Book Review: Peak Performance by Bradley Stulberg and Steve Magness
I think I probably first came across Steve Magness’ name in my Twitter feed a few years ago as he was often quoted or retweeted by a handful of the people I follow most closely on there, such as the super intelligent and outspoken Sports Scientist Ross Tucker and top journalist and author David Epstein. I followed Steve on Twitter at first and subsequently purchased and read his book ‘The Science of Running’ (an excellent read) before finding his blog and podcast and dipping into those as well.
Around the same time that I started reading Steve’s first book, I found myself reading online articles in ‘Outside’ magazine by Brad Stulberg and, as was the case with Magness, began following him on Twitter to learn more about him as he often wrote about things in a way that resonated with me.
Although I tend to read quite a lot, I try hard to be brutally selective about what I spend my time reading online each day, otherwise it’s incredibly easy to get sucked into reading a lot of the niff-naff and trivia that gets dumped on the web every day. Despite applying a pretty strong filter to what I choose to spend time on, I’ve consistently found both Steve and Brad’s work to be well worth seeking out and I often seem to find myself prioritising reading their output over a lot of other stuff that comes into my overcrowded inbox or Twitter feed.
When I found out that Brad and Steve were collaborating on a book about human performance (called ‘Peak Performance’, it’s out on June 6th) I was very pleased indeed, and even happier when they offered the chance to review a pre-release copy of it here on the Precision Hydration blog.
Despite the constraints of running a growing Precision Hydration, trying to be a vaguely useful ‘assistant’ to my wife in bringing up our 6 month old daughter and 3 year old son and doing a little bit of training to keep fit, I think I motored through the 219 pages of ‘Peak Performance’ in about 3 (late night) sittings! The only obvious irony in the behaviour is that I definitely compromised the quality and length of my sleep on those 3 nights as a result (and getting appropriate sleep is a big topic in the book…)
Essentially what Peak Performance is all about is how to attain and, more importantly, sustain a high level of human performance (both mentally and physically), whilst avoiding the pitfalls of burnout and underachievement that are becoming increasingly common in the modern world.
What it’s not however is anything like the kind of ‘Life Hacking’ bullsh*t that is most commonly associated with books you might think fit into the same genre. The kind of insights delivered and behaviours advocated in Peak Performance are resolutely evidence-based, long term approaches that are less about taking shortcuts - or finding ‘hacks’ to cheat your way to some mythical level of elite performance - as guidelines for building a sensible, sustainable lifestyle for you and, equally importantly, other people around you.
Earlier in their lives and careers both Steve (in athletics) and Brad (in business consulting) accumulated some hard won personal experience of both extremely high achievement and periods of burnout that came close to breaking them mentally and physically. This is explained explicitly in the early part of the book and very clearly provides the motivation from which they write to help others to avoid the traps that befell their younger selves.
This element of the book really spoke to me on a personal level because I have definitely also been affected by periods of burnout, both as an athlete and as a self-employed business person, over the last 20 or so years as I tried to compete at an international level in triathlon and build a couple of different businesses from the ground up.
The way the book is structured is such that it puts entertaining and inspiring stories together with real life examples from people who have learned (either through being extremely smart or, like the rest of us, by the more normal process of trial and error) how to maximise their performance in various domains of work, sport and life. These anecdotes are then backed up with scientifically validated techniques and tactics that you can look to apply in similar situations in your own life.
The book is littered with references and summaries of the work of a lot of intellectual heavyweights like Daniel Kahneman, Carol Dweck, K. Anders Ericsson, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Angela Duckworth (to name but a few). I’ve read most of the ‘A’ list material by these names in the past and what is great about Peak Performance is how it manages to précis the most important practically applicable ideas from them and tie them together in actionable ideas that mean you can actually see a way to applying the knowledge in your own life.
I’ve already made the book compulsory reading in the Precision Hydrationoffice (where there is a definite tendency to work towards a degree of burnout at times!) and have no hesitation to recommend it to anyone interested in learning a few ideas on how to perform better in work, sport or life in general.
Thanks again to Steve and Brad for giving me early access to the book and for giving Precision Hydration athletes this special offer: If you pre-order Peak Performance by the end of this week (May 12th), you'll receive “The 10 Commandments of Performance”, an exclusive PDF highlighting the key insights in the book and how to apply them in your own life. Just email your receipt to email@example.com