By Syd Schulz,
Pro CTS Athlete
It’s November, the season is winding down (unless you’re racing, cyclocross, of course!), and for those of us in the mountain west, the snow has already arrived. In other words, it’s the perfect time to incorporate some reading and maybe curl up by the fire with a book.
Here are my top reading recommendations for athletes. None of these are straight up “how to get faster” or “how to train” books (some aren’t even about sports at all), but I think they will leave you inspired and maybe change the way you think about being an athlete. And they’re all just really good reads, perfect for a snowy evening.
If you want to be inspired:
The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance, by Steven Kotler
Learn how mastering the flow state has led to incredible (superhuman, even) feats for action adventure athletes across the disciplines. While most of us will probably never surf 50+ foot waves or wriggle into a wing suit, the principle of using a flow state to achieve the impossible is applicable no matter what your sport. If you’re feeling worn down after a long summer, this book will get you excited to jump back into training and (hopefully) flowing.
If you want to get on top of your habits:
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg
How to habits actually work? Why do we do what do? My major takeaway from this book: most of our daily actions are NOT as conscious as we think they are, and by changing small habits, we can make big lifestyle changes. If you feel like you have the hardest time making changes in your life, despite feeling motivated to change, your habits might be holding your back — and this book is a great place to start.
If you want a better understanding of how endurance works:
Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson
This book is a must-read for all endurance athletes. While it’s incredibly well-researched and jam-packed with sports science, it doesn’t read like a text book and it stays true to it’s delightfully curious central thesis: none of us know what we’re capable of, and for every so called “limit,” there is an athlete who has super-ceded it. If you feel like you’re bumping up against immutable limits in your training, or if you’re just curious about the science behind this thing we call endurance, this is the book for you.
If you want to be more mindful:
This book is a great introduction to mindfulness, as it applies to athletes. Mumford shares his own journey of overcoming addiction, as well as his experience coaching NBA athletes and other elites. If you feel like your mental game is holding you back (hint: that’s all of us), give this book a go.
If you’re looking for your “why”:
Natural Born Heroes: Mastering the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance by Christopher McDougall
From the same author as Born to Run, Natural Born Heroes arguably falls into the same trap of trend-mongering (only this time it’s low carb diets instead of barefoot running), so it’s important to take McDougall’s grand pronouncements with the proverbial grain of salt. That said, this book combines historical non-fiction with sports science and masterful storytelling, and it is a great read, especially if you are finding yourself questioning the “point” of being an athlete.
If you want a new way of thinking about your goals:
While not created explicitly for athletes, this model has been used by athletes like 2012 Tour de France champ Bradley Wiggins. The basic principle is that we have two minds — our human mind (rational, logical, knows we should go do that training ride even when it’s raining) and our chimp mind (driven by instinct, emotional, wants to stay inside on a rainy day). If you sometimes feel at war at yourself, or you find yourself making decisions that don’t align with your goals, this book might help you break the cycle.