Sunday, January 27, 2013

Forget Goals. Focus.

I've written about goal setting and SMART before, see here and here.

And I will concede that for a certain proportion of the population goals work. These tend to be the individuals who like to manage everything and control every variable, they follow their program precisely, write down everything they eat, and enter all their competitions a year in advance and plan to peak for every one. This is a small minority of people.

For most people goal setting obviously doesn't work, otherwise gyms wouldn't be full of people every January and February trying to lose weight for the umpteenth time after failing on every other occasion. And yes, many of these people would have written their goals down and made them time bound and all that, and it doesn't work.

So what is the alternative? And do all super successful set goals like we are lead to believe?

Why people leave gyms, why do they fail?

Straight up let me state that you don't have to join a gym to get fit or lose weight or get buff. Having said that, these are the reasons most people join gyms.

There just happens to be data that attempts to explain why people leave gyms. We can use this data from the microcosm of the gym, as it is informative in explaining why people fail to hit their goals in every day life as well.

The biggest drop out rates from gyms occur in the first 2-3 months. Bear in mind, this happens to be the 11-12% of the population that were motivated enough to go to a gym and join up in the first place.

Do you know the number one reason people say they leave gyms within 12 weeks? It is they didn't feel comfortable, ergo they were uncomfortable in the gym environment. They didn't feel they fitted in or it is where they belonged. There are a whole series of training courses now aimed at fitness professionals, they help the people in the fitness industry make these people feel comfortable.

Here's the problem though, no one whoever reached for a goal or tried something new felt comfortable. The very nature of trying new things is getting out of your comfort zone. If it was comfortable, they would still be sitting at home on the sofa eating Pringles.

To use the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water being gently heated, they are so comfortable they don't even realise they are being cooked.

The second most common reason cited by people leaving gyms is they got bored. Yes, after 2 months, which for most people is 8-16 workouts they got bored. This leads to several possible conclusions:-

  1. Their every day lives are so exciting the gym just can't compete. They spend their days base jumping and wrestling bears so lifting weights is boring.
  2. The program they were given is boring, do 10 minutes on the treadmill followed by 10 minutes on the recline bike forever or until you pass out from boredom.
  3. They're lying, they didn't enjoy the experience, it was too hard, they didn't like it or they were too far out of their comfort zone.
I think we can dismiss  conclusion number one, as statistically a large proportion of those people will spend their days in a cubicle farm working for a faceless corporation and will go home at night and watch structured reality TV shows to numb the pain of boredom.

It is a possibility they don't enjoy the gym, but that is different from being bored. Yes, working out can be hard at first and if you don't enjoy it go and do something else. That is the first point with goals, you can be so obsessed with the end result that you forget how you are going to get there. You have to engage in the day to day process. Otherwise the end result at any cost becomes overwhelming. For example, you've decided you are going to lose half a stone in time for your holiday, a set time bound goal, but along the way you slip, you found the gym 'boring' (i.e it was f**king hard and you were out of your comfort zone) and a glass of wine here and there won't hurt, will it? Then before you know it, your holiday is in a week, so you starve yourself, do whatever it takes. Bingo, you lose half a stone, you then go on holiday, binge eat and drink and put all the weight back on.

Cubicle farm - you've already bought the farm, you just don't know it yet

You met the target, you hit the goal, but you were living in the future, never focusing on the here and now of your life. You didn't enjoy the journey, because there wasn't one, just 6 months of panic.

I can't remember the third most common reason people state as to leaving gyms after 2-3 months, its probably something like they don't like the music or they are afraid of catching MRSA from the machines. In fact, all reasons should be 'I'm out of my comfort zone, and I didn't want it enough'. Maybe, some of these people leave and go and achieve their goals anyway, but the stats on obesity and fitness would suggest not.

Goals are limited.

If you set a goal you have limited yourself. I will lose this amount of weight and no more, I will run this fast but no faster, I will lift this weight but no more. A goal can become a barrier, the 4 minute mile is a case in point, most people thought it was impossible at the time, but then one man didn't, the rest is history. Of course, most of us aren't running 4 minute miles but we still limit ourselves.

