effect come the finish line. I’m not sure if there is a definitive answer or not, but it is certainly something to consider! I have my right foot forwards in the block, and I tended to have a slightly slower reaction time than the people I was racing, the mechanism of which is explained in the article.

PARACETAMOL – I came across two interesting studies on twitter this week discussing the use of paracetamol as an ergogenic aid during exhaustive exercise in the heat. You can find them here and here. Whether we will start to see the use of paracetamol in sporting events becoming more prevalent or not remains to be seen – as will whether there are any negative health effects of this type of use.

FOOTBALL – The winning team in football makes less attempts on goal during the final 15 minutes than the losing team. An interesting article on loss aversion in sport by Dan Ariely.

HAMSTRINGS! – If you read to the end of this post, or follow me on twitter/facebook/email, then you will know that I recently wrote a FreeLap article on hamstrings (you can get the link further down). After posting that article, I came across this interesting study in the BJSM, which provides more current information within the field of hamstrings and sport.

MEAL FREQUENCY – This meta-analysis looks at the effects of meal frequency on body composition.

 

ME

HAMSTRINGS – My latest article for FreeLap was published, discussing the research regarding hamstring injuries, rehab and training.

BOOK – The most recent book I have been reading is Extreme: Why some people thrive at the limits. It examines human behaviour in extreme environments, such as Antarctica, Space, cave diving and base jumping. It’s pretty interesting, and some of the issues discussed definitely crossover into elite sport, which in itself is a reasonably extreme environment!

What I Learned Reading 52 Books In 2014 (Part 3)

Welcome to the third installment of my reading review of 2014. If you missed the earlier editions, you can click the links for part one and part two.

And now for numbers 27 – 39 of my 2014 reading:

27. The Sports Motivation Master Plan: How To Go Further Faster and Achieve Your Sporting Dream
by Lee Ness (5/5)

 

I was given an advanced copy of this book by the author, who I met one day whilst training at Salisbury AC. If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect this book to be incredibly good, so I didn’t have high hopes. Instead, I thought the book was excellent, and I read it all the way through in a few days. Lee discusses the journey an athlete must go on from being a beginner, to Olympic champion. He discusses methods and tools you can use to help you achieve this goal, and provides plenty of examples. Lee also provides information for parents of promising young athletes, as well as their coaches. I think the advice is spot on, and made me realise how lucky I was that my parents intuitively knew a lot of this stuff. History is littered with promising youngsters who don’t reach their full potential for one reason or another (you might class me as one of these) – Lee is trying to change that. I would strongly recommend picking up this book.

28. The Little Book of Talent
by Daniel Coyle (5/5)

 

Brilliant book. Part of high-level sport is learning to do skills correctly. In sprinting, this takes the form of sprint mechanics. A sprinter has to place their body parts in certain positions at certain times in order to achieve an elite sprint performance. As a coach, I need to think about how I can best facilitate this skill learning for my athletes. Daniel wrote the Talent Code, which explores the science of skill learning in more depth, and then followed it up with this short book of easily digestible, actionable tips. A pleasing aspect to note for myself was that a lot of the tips he mentions, I had utilised when transferring from athletics to bobsleigh, which was a big skill learning challenge. I’m using these tips now to whilst learning how to skateboard and surf (when the weather is nice!), and when trying to create an optimal learning environment for the athletes I coach.

 

29. Sort Your Brain out: Boost Your Performance, Manage Stress and Achieve More
by Adrian Webster (2/5)

 

This book was ok. I’ve forgotten most of it, which isn’t a good sign – I remember there being sections of interesting facts and few good tips, but overall I just wanted to get it finished. It promised a lot but didn’t really deliver what I wanted – which may well by my fault for having unrealistic expectations, as opposed to an issue with book.

