As a professional running coach, I attempt to keep abreast of any new concept or practice that may enhance my athletes’ training and performance. Recently authors Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness published their collaborative work entitled “Peak Performance.” The book’s cover highlights the title with the phase, “Elevate your game, avoid burnout, and THRIVE with the NEW SCIENCE of SUCCESS.”
With that noble objective, how could I not read and learn how to apply their concepts to our post-collegiate, Olympic development athletes. But why would this book be any different from the many that tout the “transformation” of your life and lead you to the top of the mountain in your respective endeavors?
What first caught my eye was the co-author, Steve Magness. Steve was a former high school track phenom, who never progressed much from his 4:01 mile as a schoolboy. However, he has become one of the top coaches in the country and published his first book The Science of Running in 2014, which seemed to be a more formal version of his articles first published on his website, Scienceofrunning.com
Quoting from the book’s cover inner sleeve, “A few common principles drive performance, regardless of the field or the task at hand. Whether someone is trying to qualify for the Olympics, break ground in mathematical theory, or craft an artistic masterpiece, many of the practices that lead to great success are the same.”
I will admit that from my past readings there is nothing really groundbreaking in the book—that is some new concept that has been recently discovered. However, the information is presented in a logical, pragmatic and orderly way that should allow the reader to contemplate the information and begin to apply the concepts in their own quest for reaching their peak performance.
The book is organized around three key concepts:
The first section reiterates the core principle of physiological performance improvement: STRESS + REST = GROWTH. This equation has been one of our guiding principles within ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE since our inception. We base our training philosophy on this equation and it has become one of our maxims.
The authors explain, “Systemically grow by alternating between stress and rest.” This concept is similar to what veteran coaches would link to legendary coach Bill Bowerman’s “Hard/Easy” training concept. They provide some easily memorable bullet points describing basic concepts such as:
“Stress Yourself by seeking out ‘just-manageable challenges’ in areas of you life in which you want to grow.” These “just-manageable challenges’ are those that barely exceed your current abilities. Once you feel that you can achieve those goals, increase the challenge. This might seem obvious to many, but sometimes runners set their goals so high, that they get discouraged when they don’t achieve them.
One area that I really liked was the idea to “cultivate deep focus and perfect practice.” This includes the authors’ words:
In conjunction with the “Stress Yourself” concept is “Have Courage to Rest.” In this section the authors discuss how to use meditation, being mindful, taking the appropriate breaks and prioritizing sleep.
There has been a lot written about the importance of sleep, including Arianna Huffington’s 2016 bestseller The Sleep Revolution. However, many runners still do not seem to understand and embrace the importance of sleep in the recovery and adaptation cycles so vital to performance improvement. Peak Performance provides some excellent advice and guidelines regarding this important concept.
One of the things that I really liked about the book was the bullet point summary of all the principles identified and explained in the book. This section is extremely useful as a coach to revisit on a frequent basis as we continually attempt to improve our athletes’ (and our own) performances.
Author Mike Caldwell is director/coach of ASICS GTC-ELITE and this article was written for and originally appeared in PACE Running Magazine's Fall 2017 issue.
Mike Caldwell is the Director and one of the coaches for ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE. For more on Mike please visit his page on this website.