To explain this I will take a few liberties with the Central Governor Model. Tim Noakes proposed the central governor model to explain why the body stops you killing yourself during exercise, the body will maintain homeostasis at all costs, so it will make you slow down running even if you have enough fuel in your muscles, are not at your VO2 max and have not recruited all your muscle fibres. Your brain tells you to stop.

To take it a step further, if you run any distance your brain has already worked out how fast you should run and what pace you should keep, hence you run faster over 100m than you do over 40k, unless you are a complete novice or idiot and have no reference point of how fast you can run.

This helps to explain why even marathon runners sprint finish when they see the finishing line. Your brain calculates that you have enough energy and enough muscle fibres to make it to the line and says 'yes, it is safe to sprint'. The runner then collapses as soon as they reach the finish line - their goal. If the finish line was 100m closer they would have collapsed then and if it was 100m further they would have collapsed then. Their brain matched their effort to the goal distance (of course, other things are at play when people do die - sudden cardiac death, over hydration etc).

Noakes has explained that this model can be used to explain other types of fatigue and motivation

"This new interpretation is the first to allow a more reasonable description of a number of phenomena that defy rational explanation according to the traditional ‘‘limitations’’ models of fatigue. These include, among many others, the chronic fatigue syndrome, in which affected individuals experience evident fatigue at rest, and the role of psychological and motivational factors, centrally (brain) acting pharmaceutical agents, hypnosis, shouting or sudden unexpected gunshots, or other forms of distraction including music or premeditated deception on human exercise performance."

To take it a step further, if you think you can only run a certain distance or lose a certain amount of weight it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The limitation in the brain has been set.

But don't all successful people set goals?

We've been led to believe that successful people - athletes, celebrities, business people - all set goals.

In his article Consider Not Setting Goals in 2013 Peter Bregman shoots down an urban myth.

"Like that study done on the Harvard Business School class you may have heard of, in which only 3% of the graduating students wrote down clear goals. Twenty years later, those 3% were worth 10 times the worth of the rest of the class combined. Compelling, right? It would be if it were true. But it isn't. That study doesn't exist. It's pure urban myth."

Also, I was interested to read in a recent chaos and pain article that Hugh Jackman doesn't believe in goal setting. To quote Jackman

"That's Jackman's primary driver: Instead of setting goals, seek defining moments. Those are the real tests, because you have to be willing to fail in a pressure situation in front of other people. "That fear holds all of us back," Jackman says. "And that's the toughest thing about aging. With age, you see people fail more. You see yourself fail more. How do you keep that fearlessness of a kid? You keep going"


 "I don't set goals in life," he says. "In this country, people are all about goal setting. And I concede, to a point, how it can help you get going. But we limit ourselves with goals. We have far more ability than we give ourselves credit for. You see that in people under pressure. How does someone run a 100-meter race at the Olympics? When it's once every 4 years, with everything they've done leading to that? It can't just be adrenaline." Then he nods and smiles. "Maybe it's just the mind getting out of the way."

(Both quotes originally appeared in mens health I think)

(You can see the full article here, but be don't go to this site if you are easily offended)

The idea of seeking defining moments is pivotal. (Not only is Jackman, 6' 3", ripped and can sing, yes Les Mis is a great film, he comes out with great quotes like this; I want to hate him, but I can't).

Next time you're in the gym, feeling strong, try that extra weight on the bar, see what happens. Out for a 30 minute run but everything is flowing, just keep going, run until you get lost. Haven't exercised for years, go for a walk, what the hell have you got to lose.

Kenyan and Ethiopian distance runners are the epitome of not limiting themselves. They all seem to think they can win, and run a 2.04 marathon, sometimes they crash and burn, but sometimes it becomes a defining moment. That's why they are so scary to run against, they have't accepted limits nearly as much as some of the European and American runners have.

So what to do? Focus of course.

Peter Bregman proposes areas of focus. Rather than focus on the outcome and the goal, focus on what you are doing here and now, the  task you are doing at this moment with no future reward in mind.  Stay in the present.