 

30. A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke
by Ronald Reng (5/5).

 

Enke was a German football goalkeeper, who had played for FC Barcelona, Benfica, and a couple of big German clubs. He also suffered from long-term depression. During one particularly bad bout, Enke spent all day driving around his home town, before stepping in front of a high speed express train, and killing himself, aged 32. This book tells the story of his life, and gives insight into what it can be like to suffer from depression. It’s a really gripping read, and beautifully written. The last ten pages in particular hooked me; I knew what was coming but still I was drawn into the story of what happened that day. This book is absolutely excellent.

 

31. Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing
by Po Bronson and Ashleigh Merriman (5/5)

 

Why do some people perform well under pressure? Do they not feel the pressure, or do they just deal with it differently? Is there a gene that predicts this? If you’re underperforming in an academic background, is it better to pair up with someone really clever, or someone on your level. Do males and females respond to competition differently? If so, do we need different approaches in how we coach them? What factors come together within an organisation that performs well, and why don’t these factors occur in a poorly performing one? Bronson and Merriman discuss these questions, and many more, in this book. I thought it was really good, and I learned some valuable information to take forward into my coaching. The most interesting for me revolved around the sex differences, which is something I hadn’t really considered before. All the training groups I have been in have been mostly men, and females didn’t really fit in (despite my best efforts). I could never understand this, but this book helps explain why this might be. Similarly in my coaching, I’ve often struggled to provide an environment for females to flourish. Reading this book was an important step in overcoming this.

 

32. How to Change the World (The School of Life)
by John-Paul Flintoff (3/5)

 

This is yet another book in the School for Life series. I bought it for my girlfriend, who is a Revolutionist; however she is very busy being a doctor so I snuck it off her bookcase to take a look. It’s a short read, and quite enjoyable. It goes into reasonable in-depth philosophical points regarding change, which wasn’t for me really. It also provides practical tips for making a change, which is a bit more actionable. The key message for me was that changing the world doesn’t have to be on a huge scale. If we can all do little things within our local communities, we can make the world a better place. This resonated with me; I’m unlikely to change the world on a global scale. However, I do want to make a difference to peoples lives, and make them healthier in today’s world. A lot of the work I do now is focused on enabling people to lose weight, and be healthier and happier as a result. This book made me realise that what I do is worthwhile (despite what some people may think!).

 

33. Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep
by Richard Wiseman (4/5)

 

I enjoyed this book so much, that it inspired me to write this blog post on sleep and the athlete. The book spends its first half exploring the physiological processes involved in sleep, and what happens when we have too little sleep (we hallucinate, and eventually die). It also gives practical tips on how to ensure you can make the most of your time asleep. The second half discuses dreams, what they are, what they mean (if anything), and if we can use them. Eventually, I think that it might be possible to improve motor skill learning through sleep. Its already established in the scientific literature that sleep helps learning, and if you learn some facts pre-sleep, then test then 24 hours later, you recall them much better than if you learnt them first thing, then recalled them first thing the next day. Sleep is obviously a powerful learning tool, probably via the medium of dreams (problem solving can occurs via dreams), and so there is certainly scope at some point for this to happen. An examination of lucid dreaming also takes place in the book; something that I am very interested in, but too scared to try!

 

34. How to be Interesting
by David Gillespie (1/5)

 

To sum up: To be interesting, be interested in other people. Then add 100+ pages of waffle. The end. I’ll allow Kamal from goodreads to have the final say:

 

The last thing the literate world needs are two old British white men who think that they are an authority on a matter of “interest” when in actuality they know nothing. That is my assessment of this book and its authors, who resemble Statler and Waldorf (of The Muppet Show) if they had decided to become life coaches. It is surprisingly and hypocritically unoriginal and boring, cribbing heavily from the great classics on human relations and creativity How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Edward De Bono’s How to Be More Interesting. They meretriciously dress up these classics, in a mind-mapping, info-graphical, sound-byte-laden dog’s breakfast whose sole purpose is to make these tired old men (and their silly musings) seem hip. If you actually want to become “interesting” (whatever that means), go straight to De Bono and Carnegie and bypass this turd. If you are looking for more light-hearted, contemporary approach to the subject, check out How to be Interesting by Jessica Hagy or How to Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith. You’ll get better results for sure.

