By Jordan Feigenbaum
Hey there, readers! A different kind of post today and luckily for those of you who are still recovering from reading about my CrossFit experience it’s a short one. I often get asked “What should I read?” as it pertains to increasing one’s knowledge base to advance their career in the fitness or strength and conditioning world. The answer to that question is simple. READ EVERYHING. No seriously, everything! Read journal articles, text books, blogs, editorials, etc. and consume as much as you can. On the other hand, a far more interesting (in my opinion) question is “What do you read for fun?” The past ~3 years, I’ve probably averaged 2 books a month so narrowing down a list of my 10 favorite reads was pretty tough, but I did it and provided some commentary. I should state my bias, however, as I’m inclined to read mostly non fiction stuff 99% of the time. I’m also a monogamous reader in that I can’t read multiple books at the same time. That’s so crazy to me how other people can do that, what with there lack of literary morality. At any rate, I linked to the books via Amazon, but no I don’t make any money from you clicking the link and heading their through my site. So, if you’re hankering for a book suggestion, here are my picks (in no particular order)!
The Science of Running by Steve Magness Let me preface this review by saying I am NOT a runner, a running coach, or an experienced endurance athlete (or athlete at all, for that matter). That said, this book is STILL a great read if you’re at all interested in the physiology, rationale, and their practical application to endurance training. The book is a goldmine of information, particularly on VO2max, lactate threshold, programming, and coaching in general. I would recommend this book wholeheartedly for any coach or person who does conditioning regularly as part of their training.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
I feel like sort of a yuppie recommending this book since a lot of people have read it, but have you noticed how many others recommend it? It’s that good in my opinion, especially for those who are interested in how others get ahead or have accomplished great things. It’s a real eye opener and filled with provocative examples involving athletics, industry, and education! Overall, it’s a really good book (and by the sales of it, I think a lot of other people agree) and I would recommend it.
Gates of Fire by Steven PressfieldThis book is the only novel on the list and as you may have guessed, the only novel I’ve actually read in the past few years. I thought this book was epic to read! After finishing it I felt like a HUGE wuss and it was motivating to chew through this one. To sum up this book- it’s the 300 movie on steroids, without the CGI.
Speed Trap by Charlie FrancisAs a fan of athletics (but not really sport), track and field has always been an interest of mine. While I was too young to remember the controversy with Ben Johnson at the 1988 Olympics, ESPN did an excellent 30 for 30 called 9.79*. Johnson’s coach, author Charlie Francis, details the training protocols, his coaching methods and experiences, and the fascinating PED culture that has pervaded athletics since the 50’s. It was a really interesting read that takes you all the way from first meeting Ben to what happened after he tested positive at the 88′ Games. It also discusses the problems with organizational bodies like the IAAF and Sport Canada and their role in, essentially, sustaining the culture of PED use in sport. My only complaint were the multiple spelling errors I picked up during the Kindle version. It didn’t make this a difficult one to read, but it was a bit annoying every so often.
This is probably the most interesting book on the list from a science and coaching perspective and is, amazingly, very easy to read for the astute lay person (but hey, everything is better with science, right?). Covering a wide range of topics from why Pujols can’t hit a softball to the why various genetic mutations are over represented in elite level female athletics, Epstein really does a fantastic job of presenting data, subject matter expert opinion, and anecdotes to fully flesh out each section of the book. If human performance strikes you as interesting on any level, I would highly recommend this book. Also, if you were a fan of Outliers by Gladwell- you’d probably like this one too!
What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
Randall Munroe, a former NASA robotocist and current cartoon artist (of xkcd fame), put together a book of questions submitted to him by readers and he leaves no stone unturned answering them. He goes through, in detail, exactly how each scenario plays- sometimes to the great peril of mankind or the object in question. This is a nerd’s dream of a book! Oh, did I forget to mention that these questions are REALLY out there? Some examples, for clarity:
- When, if ever, will Facebook contain more profiles of dead people than living ones?
- What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everone landing on the ground at the same instant?
- Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns?
- What would happen if you were to gather a mole of moles in one place?
- This was one of my favorites!
This is the first book of two Sapolsky books I will recommend. Presented as a series of interesting essays, Sapolsky presents data suggesting controversial underpinnings to certain phenomenon, such as personality disorders/traits common amongst religious zealots or a possible brain structure difference between those of different sexual orientation. This is less science heavy than my other recommendation on this list and thus, is more reader friendly for the uninitiated. Still, this book is jam packed with information and was a really fun one to read!
Freakonomics by Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Freakonomics is an ENTP‘s dream book, chocked full of stats, data review, and a thoroughgoing explanation on a wide variety of things- from why realtors keep their own house on the market 10 days longer than their clients to the economics of being a drug dealer in Chicago. The biggest take away from the book is the set of tools one gets in order to analyze information that is presented to you. By thoroughly examining relationships between the variables of many different situations, the reader gains ability to think critically, while also adding to their own knowledge base. Again, I feel like a bit of a yuppie for recommending this one, as it is a best seller and lots of other people recommend it- but it’s that good 🙂
Lucy by Donald Johanson and Maitland Edey
This book contains an account of the discovery of 3.2 million year old ‘Lucy’, a very early human ancestor, and the subsequent affect on the field of Paleoanthropology. It’s a fairly easy read and covers really interesting discussions on why we are bipedal, the human foot, sex, and where we really came from. I would recommend this book to folks who have a scientific curiosity in human evolution, as this is pretty much where it all started.
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky
The second of my Sapolsky recommendations, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers is THE BOOK to read about stress and its effect on the body. I’ll be honest, this book is very science heavy so I think it’s a bit difficult read for folks who haven’t been exposed to scientific writings before, but if you’ve taken an exercise physiology course- you can read this book and digest it just fine. Sapolsky has a fantastic writing style and I’ve subsequently read all of his books that are currently in press. I would highly recommend this book to those who want to know more about how the human body responds to stress!
So there you have it! Hope you enjoy and let me know what you’re reading! I’m always looking for a good recommendation 🙂