"How do you do it? It's simple: identify the things you want to spend your time doing"(Bregman)

You have to have fun and enjoy it. Bregman is focusing on business, but its even easier in training because you don't have a boss telling you what to focus on.

If you like lifting weights, lift the weights for the hell of it, focus on the perfect rep, or mastering an olympic lift. The process is important. Don't be wedded to one program or a number in your mind. Those poor saps who dropped out after 2 months, they were focused on some future reward, countless people have said to me 'I hate exercise, I hate the gym' but they feel they have to do it, they've already failed, I feel like telling them - 'go and get your money back now and leave, this wont work for you', if you don't love the process, then all you are going to do is blame the monthly cost, or the water fountain or the cleaners in the gym, because you didn't like it or it was too hard.

As I've stated before, you have to be intrinsically motivated, no one will do this for you. And if you reach some pre-determined artificial point in the future, you will feel hollow, wonder what to do and will have missed living in the present.

Stop being distracted by frivolous things, how many things can you really focus on?

To quote Pavel Tsatsouline

"Over the years people have asked me why don’t I offer motivation tips. The answer is: I have none. We are all adults here: either you have it, or you don’t."

There are no goals - go ultra.

With running its easy to get obsessed by numbers, we all have Garmins and stop watches. We can become OCD about measuring our average speeds, mileage and PBs. All the while missing what we should focus on - the joy of running.

As Peter Bregman has said in another blog 'stop focusing on your performance'.

We live in a society where everything is measured, performance evaluated, KPIs, we become goal driven. Yes, our society has benefited from the technology and the advances but in recent years it has also been our un-doing. Measure everything, then people just fix the numbers to hit the goal, because the stats are all that matters, and winning is everything and the quality is gone. And no one sticks their head above the parapet because no-one wants to be seen to be the one who fails, because you'll be the first one in the firing line when it all goes pear-shaped.

In ultrarunning the guys and gals at the front are trying to run as fast as they can, but behind them is another sub-culture. Those who are running just to run. The Caballo Blancos of this world. Run just to run. No watch, no distance in mind, they explore. Also described by Rob Schultheis in the book Bone Games, a whole group of people not entering races or thinking in terms of 50 or 100 miles, but just drawing a straight line on a map and then traversing that line for no other reason than to do it, be in the moment, the zen mind.

And at that point you've gone beyond goals, and the need for external validation and chasing some future you.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” - John Muir

If you're lucky you get to focus on what you want to do all the time. However, realistically with financial needs and family responsibilities you may have to devote a large chunk of your time to something you don't like that much to make ends meet. In which case, for f**ks sake do not waste your precious spare time on things you hate or are not engaged with, focus on things you actually want to do and don't blame anyone else if your don't.

Forget goals. Relax, let it go and immerse yourself. Enjoy.

Don't get distracted by looking too far down the road. Focus on where you are now.

Zimmerman, Mike.  The Hugh Jackman Workout: The X-Factor.  Men's Health.  2006.  Web.  23 Jan 2013.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Real Hot Fitness Trends For 2013. What The Industry Wont Tell You.

2013 is here and PR machines are in overdrive telling you what is hot and what all the hot people are doing. Click here to see the mainstream media list.

Here I'll tell you what the real trends will be, and why some things are being pushed. And why this will be a pivotal year for the fitness industry in the UK.

Micro Gyms - A commercial chain will die

Big commercial chain gyms leak money like an old home-made wooden raft slowly sinking, they are about as profitable as an internet music streaming service (Spotify people). This is why they pay gym instructors minimum wage, try and tie you into a 12 month contract and charge their freelance personal trainers £900 a month in rent.

What Mike Boyle calls Micro Gyms are on the rise. With the rise of kettlebells, free weights and training with minimal equipment, the start up costs are less than ever before. No need to spend £10,000s on sparkly cardio machines anymore. Micro Gyms don't need as much space and they don't need as many members to survive as the big chains do. They don't have expensive money drains like Swimming Pools and they have minimal staffing costs.

