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“Witch!” yelled the crowd outside the courtroom. “Witch!”


They had evidence. Other convicted witches had said that this woman was one of them. Parishioners had stated that, when this witch was around, their children had fits. Others had seen her image appear to them. There was physical evidence too – ‘witch’s teats’, a mark on the body that was insensitive to touch. Today, we might call these moles, or birthmarks. In the witches homes the investigators found pots of ointment, and books. Sure proof of sorcery.


Prosecutors used the best scientific methods of the day to catch the witches. They baked a Witch Cake, made of urine from people afflicted by witchcraft, and fed it to a dog. As was well known at the time, when the dog ate the cake, the witch herself would feel pain, because of invisible particles she had sent to the afflicted which remained in the girls’ urine.


Still, not everyone was convinced. Some of the witches claimed that they were accused because of a previous family feud, or jealousy. Some court staff resigned over doubts about the validity of some evidence. Experts cautioned on taking the claims at face value. The accused attempted to publicly show that they weren’t witches. But the mob knew best.


Rumours spread like wildfire amongst the villagers. Bridget was a witch because she didn’t go to church. Someone else had seen Sarah’s spectre in her home. Fingers were pointed at likely suspects who fit some of the criteria of witches. Just being linked to another witch was proof enough.


Overall, 150 people were accused of witchcraft. Nineteen were executed, and five others died in prison.


We know better now.


We wouldn’t make the same mistakes again.


Would we?

Do All Athletes Take Drugs?

I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not I should write this blog. Doping is an emotive subject, no matter what side of the fence you sit on. When addressing a subject like this, and trying to address people who don’t agree with your point of view, a certain amount of cognitive dissonance will occur – which can create an angry backlash. So go easy on me please.


  1. Do athletes take drugs?


Yes, some athletes take drugs. In anything where success is at stake, a certain amount of people will attempt to gain an unfair edge or advantage. In high profile sports, with more at stake, it seems likely that more of this would be happening. If countries put a large amount of emphasis on success in these sports, then a state-sponsored doping system may well be in place – think the GDR from 1960-1990, or Russia in more recent times. The effect of taking drugs is also going to be much more apparent in individual events, such as those found in athletes, which are not subject to team based factors that might dilute performance gains. The recent revelations further illustrate that athlete’s can, and sometimes do, take drugs.


  1. Do all athletes take drugs?


So, we can probably all agree that some athletes take drugs. The point of contention, therefore, is how many athletes take drugs. From my own experience, I believe this number to be very low. In my career, I can think of one incident that I have seen related to doping – I once found a discarded intravenous drip in a toilet at an athletics competition. Certainly, no-one ever offered me drugs, or even had a conversation with me about it. I would have been a perfect candidate for a doping regime too – someone on the cusp of being pretty good. If I had taken drugs, I might well have run under 10-seconds, possibly being the first white man to do so. And yet that conversation was never had with me. Should I be offended by this? Or is it indicative that, within the UK at least, there isn’t really much of a drug culture (or at least there hasn’t been since UKAD was launched).


  1. Why is there a perception from the public that all/most athletes take drugs to compete?


Think about the narrative that investigative journalists need to have in order to create a story that people want to listen to. Would you have watched Panorama the other night if it were about some athletes who hadn’t taken drugs? Or does controversy increase viewership? I think we all know the answer to that question, and if you are looking at a skewed sample, of course you are going to get skewed results. We see a similar narrative in programmes like “Benefit Street”, which further the notion that everyone on benefits is so because they can’t be bothered to work, and instead live an incredibly cushioned life. The reality is somewhat different.


In addition to my point above I’m going to offer a slightly more controversial reason on why there is this perception: It provides a ready-made excuse for people who aren’t successful. If you believe you didn’t win because the people that are better than you are on drugs, then your own personal narrative is that you were cheated out of it, as opposed to just not being good enough. This is protective to that individual, as it stops them from viewing it as a failure. The pervasive belief in our society is that hard work triumphs over talent, and that is just not true. More often than not, people who outperform you in sport do so because they are better than you, or more talented than you, and not because they dope. I heard whispers during my career that I was doping – well if that was the case I’d want my money back, because they certainly didn’t work.


A friend of mine whom I used to train with has a 100m personal best of 10.7 seconds, making me 0.6s quicker than him over 100m. And I was a good athlete, but I certainly wasn’t exceptional. I’m not incredibly talented, I’m not that tall, I don’t have long legs, I wasn’t incredibly strong. In a lot of aspects I was far from the finished article. And yet I was significantly faster than my friend, without taking drugs. So, it isn’t that hard for me to believe that Usain Bolt can be 0.6s faster than me and also be clean. He can outperform me in so many factors, I’m actually surprised that he is only 0.6s faster than me!


  1. Is there a doping conspiracy in sport


Erm……. Maybe. I believe that some countries will either deliberately dope their athletes, or turn a blind eye to them doing so. History is full of this type of situation. But some countries actively have a great and effective anti-doping system. Do big sponsors enable their athletes to dope, or at least turn a blind eye to it? If we believe Steve Magness’s claims (and he seems like a very credible witness, and is someone that I have immense respect for) then it seems like this could be the case. But is this prevalent in athletics? I genuinely don’t believe so!


In the UK, we have an incredibly good anti-doping system. I used to be tested on a very regular basis (my record is 3 random tests in 5 days), and at various times. I never knew when a test was coming. I honestly believe that all high-level athletes that are based in the UK are not taking drugs.