 

35. Infographica: The World As You Have Never Seen It Before
by Martin Toseland (2/5).

 

Another infographics book. But where Information is Beautiful was, well, beautiful, this one is much less breath-taking. The infographics are very basic; whilst this is still a good way of visualising information, it makes for a less interesting read.

 

36. The Go-to Expert: How to Grow Your Reputation, Differentiate Yourself from the Competition and Win New Business
by Heather Townsend (4/5)

 

I’ve changed. I’ve never been that into business;I found it generally un-interesting. Then I retired, and had to make money. This is the first business book I’ve ever read, and I really enjoyed it. Townsend gives you practical tips on how to become the Go-To expert in your field. Its aimed at more ”city” jobs, but can still be applicable to those in the health and fitness sphere. I read this book at the start of September, around about the same time I started blogging and growing my website….. coincidence?

 

  1. The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest To Understand, Enhance and Empower the Mind
    by Michio Kaku (3/5).

 

Michio Kaku is a well-known physicist, who has written other books including “The Future of Physics”. In this book, he looks at the mind, and what recent research is indicating we might be able to do in the future. Some of these I have never heard of – I didn’t know it was possible, for example, to be able to live without the two hemispheres of your brain being connected. Very few people find themselves in this position, but those that do have unusual experiences. For example, the right brain can’t speak, so it cannot communicate. However, if you set up an experiment so that an image in only visible to the right hemisphere, then the left hand will draw that image – even though the left (speaking) brain has never seen it! I found aspects like that really interesting. Kaku also explores whether we can transmit our mind across space without our body, making long-distance space travel much easier and feasible (provided we had a suitable avatar at the other end). Another interesting section was that on alien life – if aliens do exist (which statistically they should), why haven’t we heard from them? One potential reason is that they are far too advanced for us to even notice them, as the exist on a level of consciousness that we cant even comprehend. Overall, this book was interesting, if not just a tiny bit long and speculative.

 

  1. Zen of Social Media Marketing
    by Shama Kabani (3/5)

 

I read this book as I was trying to put a bit more effort into my website and building my social media profiles (I thought at the time that this is what I wanted to do). However, being someone who has grown up with the internet, and spent a lot of time with twitter and facebook, I don’t really think I learnt anything new. Obviously, I am not bothered with video guides or facebook marketing, as they don’t affect what I do, but if I was setting up a slightly bigger business that might have been a bit more important for me. Overall, useful if you don’t know much about social media, but if you’ve grown up using it you might not need this book.

 

  1. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
    by Henry Marsh (4/5).

 

This book gave a pretty interesting look into the day-to-day goings on of a brain surgeon in the UK. It examined some of the procedures that are common (and less common), and what happens when things go wrong. It was an enjoyable read, however it appears that brain surgery is very slow and precise and deliberate (as well it should be!), and so the actual surgeries themselves aren’t all that interesting. A good insight into the NHS and patient care though – and you could tell this surgeon really cared about his patients. My girlfriend is a doctor in training now, so it was good to see what it can be like for her dealing with people who have to make tough decisions about their futures.

Cool and Interesting Stuff This Week (9/1)

THINGS LEARNED – Rugby Strength Coach posted up his list of 6 things he has learned this year. It’s always interesting to read about what people within the sports science / coaching field have been thinking about and doing, and this is a really good read.

BOOKS – The guardian science listed their best popular science books of 2014. Time to update my amazon wishlist.

FATIGUE – In prolonged exercise, fatigue is the main performance inhibitor. This article by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute examines the use of fatigue resistance training in football.

MEAL SIZE – Consuming more of you calories at dinner is a risk factor for obesity, according to this 6 year study. It’s not clear what the effects of exercise are, but I would imagine that if you are exercising regularly this risk is less. Food type and macronutrient composition would also be factors to take into further consideration.