In the town I live, in the last year an independent gym has opened, as well as a classes only studio, a personal training studio and a Crossfit facility. Each one of these only need a couple of hundred members to survive and if they are a small PT studio less than 50 clients probably. Whereas somewhere like Virgin Active needs 3000-5000 members.

People can generally get a better service in these micro facilities for about the same cost per month or per class as one of the chains. They don't feel like another tick on the sales managers chart. If each micro facility takes 50-100 members from the local big gym then before you know it the big gym fails. I can see this happening locally where I live. I predict by the end of the year a company like LA Fitness will go under and fail (or be taken over).

They face a three prong attack, Micro Gyms and PT studios, lone PTs and park based bootcamps and budget gyms. Lets face it, if you want to get treated like another drone in an overcrowded gym you might as well pay £9.99 a month for it rather than £60.

Yes, the Micro Gym will rise and a commercial chain will fail this year.
(Of course, some micro gyms will fail as well due to misunderstanding cash flow, margins and being too optimistic).

Small Group Training - the real reason it will trend

Small group training works well, that's the reason I mentioned it back in 2011. However, the large commercial chains are latching onto it for another reason: to save money.

Studios cost a  lot of money to run. You have to pay the studio instructors way more than you pay fitness instructors, and then you have to cover their holidays, plus you have to pay for class licences and equipment. All this and you might get 5 or 10 people turn up to a class. Most studios have a hardcore of users, they get good value for their membership. But for the big business it can be a lot of effort and money for no return and a whole bag of hassle.

The answer? Small group training. Some of the bigger chains (they know who they are) tried to binned all their studio instructors or most of them and then got their fitness instructors to teach the classes, no extra payment, minimum wage classes. Then you have all the classes on the gym floor, maybe only 30 mins or 45 minutes each, 10 people or less -bingo - you can have a class timetable with as many classes as you had before or even more, but the costs have halved. Half the classes might be small group training with the minimum wage fitness cleaner but the timetable looks good. They are told to teach the class, some aren't given the proper training and end up going through the motions.

Now let me be clear small group training works, I like it. And if the instructor is paid appropriately and has the proper training and knowledge they will motivate clients. And its great for the clients.

Its just some of the big commercial chains subsumed it to save money.

Interval Training - HIIT

Yes it works, always has. If you are in fitness and you've only just heard of this, then you have been walking around with your eyes closed or you fell off a swiss ball and developed amnesia.  It's a trend because now companies are selling courses on it. Yes, just in case you can't figure out how to use interval training or put together a 20 minute workout, someone has worked it out and will sell it to you for 4 REP points.

And see above, a 20-30 min class is cheaper to run and you can run more and pay some chump £6 an hour. Meanwhile all your members just went down to the local Crossfit and are paying them £60 a month to attend 8 classes - that's how to franchise to the max!

Interval training is just a training method, like fartlek, hill reps, 5x5 or supersets but I don't see anyone selling these as a new concept... yet

Functional Rigs

When I was at Leisure Industry Week last year you couldn't move for 'functional rigs', even the big players like Life Fitness have one. The reason is everyone wants a piece of the Crossfit pie, much like the rise of HIIT, the industry can't ignore the Crossfit franchise looming over it. A mere 5 years ago at LIW you were lucky to see a kettlebell, it was the usual cardio equipment and was pretty boring. But Micro Gyms don't buy £10,000 treadmills and the big chains only replace their equipment every 5 to 10 years at best. The functional rig, HIIT, small group training and Micro Gyms are all really part of the same trend. As a bonus they are encouraging more women to lift weights.

Cool rig

Low Carb- High Fat

Intermittent fasting hit the mainstream last year, there was even a program about it and the health benefits on BBC2 with accompanying BBC news article about it, see my prediction here in 2011 about it.

Like many of these things the strength/ hypertrophy training community were early adopters of this (and pre contest prep low carb and carb cycling have been mainstays of bodybuilding and figure comps for years). On a side note the first time I was aware of barefoot training was from strength training coaches, way before any runners mentioned it.

