Peak Performance Reviewed

I've been following the writings of Brad Stulberg - a freelance writer for Outside, Men's Fitness, and NY Magazine, among others - and Steve Magness - formerly of the Nike Oregon Project and current XC Coach at University of Houston - for some time. I have enjoyed their thoughts, their styles, and the overarching themes of basic consistency and adaptability that seem to weave through their writing. So when I found out that they were not only working on a book, but working on a book together, it was the rare work of non-fiction that I found myself looking forward to. Peak Performance (available now in print, e-book, and audiobook) offers to help its readers, "Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success."

Brad was kind enough to send me an advanced copy. With a lot on my own editorial calendar, I knew it might be some time before I was able to put together a thoughtful review, but I also felt that this was a book that deserved some attention now. Brad was kind enough to furnish three copies that I could give to members of the Slowtwitch community that I selected in exchange for a review. All reviewers were provided with a free copy of the book, but I gave no direction or other instructions regarding the review other than that it should be "about 1,000 words or less."

After soliciting reviewers on a forum thread, I picked three people based upon some combination of their background and the perspective that they had shown in what they'd written and contributed to the forum in the past.

The first reviewer is Brian Stover. Brian has a 20+ year tenure as a coach for both swimming and triathlon and is the owner of Accelerate3 coaching. He's a very regular forum contributor under his desert dude handle, and as someone who has helped athletes at all levels achieve some pretty fantastic results, I thought he was an ideal person to tackle a book that is, fundamentally, about athletic performance and development.

The second reviewer is Gail Gottfried, avid triathlete, freelance editor and adjunct associate professor of psychology at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. I very much enjoyed Gail's story about the evolution of her bike fit, so when she offered to review the book, I jumped at the chance.

The final reviewer is Dan Kennison, whose review appears below. Dan is the founder of Premier Bike, one of the most interesting new companies to launch in the triathlon space in the past several years. As both an athlete and an entrepreneur, I thought Dan's perspective on performance would be interesting because he would be able to approach it from two sides. In many ways, he's already done this with Premier, which draws on his extensive manufacturing experience in Asia and his experience as a triathlete and applies it to the bike business in a pretty unique way.

Peak Performance. As reviewed by Dan Kennison.

Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness present Peak Performance as an alternative view on stress, rest and performance. Through a combination of scientific study, individual accomplishment and common sense, they have discovered “links” – nuggets of deep study (academia) – accumulating and connecting individual “silos” of information - which, if embraced as a whole may enhance your athletic results, business performance and/or artistic ability. Consider what we undertake as endurance athletes, business leaders and artists to achieve a 10% gain or advantage. Can a book alone improve performance by 10%? That's the question at hand.

First a bit of perspective. Even when reading purely for pleasure, I want facts backed up with study and citations. Also, I don’t need repetition and gratuitous filling of pages. This book is packed with factual information that kept me interested and engaged. The authors offer many individual inspirational stories (of athletes, business professionals, artists and leaders) but only to illustrate some or all of the recommendations set forth in the book, not as a basis for their findings. These examples buttress the point of the authors, and the book weaves a logical web that intuitively makes sense, linking studies and examples from different fields that would otherwise seem unrelated.

At one point the book discusses the ineffective technique of multi-tasking, something that I have relied on with pride and conviction. This was a real sticking point for me. Continue reading and attempt to leave behind a practice rooted in every aspect of my life, or set the book aside as nonsense? I toiled through a few more pages, weighing the pros and cons. With mental gymnastics on high, I slowly came out the other side convinced to take the journey and follow the plan set forth in the book.

The authors have a fresh take on periodization, broadening the concept to apply to and cut through all aspects and activities of daily life. One of the underlying proofs, demonstrated through numerous studies is the importance and impact of the human sub-conscious systems. How your daydreams, REM sleep, times of relaxed reflection and unconscious thought are actual building blocks, necessary for the orderly organization of daily activity resulting in enhanced performance. This rest is on equal footing with stress in the equation Stress + Rest = Enhanced Performance, and cannot be overlooked if peak performance is your goal. Cited studies touch on the brain's subconscious ability to override limitations and to disable the mind's "security system" that limits activity in order to avoid or prevent overload.

The more you open your mind to this alternative way of structuring inputs, the more you become convinced that you will achieve better outputs. As each chapter walks you through the path of Stress + Rest = Enhanced Performance, it becomes a concept you knew all along, that makes sense intuitively, but was out of your grasp until it was clarified and defied by the book.

In the end, you are not left with mere theory. The final chapters outline an action plan, a roadmap for implementation. I liken the action plan to a great nutritional plan - no one can or will adhere to the plan completely but every little bit helps, and the level of commitment is in each individual's hands.

I place this book in the company of three thought provoking reads: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Edition 1) by John Perkins, How Not To Be Wrong - The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg, and Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordeiro.