What I’m Reading
Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes—and What We Can Learn from Them – Mark McClusky
In the 70’s series, “The Six Billion Dollar Man”, the intro narration announced that science had the power to not only save the near dead Steve Austin, but “rebuild him;
‘We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster.”
These days, science is playing a similar role in assisting elite athletes to achieve the same aims – “the future” as stated by McClusky, is being determined less and less by the innate physiology of the athlete, and more by scientific and technological advances…. Find and train the best athletes, but you need to have the best PhD’s on board as well.’
The confluence of sports and science has arisen not only because of those seeking a competitive advantage, but also due to the the inevitable flattening out of human achievement and potential.
Human sporting performance is (for now) largely tapped out. No longer do we see substantial “great leaps forward” in performance. Small improvements, representing increases in thousandths of a second in performance, labelled as “marginal gains”, are the new, highly sought after prize by the men in the white coats. These often minute,aggregated achievements can help swing the minor differentials in favour of one athlete triumphing over another on the winner’s dias.
Inevitable similarities and connections can be drawn between this book and Epstein’s “The Sports Gene” including a discussion of the taboo topic of genetics and the conflated 10,000 hour rule.
Rather than treading the same worn ground, McClusky’s’ work stands as a wonderful companion piece and compliment to the “Sports Gene”. Whereas “The Sports Gene” looked at the “whys” behind elite athletic performance, “Faster, Higher, Stronger” addresses the “hows” by examining the now inseparable interplay between science and sport in a range of research contexts
There are some fascinating insights to be gleaned here for the professional coach, athlete or weekend warrior serious about the recent trends in sports science and their potential application to one’s own respective game.
Some of the topics covered include:
- Is the “relative age effect” really a favourable factor in the development of athletes as widely reported – or are there other elements at play?
- What effect does early life trauma have on the development of grit and a winning mindset of athletes?
- Is fatigue literally in one’s head? – (holy shit, this chapter blew my mind.)
- The PED level enhancing effects of sleep – clue; you’re NOT getting enough and robbing yourself of potential results. !!
- The role of genetics and epigenetics in sports.
- Which supplements really work? Never pay for sports drinks again using the awesomely provided homemade recipe for Gatorade.
- How and why Formula 1 drivers are as STRONG as fuccck!
- The most cutting edge recovery methods in play today. Put down the ibuprofen and replace it with Advill or Tylenol if you know what’s good for you.
This is merely a sampling of what’s presented in this book. It’s a must read and along with Epstein’s “Sports Gene”, equally one of my firm favourites in the sports-science genre.
The Crippler: Cage Fighting and My Life on the Edge – Chris Leben
Most MMA biographies are fairly boring hit and miss affairs. This one stands out because both Chris Leben and his personal story are both enigmatic and well told. Leben writes through a ghost writer, but the guy is no punch drunk neanderthal; well read and articulate, and you can definitely hear his voice clearly within these pages.
I became a fan of Leben’s when he appeared on the first series of the Ultimate Fighter show. Beyond his drunken bravado and brash antics, I could see then that Leben possessed the charisma, skills and drive to go far in the MMA world.
I could also see that the guy had an undeniable nihilistic streak and possessed the potential for endless amounts of self sabotage.
Years later, after ending a colourful yet checkered fighting career, Leben disappeared off the radar as most of the MMA guys do. He recently resurfaced alongside director Chris Bell in the promotion of Bell’s latest movie “Prescription Thugs” which recounts Leben own struggle under the stranglehold of addiction to prescription painkillers.
As he relates in this very candid and raw life story, painkillers were only part of the cocktail of substances Leben abused over the years as he battled the demons of his past and personal psyche. He pulls no punches relating his own past, his encounters with the UFC, Dana White and many other well-known names in the fight game.
Cliches aside, one motif running clear throughout this book is that Leben’s biggest and most formidable opponent has and always will always be, the man himself.