Paleo is almost in the mainstream consciousness, after being a big favourite with the Crossfitters and alike.

Low carb, high protein, high fat has been mainstream for a while with Atkins & Dukan diets. However, the focus has always been on weight loss. I think this year the health benefits will come to the fore, as well as using this strategy for endurance events.

Tim Noakes has become a big proponent of Paleo/ Low Carb/ High Fat approach. He has been emphasising the health benefits for blood sugar levels, triglycerides and heart health and disease prevention. His status as an MD and respected Sports Scientist has changed the game, whether you agree or not, what he says will have more cache than a health/ food journalist writing. It may also lead to more research.

Also the work of Jeff Volek, Stephen Phinney and Joe Friel has changed the paradigm for endurance athletes. Before, carbs were the sacred cow - you couldn't go long without them in ultra and ironman events. In 2012 The Western United States 100 miler ultra was won by Timothy Olson in a course record of less than 15 hours, and he eats low carb. Tim Noakes has said that the carb loading section in his book Lore Of Running is wrong and should be ignored. This is powerful stuff and is filtering down to average runner on the street.

Strength Coaches - All the personal trainers want to be strength coaches now

There's a reason most people in the fitness industry don't want to be called a personal trainer. It has a bad rep, it has too many connotations of some douche making a poor fool stand on a bosu while fleecing him of cash.

Personal trainers wanting to become strength coaches is now such a phenomena that in the most recent UKSCA Journal they outlined how they are working with REPs to make it a level 4 course. The UKSCA courses get booked up quick. Be careful, your coach may have learned plyometrics from the UKSCA or your trainer may have learnt it on a HIIT course. The most important thing is do they know how to apply it and qualify their athlete/client, do they have the knowledge to know when to go hard and when to do less, knowing when not to do something is just as important.

PTs are two a penny as are PT courses.

Strength and conditioning coach has more kudos. You are a coach, you train athletes, not the general public. You lift weights, you get to talk about Olympic Lifting and Mesocycles. Except of course, you don't get to train athletes. You end up trying to make some poor desk jockey do a clean and jerk because that's what the guy who taught you how to do the lifts does with the 19 year old Rugby players he trains at his university. And lets face it, they are nearly always a 'he' and they are used to working with young teams before they get broken down, damaged and retire.

Strength and conditioning is good if you really have in depth knowledge and you really know what your are doing. But has it gone too far. Joe Public is not necessarily a strength athlete, elements of the coaching may work but not all. And lets not forget, some S&C coaches can be as old skool and as misinformed as some personal trainers.

As a friend of mine said the other day, 'its swung too far', not everyone was born to Olympic lift or do sprint drills. And I say that as someone who has done the BWLA course and gives the UKSCA £50 a year.

As always there are good PTs, good strength coaches and some PTs who should be S&C coaches because of who they train. But do it because you love it, not so you can put another course on your CV, another tick in the hope of generating business. Don't be superficial in your pursuits.

Of course, if you hang out in the usual commercial gyms and big chains none of this will happen, you're probably wondering what a barbell looks like.

In most commercial gyms you will still see this as the trend.

And the rest

Crossfit will continue to grow in the UK, as well as women lifting weights and entering figure and bikini competitions.

It almost goes without saying, but Bokwa will be big (at last years Leisure Industry Week Bokwa had more flashmobs that a mobile phone advert) and by the end of the year there will be
Aqua Bokwa
Bokwa for Grey Hair
Sh'Bam for kids
Zumba HIT
Cxworx for GP referral
GRIT and metafit for cardiac rehab etc etc

And never forget, most people never go near a gym ever.

And what should be big but probably wont:

Primal Move
Animal Flow
Move Nat

Yes, slight bias as I am certified in Primal Move and I have the Animal Flow video (see my top products of 2012).

And look out for Physical Theatre classes - they're gonna be big ;)

Oh and one more thing

Remember that Olympic legacy and getting more people involved? No, neither does the fitness industry.