CONCURRENT – Recently I have been experimenting with a new training programme, where I do my aerobic activities/anaerobic sprints at 7am, and then my strength work at 4pm. This is known as concurrent training, and there is some discussion about the best methods to go about improving both aerobic fitness and strength to the greatest amount simultaneously. This study looked at the question in a bit more detail, and found that six hours recovery is the minimum required between sessions.

LEARNING STYLES – Wired published “All you need to know about the learning styles myth in two minutes” earlier this week. It’s certainly interesting reading.

ME

AW – Athletics Weekly published an article I wrote about genetics and sport online this week.

FREELAP – FreeLap also hosted my article on “The Genetics of High Performance Exercise“.

BOOK -I’m currently reading The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media. It’s an OK read, it’s obviously aimed at women but I’m working on not being sexist so I’m learning bits and pieces. It’s mostly about how the media shapes and distorts female perceptions in order to increase their profit and further their own agenda.

What I Learned Reading 52 Books In 2014 (Part Two)

Happy New Year everyone! Welcome to the first full blog-post of 2015. By now my 52 books in 52 weeks (2014) challenge is finished, so I know whether or not I was successful. You’ll have to wait and see though. For those of you who missed the first part of this blog, you can find it here. Now, on with numbers 14-26.

14. Tricks Of The Mind by Derren Brown (3/5)

 

Overall, this was quite an enjoyable book. The main bulk of it is Derren speaking about various things that he does in his shows. He is quite open and honest regarding the fact that no magic is involved, but instead he manipulates situations and people to get what he wants. This honesty is really refreshing, and Derren is also very critical of people who aren’t so honest, such as mediums etc. The final section of the book on the scientific process is excellent. Derren examines the process by which evidence is gathered and how less scrupulous individuals can manipulate evidence to show what they wish to show. As a coach in an increasingly science-lead field, it is important to be able to understand the scientific process and use it to evaluate claims for specific products/supplements and training methodologies. Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science (which I read in 2013) is also brilliant in this respect, and anyone that reads scientific studies should certainly check it out.

 

15. Of Mice and Men (Penguin Classics) by John Steinbeck (5/5)

 

At the behest of my girlfriend, I was pushed to try out some fiction books during my challenge. I don’t always enjoy fiction, as I prefer to “learn” from my reading; as such, I picked a shorter book that I could bail out of if required. Turns out I read this book in a day, as I couldn’t put it down. It was really enjoyable, and the story absorbed me completely. Nothing to learn and take forwards into my coaching or training – although I did use the word “behest” in this paragraph, so perhaps I did learn something.

 

16. Animal Farm: A Fairy Story (Penguin Modern Classics) by George Orwell (5/5)

 

Continuing on my fiction binge, I borrowed this from my sister. It was genuinely brilliant, and I enjoyed trying to deceiver the underlying Communist baiting that is going on beneath the storyline.

 

17. Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss (3/5)

 

Punctuation, along with spelling and grammar, doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s probably once of the areas I struggled with most in school. As I’ve got older, I’ve gotten better at learning and seeing patterns, and reading plenty of books gives you exposure to correct grammatical and punctuation structures. Still, I thought it might be useful to read this to see if there was anything else I could learn. I did quite enjoy this book; it was interesting and funny in places. Some parts laboured the point a little bit though, which is why it only got three out of five. And just because I’ve read it doesn’t mean my grammar and punctuation will always be good, so please don’t take me to task.

 

18. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (4/5)

 

This was the book that took me the longest to read this year. It’s an odd book, because I found myself very absorbed in it, but at the same time not much actually happens in the story. Steinbeck does really well at painting a picture of how bleak the US was during the depression, and the desperate attempts people went to in order to survive. I’m not sure if the ending is stupid or profound, but the book overall transported me into what it must have been like to survive a in depression era US.

 

19. The Change Book: Fifty models to explain how things happen by Mikael Krogerus (2/5)

 

Similar to the Diagrams Book (#8), I wanted to enjoy this book. However, just like Duncan’s book, it failed to deliver what I hoped for – although that might be because I was expecting something different. The book deals with various issues that allow us to explain and change the world we live in. Each issue has a nice diagrammatical representative which can be interesting, along with text. It’s a short read, but ultimately a bit forgettable.

