The 2022 Summer Book List on the Science of Sweat

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If you’re traveling this summer, my advice is to (a) bring lots of books and (b) keep them in your carry-on. It’s crazy over there, but one way or another, you will have some time to read. Here are some of the titles I’ve enjoyed so far this year, some new and some old, mostly aligned with the sweat science themes of science, endurance, fitness and adventure.

“Scientific Training for Endurance Athletes”, by Philip Skiba

(Photo: Courtesy of PhysFarm Training Systems LLC)

Skiba wears a bunch of hats, including sports medicine doctor and former consultant for Nike’s Breaking2 marathon project, but the label that fits best in this context is probably “performance engineer.” His particular expertise, acquired both as a trainer and during his doctoral studies, is in modeling the body’s response to endurance training and running using training load algorithms. and the critical power model. As the title suggests, this book is a general treatise on how to train, with fun and candid sections on a wide range of topics like nutrition and assistive technology. But the real meat, and what sets it apart from many other training books, are the explanations of how to use algorithms to guide – or rather, design – your training and races.

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‘The Sweet Spot’, by Paul Bloom

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(Photo: Courtesy of Ecco)

This one doesn’t have “Endurance Athletes” in the title, but its subtitle is “The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning” – so yes, it speaks to you, marathon runner or cyclist or mountaineer or whatever . Bloom is a psychologist who recently moved from Yale to the University of Toronto, and the main question he tackles here is: why do we choose to do difficult or unpleasant things, like watching horror movies and eat spicy food? The answers he offers are not simple (George Mallory’s “Because it’s there” as justification for trying to climb Everest is not enough), but they are thought-provoking and, for an endurance athlete , strangely reassuring. . We are not crazy after all.

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“How She Did It”, by Molly Huddle and Sara Slattery

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(Photo: Courtesy of Rodale Books)

Mary Cain’s 2019 revelations about how her promising track career was derailed by “a system designed by and for men” reignited a long-overdue consideration of the cultural, social and physiological barriers faced by women. young runners. It also indirectly prompted this book by Huddle and Slattery, who both managed to translate early potential into long and productive professional careers, but not without significant detours and challenges (as they discuss in this interview with Outside). The aim of the book is to collect the best advice from 50 other running legends over the decades and show that it is possible for girls and women to have a long and fulfilling relationship with running. They don’t sugarcoat the challenges that still exist, but the result is an uplifting and optimistic read.

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“Do Hard Things”, by Steve Magness

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(Photo: Courtesy of HarperOne)

There’s a famous story about a horrific ten-day training camp that Texas A&M football coach Bear Bryant inflicted on his team in 1954 that resulted in about 80 of 115 players dropping out. and would have sown the seeds of subsequent championship teams. This book, by a longtime elite track and field coach and performance guru, is an indictment of that brand of macho toughness-building, not just because it’s humiliating, but because it do not work. Instead, Magness lays out a roadmap to toughness that involves embracing reality, listening to your body, and finding meaning in discomfort. (Outside published an excerpt from the book here.) Magness comes from the track world and still draws a lot of anecdotes and observations from it, but in this book he shows once again that he is a perceptive thinker of performance in a much broader sense.

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“Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain”, by Lisa Feldman Barrett

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(Photo: Courtesy of Mariner Books)

Feldman Barrett is a brain scientist known for her fairly extensive research into the neuroscience of emotion, which she described at length in a 2017 book. Seven and a half lessons is a different beast. This is how she described it on Twitter shortly before its publication in 2020: “The world has enough 400-page brain books; I wanted a neuroscience “beach read” that was readable in hours, made you laugh a little, and made you smarter. The result is, indeed, a surprisingly light read, though you can skim through the appendix at your leisure. Yet he held many surprises for me about persistent myths (like the dichotomy between our ancient reptilian brains and modern centers of rationality) and evolutionary ideas in neuroscience (the brain as a network rather than a set of sub -specialized regions; its origins as a prediction engine). And that gave me some ideas of where I might want to look for those 400-page brain books (one of which was The hidden sourceby Mark Solms, on how predictive processing could lead to consciousness).

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‘Kindred’, by Rebecca Wragg Sykes

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(Photo: Courtesy of Bloomsbury Sigma)

Sometimes when you read a book you feel like it’s the definitive book on a subject. Whatever question pops into your head, it turns out there’s a whole chapter on it, summarizing the history, current status, and future prospects of research in the field. It’s the feeling you get from Sykes’ exhaustive reassessment of Neanderthals, new in the paperback a few weeks ago, which contradicts the long-held cliché of an early subhuman species. The level of detail is truly remarkable and gave me the clearest picture I have ever had of what life would have been like tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago.

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“On Quality”, by Robert Pirsig

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(Photo: Courtesy of Mariner Books)

The worst academic work I ever turned in was a ninth-grade book report on Pirsig’s 1974 classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I completely and utterly failed to understand even the superficial narrative, let alone the underlying philosophy. A few years ago, thanks to the nudges of Brad Stulberg, I returned to the book. This time I got a lot more out of it, but I still wouldn’t say it was an easy read. That’s why I enjoyed On the quality, a posthumous selection of Pirsig’s writings, both unpublished and published, curated by his widow, Wendy Pirsig. (Robert Pirsig died in 2017.) The writings focus on the central concept of Pirsig’s books – what he calls Quality – and they are cleverly organized in a way that traces the development of ideas and makes them much more accessible. . Now I can’t wait to tackle Zen once again.

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“Nerf” by Eva Holland

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(Photo: Courtesy of Experience)

I thought I knew the roadmap of the “science of X” books, but Holland’s take on the science of fear is much more personal than I expected. It’s as much memoir as it is scientific exploration, and it packs a heavier emotional punch (she’s been through some stuff). That said, there’s also a lot of interesting science here, including innovative new approaches to coping with fear that betray how much we have yet to learn on the subject. Nerve came out in April 2020, when I was (along with everyone else) preoccupied with a new scare, but it’s worth going back to check it out if you missed it. Here is an excerpt that Outside ran when it was published.

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‘Barbarian Days’, by William Finnegan

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(Photo: Courtesy of Penguin Books)

I’ve successfully surfed for about three and a half seconds in my lifetime (and that’s generous), but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying Finnegan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir of a life spent surfing. . Journeys to mastery are interesting regardless of the specific skill mastered, and there was a lot that felt familiar to me about its total immersion in a hidden subculture devoted to a seemingly meaningless pursuit. I mean, I guess it helps that surfing took him around the world to dark and unknown places where he met unusual people and had mind-blowing adventures, instead of spending his decades sitting in a dark room to master origami. But it’s the inner journey that’s the real prize here.

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“A Suitable Companion for the End of Your Life”, by Robert McGill

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(Photo: Courtesy of Coach House Books)

Regan is an 18-year-old long-distance runner who hasn’t been able to run for three months due to a stubborn stress fracture. Sounds awful already, right? But things get considerably worse – and stranger – in this dystopian novel. The action takes place during a pandemic, a plot that has apparently been decided before COVID, and takes IKEA’s flatpacking concept to a surprising but somehow logical extreme. It’s suspenseful and funny, and McGill is a former national-class distance runner, so he does the running parts well.

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For more ideas, check out my holiday book list from last December. Whichever you choose, happy summer reading!


For more sweat science, join me on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for the email newsletter and check out my bookEnduring: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance.

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