  1. What level of evidence do we need to determine if someone is cheating?


Unfortunately, passing drugs test appears to no longer be enough to illustrate that an athlete isn’t taking drugs; we’ve had far too many cases of people not failing drugs tests, and later being shown to have been active dopers. So, it’s really hard to give a black and white answer on this (sadly). But, also, pure conjecture doesn’t really help. Comments such as “Well he was a bit tired and waiting for the end of the season, then a month later he broke such and such record, therefore drugs” are far below the threshold of evidence required, in my opinion, to illustrate doping. On more than one occasion I’ve felt very tired, and then quite soon after run a personal best. I’m not saying that the person making those comments is wrong (in fact, I believe they are probably correct), just that we need harder evidence of that. But I don’t know what that evidence should be.



So, there you have it. Yes, athletes take drugs. No, it’s probably not as many as you think. Deciding whether people are doping or not is difficult. With a lot of things, we will probably never know the full truth of it all, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. But please don’t think that drug use if rife in athletics, because I firmly believe it isn’t.

Speed & Footballers

FAO Editors and Journalists: Usain Bolt vs Footballers


I used to be a very highly-strung professional athlete. I took myself and my sport pretty seriously. I once spent 10 minutes arguing furiously with an official at the side of a track because he told me my blocks hadn’t slipped (they had). Once in a fit of rage at being stuck in traffic, I actually bit my steering wheel. I’m a much better person these days; years of pressure management techniques from sports psychologists have calmed me down. I practice mindfulness, meditate, and do yoga. If someone cuts me up on the road, I breathe deeply and carry on. I am, as my girlfriend would say, zen.


However, last night something awoke the beast within me. Something which caused me to use language that would make Malcolm Tucker blush. It was, of course, this article from the Mirror.


“The Arsenal Player OFFICIALLY Faster Than Bolt” (emphasis mine) the headline exclaimed. I mean, Jesus Christ. I understand that journalists and editors are under time pressure, and often have to write about things they might not fully understand. It’s a hard life, I’m sure. I’m here to help.


The article goes on to explain that Hector Bellerin, the young Arsenal right-back, had recently broken Arsenals 40m sprint record, clocking a time of 4.42 second. It then states that, during his World Record run, Usain Bolt “only” clocked 4.64 seconds to 40m. Therefore, and I quote, “halfway down the track, Bellerin could have been a good few metres in front”. Want another quote? “… there it is in black and white – over 40 metres, Arsenal’s right back would win.”


First of all, let’s examine the logical fallacy of this headline/story. Is it likely that a young footballer, who has to practise a wide range of skills, including actually kicking a football, as well as tactical and other fitness demands, could be faster than someone whose job it is to just focus on covering distances of 200m or less in as short a time as possible? That someone with almost perfect genetics, who spends 6 days per week honing his unbelievable talent, would be beaten over 40m by someone who does a bit of sprint training? That the fastest person by almost a country mile to ever walk this planet is not as good at HIS job as a Spanish under-21 international footballer?


Clearly, it’s stupid.


Then lets examine the facts of the case. “Arsenal Player OFFICIALLY Faster Than Bolt” (again, emphasis mine). Presumably this is IAAF ratified then? There was a wind gauge? Electronic blocks were used to measure reaction time? The IAAF have sent someone to measure the track? There was an official starter, with gun and electronic timing. Has anyone seen the photo finish to ensure it was accurate?


Of course, one thing that people writing these articles always forget is that, in a 100m race, there is a reaction time component. The gun fires, which starts the clock. The athletes then have to react to the sound of the gun. This can take anywhere between 0.1 and 0.2 seconds, but is usually in the region of 0.15 seconds. In his World Record run, Bolt’s reaction time was 0.164 seconds. Let’s add this on to Bellerin’s time of 4.42, and we get 4.58. Still faster than Bolt, but much less so.


Then let’s consider the starting method. I have no idea how Bellerin was timed, but I would wager it is one of two ways:

  • Hand timed
  • Timing Gates.

If it’s the former, then that is an incredibly inaccurate way to measure sprint speed. Over 100m, it can be as inaccurate as 0.5 seconds, and it is routine to add on 0.24s to any hand-timed performance to convert to electronic timing. If timing gates were used, then did Bellerin have a rolling start? This doesn’t have to be over much distance at all – even a slight backwards lean would give him more forward momentum than Bolt is allowed from the starting blocks, and would skew the time significantly in his favour.


Let’s assume that electronic timing gates were used, and Bellerin went from a standing start. In a sprint race, a photo finish is used to calculate the finish time. The point at which the athletes chest crosses the finish line is where the time is taken from. Using electronic timing gates, once a laser beam is broken, BY ANY PART OF THE BODY, then the time stops. So, for example, an arm could be outstretched to break the beam, which would give a quicker time.


“But Bolt’s a slow starter” I hear you exclaim. In his World Record run, Bolt was winning the World Championships by 0.04s at 40m. At 60m, he clocked what I’m pretty sure is the fastest 60m time ever recorded. So don’t start that with me.


Hopefully you can see that there are some significant problems within this article, and the many others like it. I’m sure Bellerin is fast, but to say he is officially faster than Bolt, whose job it is to be incredibly fast, is, quite frankly, a pot of crap. Please, when reading/writing/editing articles like this, think logically. And if you use the word official, make sure it is official.


I’m off to meditate.

Quick Update

Hi Everyone – apologies for the lack of activity here in recent months. I have been pretty busy in a new job role, but I’ve still managed to churn out some new articles, both on FreeLap and Hmmrmedia (a new addition to my repertoire).

On FreeLap I discussed both 11 Mistakes I’ve Made (So You Don’t Have To), and 10,000 Hours and Sprinting.

On Hmmrmedia I am halfway through an article series looking an interpreting science for coaches and trainers. You can click the links for parts one and two.

Reading – I’ve raced through a great deal of books recently, including:

High-Performance Training for Sports


The Little Black Book for Managers: How to Maximize Your Key Management Moments of Power

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

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, 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.




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.



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.