 

20. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1/5)

 

One of the books I enjoyed least this year. The main protagonist is just a spoilt, whiny guy (which I know is the point), and not much happens within the story. Still, the fact that I didn’t really like it means I’m probably not going to kill anyone famous.

 

21. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (3/5)

 

My final fiction book of the year, which I read in June. It’s quite a good story, and a reasonably enjoyable book that imagines a dystopian future. Now, back to non-fiction!

 

22. From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France by David Walsh (4/5)

 

I’ve always enjoyed books that purport to show what goes on outside of the public eye within sport. Obviously, having competed at the high level myself, I have reasonable insight into what its like – but this book blew my mind. Given Lance’s 2012 revelations regarding his doping, not much in this book came as a surprise. What was interesting is how Lance would and could manipulate people to discredit their stories, reducing the impact of their revelations. I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it. Fortunately, I don’t think athletics has anywhere near the same drug issue that cycling has/had, and that doping is only committed by a small number of high level athletes. At least that’s my impression of what goes on in athletics – it could just be wishful thinking! After reading this book I also watched “The Armstrong Lie”, which is a really good documentary, and provides visuals for some of the scenes in the book.

 

23. Existencilism by Bansky (3/5)

 

This is a collection of Banksy’s early work. I like Bansky a lot, I think he puts across his message with humour, and makes really interesting art. His film “Exit Through The Gift Shop” is brilliant, mostly because I can’t tell whether it’s actually a documentary, or him taking the mick out of the art scene completely. This book was a strategically placed short read, as I was running slightly behind schedule.

 

24. It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be: The world’s best-selling book by Paul Arden by Paul Arden (3/5)

 

Another short read, this book has a really interesting typography and picture layout. It’s mostly a series of mini-stories and quotes regarding how to think outside the box and better yourself. As an example, Arden was fired five times in his career, and says that they all helped him improve and better himself. The subtitle of this book is “The Worlds Best Selling Book”, which I thought was brilliant. This isn’t the worlds best selling book, but by making a claim like that (as it’s a title and not an actual claim, it’s alright) it probably increased sales above the expected level – which just goes to show that with creative advertising you can out do yourself. This made me think of all the self proclaimed gurus and fitness experts within the fitness/exercise/health/diet sphere, who are mostly just people with good advertising and marketing ideas. All of this illustrates the point that being able to objectively evaluate claims is really important.

 

25. I Am The Secret Footballer: Lifting the Lid on the Beautiful Game by The Secret Footballer (4/5)

 

I enjoy books that give me insight into other sports or operations, and how they work. This book is written by an anonymous, active footballer. Due to the fact that the author is anonymous, he can lift the lid on plenty of things without fear of recriminations. I always had an image that some footballers are not really nice people, and this book does nothing to remove that image. However, it does show a different side, regarding how hard it can be to rise to the top, what it feels like to play in the high pressure environment of the premier league (the author himself has depression), and how clubs operate. The picture painted of some managers is terrible, and it appears that some Premier league clubs are run like amateur outfits! An enjoyable and short read, I finished this in two days.

 

26. Spartan Up!: A Take-No-Prisoners Guide to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Peak Performance in Life by Joe Senna (3/5)

 

This book I written by Joe Senna, founder of the Spartan race series. Joe is a proper hard nut; he makes the toughest of these Spartan races continue until enough people have dropped out to declare a winner. Joe believes that in today’s world, we are too soft, and need to take a more Spartan approach to life. To an extent, I’m with him. As the westernised nations get fatter and fatter, one of the main issues is that its both too hard to avoid high calorie food, and too easy to avoid exercise. Added to this that our modern way of life doesn’t prepare us for dealing with set backs, and Joe believes that this is a potential cause of the increase in stress we see today. Again, I kind of see his point. As an example, when I was studying for my A-Levels, I used to wake up at 7am, do an hour of mobility work before school, go to school, get home around 4.45pm, eat, go to athletics training, come home and do my schoolwork. I never missed a homework deadline. And yet people in my classes would be saying that they didn’t have enough time to do their homework! What they actually meant was that they didn’t prioritise their homework above the other stuff they could do.