Forget trends

 "Move well, then move often" - Gray Cook

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Reasons To Be Cheerful -Part 1- Fitness Edition

Life can be a f**ker, one minute you're cruising along the next minute you're having an MRI scan of your brain or dropping £600 to get your car fixed (true story). Having said that most problems we have are first world problems, I live in a country with free healthcare, clean water and supermarkets that sell fresh fruit and vegetables all year round. Most peoples daily problems consist of deciding which piece of touch screen plastic/metal/glass to buy and trying to get free wifi access.

With that in mind, here's a list of reasons to be cheerful, with an emphasis on fitness and health (I'll concede some of the list is a bit tenuous).

Reason no.1 - The Internet: fitness websites & blogs - have transformed the fitness industry. We live in an age where we have access to more information than ever before, with the right filter you can learn an astounding amount. Fitness wise - when I first entered the industry the only information was the pitiful selection of books on your local high street. If you were lucky there was the Human Kinetics mail order catalogue, and that was it. The only other information was in magazines and courses (which in retrospect were mostly wrong and bore no relation to actually training people for results). Now, quality content is posted everyday by coaches, as well as products and books that continue to raise the game - use them wisely. And without the internet you wouldn't be reading this

Reason no.2 - Someone somewhere in the mists of time invented the barbell, dumbbell and kettlebell. Still the most effective and versatile strength and conditioning tools there are.

Reason no.3 - Coffee and hanging out in coffee shops. And all the associated health and stimulant benefits.

Reason no.4 - Running is free. And if you can't run you can walk or do bodyweight exercises. You can get fit with no expensive equipment. You don't need a gym or the latest running shoes. Just get moving.

Reason no.5 - Figure Athletes and Fitness Women. An increasing number of women are lifting weights, transforming their bodies and looking hot. And with the internet (see reason no.1) they are posting pictures of themselves and encouraging even more women to lift weights and be awesome; Bonus! This can only be a good thing.

Bonus list - top 6 inspiring fitness women as chosen by my girlfriend (see reason 12)

1. Ava Cowan

2. Neghar Fonooni

3. Nia Shanks

4. Andreia Brazier
Andreia at Leisure Industry Week. Photo taken by me. Conversation goes like this, Me: Can I take your photo, my girlfriend is a big fan? Andreia: Yes, do you want to be in it? Me: No, my girlfriend only wants you in the photo Andreia:(probably thinks to herself , Hmm you are a strange guy)

5. Erin Stern

6. Nicole Wilkins

Reason no.6 - Eggs. Superfood in a shell. Without eggs what would I have for breakfast? Frosties, toast?! Thanks chickens for all your hard work.

Reason no.7 - Steak.

Reason no.8 - Hanging out talking about fitness, health, rehab and nutrition all day. Although, this isn't all I do, I'm lucky I can spend a good proportion of my day doing this.

Reason no.9 - Cheese. Ok, this is hard to justify from a fitness perspective. Except maybe if your are eating low carb, high fat, high protein - then cheese is perfect. You can never get tired of eating cheese, even after very long runs when energy gels, sweets and drinks make me wretch, cheese is one of the few things I can eat. Remember a cheese sandwich is not paleo - damn.

Cheese - Cheddar - the best kind

Reason no.10 - Tea. And all its associated health benefits. Plus nothing beats a good cup of tea.

Reason no.11 - Rehabilitation renaissance and research. I think it was Craig Liebenson who coined this phrase. Not so long ago, physiotherapy mainly consisted of doing a bit of ultrasound and some strapping. Things are changing, with professions like osteopaths, chiropractors, physios, massage therapists and athletic trainers all communicating more and trying to raise their game. I'm not saying it's a revolution yet, but manual therapy is back on the agenda after being MIA for a while. Research wise, you used to have to go to a university library and spend hours looking through index cards and research journals to find what you were looking for. Now, with the internet you can find research at a click of a button, plus critical reviews of it and how to apply it in practice.