Success is often the worst enemy of the self-destructive and the end result is rarely pretty. Apart from the cumulative near misses, Leben’s life is not over yet – and I hope that in writing this shit down, it started a cathartic process for him. The self destructive path is usually winding and terminates at the same junction point for those following its well worn tracks.
What I’m Watching
The Missing Picture
A surreal and unsettling documentary about the genocidal regime that existed under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the 1970s. In what was notoriously termed the “Killing Fields”, the cities were emptied of their citizenry, the people were stripped of their identities, families separated and thousands executed in wholesale purges of those simply for being labelled as intellectuals and “threats to the state”. With little to no existing visual record, all that remains is the survivors’ stories and their emotional scars.
The director retells the harrowing events of the time set against carefully staged propaganda newsreels, juxtaposed against crudely fashioned clay models which laid out in diorama tableaux providing a macabre visual to the narrator’s voiceover. The effect is both eerie and powerful.
A poignant reminder of the under-reported genocidal scar left on a country and innocence lost.
I’m usually ambivalent when it comes to Disney/Pixar films. Heavy handed in their moralising and toy marketing, I normally find them an hour and a half too long.
This one was different. Great characters, stunning visuals, intelligently presented themes and layered jokes that will appeal to the whole family (loved the Breaking Bad and Godfather references), it stands as a definite landmark in animated cinema.
What I’m Listening To
Rogan might know marital arts, but he’s boxing way above his intellectual weight when talking to someone like Sam Harris. Harris is ever the gentleman, yet you can almost feel him cringe with embarrassment on behalf of Rogan at some of the absolute claptrap that comes out of his mouth.
Nevertheless, this 4 hours spent with Harris is an absolute treat listening to him eloquently expound on a range of timely topics from Trump, the presidential race, Artificial Intelligence and the gorilla they shot to name a few.
Every few years the media machine launches some Special Ops guy into the limelight to wax military on a range of civilian topics related to business and success.
Willink is the latest flavour of the month and has appeared on a range of podcasts promoting his new book, “Extreme Leadership.” The guy has some great stories and is extremely intelligent and experienced in the art of war and leadership.
I personally can’t stand Willink’s own podcast as much as I’ve tried to listen to it. His delivery style is totally wrong for the medium, yet he still makes for a great interview.
Quote of the Week
This is quoted from Tim Noakes via Mark McClusky’s book “Faster, Higher, Stronger” on the topic of fatigue. Arguing via his “Central Governor Theory” that fatigue is more an mental/emotional response, it reinforces the need for training and focusing the mind as much as the body when attempting to reach levels of peak performance.
“The winning athlete is the one whose illusionary symptoms interfere least with the actual performance – in much the same way that the most successful golfer is the one who does not consciously think when playing any shot. My unproven hypothesis is it is that in the case of a close finish, physiology does not determine who wins. Rather somewhere in the final section of the race, the brains of the second, and lower placed finishers accept their respective finishing positions and no longer choose to challenge for a higher finish.
According to this model, the winning athlete is the one whose illusionary symptoms interfere the least with the actual performance the winner is the athlete for whom defeat is the least acceptable rationalization.“
Recipe of the Week
Pumpkin Protein Pancakes
Were I ever on death row, my last meal would probably comprise some kind of pancake stack covered in maple syrup, sugar-free or otherwise.
This little variation to my weekly pancake annihilation routine takes things to a whole other level. I love meals which are quick, easy, nutritious and taste great and this one ticks all the boxes.
4 scoops vanilla protein powder
1 cup of egg whites
1 cup of pureed pumpkin
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
sprinkle of salt
In the absence of canned pureed pumpkin which costs between $8:50-$10 per tin here in Australia (and is only available at specialty imported food stores) I bought half a pumpkin ($2), oven baked it for an hour, then pureed it in a food processor.
I then fork-stirred the rest of the ingredients together and fried them individually in a pan. Makes for an amazing post workout meal providing a massive hit of protein, nutrition and most importantly, taste!