 

An additional example is that of people that I term “Energy Vampires”. These people love to moan, and think they are much worse off than you. If things are going well for you, they want to moan to bring you down to their level. They suck the energy out of you. Three times in my career I have suffered serious back injuries, and each time I made an effort not to let my issues affect my team-mates. At the Olympics early last year, I spent 3 days with my team, knowing in the back of my mind that I would have to withdraw from the Olympics. Instead of wallowing, I tried to do as much as I could to help them and make sure they would perform well. This continued once I got home, but they were still in the village. I tried to strike the right balance between being supportive and encouraging, but at the same time not making it all about me. If our lives were a bit harder, and we didn’t always have it easy as Joe says, maybe there would be less energy vampires?

Cool And Interesting Stuff (2/1/15)

Happy New Year! I love the promise that a New Year brings, and all the fresh ideas every has. Last year I made quite a few goals for 2014, including attempting to read 52 books in the year, go surfing, get selected for the Olympics, and make more time for life experiences. Most of these actually went quite well. For 2015 I haven’t really got any specific goals – I’d like to do more surfing, and I am moving to an environment where this is more likely (although the risk of shark attack is significantly greater). I want to read more books, although potentially with a greater sporting/training bias. I’m trying different methods of training on myself (and a few clients) based on some knowledge I picked up in the last few months of the year, and will be monitoring those results closely.

Anyway, enough about me. On to the first roundup of the year:

SPRINT TRAINING – What is becoming increasingly more apparent from my reading is that there are multiple ways to skin a cat, in regards to adaptation from training. Some individuals respond better to endurance exercise than power based exercises, or vice versa. Given my sprinting back-ground, I am not someone that excels at endurance exercise/training. However, I am now trying to improve my VO2 max (it may not be the best measure, but it’s one of the easiest to approximate) through sprint/interval based training. This infographic describes a recent paper looking at this (yes, it’s a small sample size!).

TRAINING FREQUENCY – No time for regular training? This study illustrated that training 2x per day for 2-3 days per week elicited a greater adaptation to certain exercise measures than training 1x per day 5 days per week. Again, it’s a small sample size, and it only reports on some endurance parameters, but it’s certainly something to consider.

OVEREATING & EXERCISEThis study by a couple of my lecturers from the University of Bath looked at what happens when we over-eat. It appears that taking part in exercise whilst in a short-term phase of over-eating is much better than being inactive – although both groups got fatter, the exercise group did so to a lesser extent, and did so without “switching off” valuable processes in adipose tissue. Something to consider over Christmas next year?

GET IN SHAPE6 TED talks about how to become healthier in 2015.

RESOURCES – Jamie Taylor posted up his best coaching resources of 2014. Have a look!

ALCATRAZ – Something that has always fascinated me is the 1962 escape attempt from Alcatraz. As the escapees bodies were never found, it’s unknown whether or not they were successful. This article sheds a bit more light on the matter.

BOOKS – Stu McMillan posted his first blog for about 6 months, detailing the books he read in 2014. It’s a good read and you should check it out yourself.

What have I been upto?

BLOG POST – What I Learned Reading 52 Books This Year (Part One)

BOOK – Ive been reading No Hero: The Evolution of a Navy Seal
by Mark Owen, one of the US Navy SEALs who allegedly shot Bin Laden. This is his second book, so he doesn’t go into the OBL raid in detail. Instead, he looks at lessons he has learned over his combat years, and how they might be able to help non-military members. Some of the things he says are really interesting and useful to competing athletes, and he mentions things that I learned throughout my career (doing far less dangerous things), such as team work, focus, etc.