Reason no.12 - Having a girlfriend who is into fitness and has competed in fitness competitions. Having a common interest is one thing, but seeing someone compete and their dedication to training, nutrition and having the guts/balls to stand on stage is inspiring and makes me want to train harder, eat better and keep me on the nutrition/ fitness straight and narrow. Plus she is a trainee Osteopath, so I get the benefit of her practicing on all my injuries and numerous movement dysfunctions. Thanks Tissy!

Tiss Tanner - 'Can I have some carbs & cider now?'

There it is. So what are your fitness reasons to be cheerful?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top Reads & Fitness Products in 2012

These are my top fitness books and DVDs of 2012. I have limited myself to products  that were released in 2012, so even though I read books and videos in 2012 that were released in previous years I haven't included them here. These are the books and products I enjoyed most, of course, I read and viewed more than this list but I'm not going to mention the mediocre or the things I didn't think were much cop. Yes, I watched and read them all so you don't have to.

Book of the Year is .....

Eat & Run by Scott Jurek with Steve Friedman

If you want to be inspired read this book. You may have no intention of running an ultramarathon and possibly even less chance of wanting to be a vegan, it doesn't matter. This is simply a good story, from cross country skiing as a teenager in the American Midwest to 100 mile ultras with the toll that level of determination can have on your personal relationships. Jurek is also quite open about how he trains and what he eats, with some useful advice. If nothing else, you will probably eat a few more vegetables when you finish reading this extraordinary journey.

Honourable mention

The Art Of Running Faster by Julian Goater & Don Melvin

Remember when Britain was the greatest middle distance running nation on Earth with Dave Bedford, Steve Ovett et al? Well, Julian Goater was there and he trained with them. If this book had just been a biography it would have been an interesting read, however, Goater and Melvin have weaved in stories of running and racing back in the day with a solid plan of how to run faster. Simply,  to run faster you must run faster. This book covers speed work, cadence, hill work, technique, injury prevention, tapering and more.

What I like most about it is all the advice is proven to work and it isn't overly complicated. There is no use of heart rate zone and complicated training formulas. This appeals to me as someone who hasn't used a heart rate monitor for years, I currently use this simple rate of perceived exertion scale:

Easy - I must not be running
Hard - I'm running
F**kin Hard - I am running uphill or on sand

You can start incorporating Goater and Melvins training tips straight away. They have also included some template training schedules.

Note: I have the kindle version of this book, and it is not easy to read all the tables and small quote boxes, I am considering getting a hard copy, as it is easier to flick back and forward between sections.

Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn

One man and his attempt to train with the Kenyans and like the Kenyans. He moves his family to the almost mythical running town of Iten. In the end he finds out there are no secrets, train hard, live at altitude, eat kale, have a training group and if you can go back in time - be born in Kenya and spend the first part of your life running and walking 20 miles to school while wearing no shoes and be born into a culture obsessed with running.

You may have noticed all the books so far have been about running, 2012 wasn't a vintage year for strength training books. I read quite a few strength training books in 2012, but most were published before 2012 or aren't worth mentioning. Maybe there is no new information, and everything is a re-hash, also I probably read more strength and resistance training blogs and websites. Now I think about it I don't read any blogs about running.

Having said that, my strength training book of the year is ...

Triphasic Training by Cal Dietz & Ben Peterson

I have already reviewed this book here, so I wont rehash the review. This is the only strength book that made my list, so that should tell you something. In short, I have already used many of the concepts, ideas and exercises in the training programs I write. I haven't adopted it whole sale, as I think its too complicated and the spreadsheets of the workouts are needlessly fussy and colour coded craziness. Like many strength books it also has very limited information on strength training for endurance sports like marathon and ironman triathlon, but if you know what your are doing you can apply the principles to training programs for these sports as I have.

Psychology books

I enjoyed Rip It Up by Richard Wiseman - packed full of practical advice you can apply straight away. The writing style makes it easy to read, I flew through this book and couldn't put it down. Its based on the premise put forward by the philosopher William James of

"If you want a quality, act as if you already have it"

Wiseman cites several studies that show how this works and practical tips on how you can do this in real life. I will read this book again soon.

The other psychology book is The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters. I found this harder to read, and I will have to read it again to get the full benefit. However, if this is the model used by British Cycling I'm sure it works. See the video below of Steve Peters explaining his idea of the chimp and how you can learn to tame it.


Challenging Beliefs by Tim Noakes

I have already reviewed this book at In short, Noakes covers hydration (drink when you're thirsty), the central governor model (you get tired because your brain tells you), his current quest - the low carb, high fat diet and more. I also enjoyed his discussion of sports science, his early career and how he became involved in the field and his thoughts on coaching. The sections on Rugby and Cricket didn't interest me as much, and I skimmed through the Cricket parts. But even then the science of batting and injury in Rugby were things I didn't know and if you're are involved in these sports I imagine they are useful to know. I have the kindle edition, which is well layed out but suffers the usual problem of hard to read graphs and tables.

Special mention

Bone Games by Rob Schultheis

Okay, I'm cheating because this book was first published in 1984, but I was unaware of it until this year. This is the type of book I will read again and again. Schultheis falls off a mountain in the Rockies and has a moment of Zen like clarity, which he then attempts to recapture via various endeavours including running, climbing and mountaineering. This book contains some superb prose.

DVDs/ Videos 

Outstanding product of the year is...

Building the Complete Athlete by Vern Gambetta produced by Brendan Chaplin

This is a downloadble video of a 2 day seminar that Vern Gambetta did at Leeds Met University in the UK. I was always under the impression from various internet folk that Gambetta was an old Curmudgeon, however on this video he is dynamic and good humoured. 

I was impressed with his presentation style and the sheer amount  of coaches and teams he has spoken to and observed. He seems more open to new ideas than I expected and has a rationale for everything he does. I already had his book Athletic Development, but the videos clarified many of the exercises and drills that are in the book.

This product comes as a 16 part video download and includes all the powerpoint pdfs as well. At first I thought 16 parts would be annoying, the average length is about 25 minutes, some are shorter less than 10 minutes, one video is over 1 hour. Now I think having it broken into several parts will actually make viewing it again much easier, better than a DVD and trying to skip to various scenes. It is in more manageable chunks for repeat viewing and to find the relevant sections, and I will be watching this again to get the full benefit. It is well produced with good sound quality and video quality.

Unlike Mike Boyles Functional Strength Coach 4.0

Don't get me wrong, there is some good information in Boyles DVD but some of the audio to begin with is not great and some of the videoing is not great either. Most of the info about exercise selection and what Mike Boyle does is already out there. The most interesting parts to me were when Boyle talks about his own personal story of how he set up a business, and the practical tips about running your own facility.

Honourable mention

Animal Flow by Mike Fitch

I found out about this from Stop Chasing Pain. Another downloadable video (surely the way forward to save money and shipping costs).

The animal flow workout is fun and way harder than you think its going to be. Unfortunately I don't live in California or Florida so I wont be doing this in the park with my shirt off, but as soon as it stops raining and the temperature edges above freezing I will be outside doing it!

Bargain Product

Ross Enamait Jump Rope Conditioning for Athletes.

Over 1 hour and 50 minutes of information for less than £14 including shipping from the USA. Bargain!

Website/ Social media presence of the year goes to... 

Perry Nickelston is a social media demon, he manages to post on facebook and twitter about 1000 times a day (only a slight exaggeration). His facebook posts contain some great info (for free!) as does his website and all the various articles, blogs and videos he links to. I don't know how he does it while having a job treating clients, but thanks for taking the time.

Best idea - Movement Lectures 

Audio interviews and lectures from the likes of Craig Liebenson, Stuart McGill and more. For a few pounds download one of these and learn something while you commute or eat lunch.

And one more thing and it's free 

The book Testing Treatments: Better Research for Better Healthcare written by medical doctors and lecturers. How medical research works, how some of it has failed and how it can be better. A free pdf download book. Always be questioning, but in the right way.

That's it. I'm sure I probably missed something out, but that's enough to get you started in 2013!   

 "50% of what we know is wrong, the problem is we do not know which 50% it is" - Tim Noakes
Still, keep reading and learning, half of it will be right!