Book Review: Brain Training for Runners

Author, coach, triathlete and Active Expert Matt Fitzgerald presents a revolutionary approach to running in his latest book, Brain Training for Runners. Fitzgerald compiled evidence from the latest research in exercise physiology that challenges conventional runner's wisdom by shifting focus to a "brain-centered" model.

The two-part book begins with a well thought out presentation of the brain-training system applicable to runners of all experience levels. Fitzgerald's motto, "train the brain and the rest will follow," explains how the main goal of brain-training is to develop a heightened awareness for feedback from the running experience to increase maximal capacity, efficiency of stride and injury-prevention.

The Brain Training System

The three feedback loops--collective, objective and subjective--compose the awareness center of the brain-training system. The first step in transitioning to a brain-centered training model is with a thorough understanding of the feedback loops, which Fitzgerald explains extensively in the book. Basically, the collective feedback loop includes classic training strategies; the objective feedback loop records and applies your own performance data such as speed, distance and heart rate to customize the brain-training system; and the subjective feedback loop is information relayed from body to brain through experience. Developing effective communication of this feedback is essential to getting the most from your training.

Fitzgerald's journey through the biology of the brain was a tad overwhelming, but he actually suggests that the reader skip forward to the next section, which illustrates how well he knows his audience.

For example, I can see how the scientific community would benefit from the breakdown of how the "fatty sheath insulates axon-dendrite connections," but it was over my head, so I chose to follow the author's advice and skip ahead to the section on brain-training plans.

Part II of Brain Training for Runners is a selection of plans that are based on the brain-training model from part I. These plans are for the 5K, 10K, half-marathon and marathon distances and, as Fitzgerald explains, they are flexible to promote responsive training and injury-prevention.

Brain Training at Work

Before I encountered Fitzgerald's book, my training was struggling with a lack of direction, and I had two important events approaching: a 5K race and a 50-mile ultra marathon. I applied the brain-centered system to my own training and competition. As my focus shifted from body to brain, a fresh supply of potential was unlocked.

I experienced my first brain-training breakthrough during my 5K race. I had just finished reading a section about the mechanism of "teleoanticipation," which Fitzgerald describes as "knowing intuitively just how much to hold back at the beginning of a maximal running effort to complete the effort without anything left in the tank, yet also without any decline in performance." I was making a conscious evaluation of my abilities as a runner on that given day with what Fitzgerald calls "subconscious brain calculation." Essentially, I was convincing my brain to allow me to sustain my goal pace for the entire duration of the race. Three six-minute-miles later, I had done just that.

During the past month of brain-training, I have not only run the fastest mile split of my athletic career in a 5K race, but I also completed my first 50-mile ultra marathon less than two weeks later. This book provided the mental edge I was looking for and was the catalyst for my recent performance breakthrough.

My favorite advice from Fitzgerald is his incorporation of proprioceptive cues into each of these training plans. Fitzgerald states, "Proprioceptive cues are images and other sensory cues that enable you to modify your stride for the better as you think about them while running." This gives runners a means to monitor and improve their stride during each workout with drills and offers a valuable edge over conventional training systems.

As a multi-sport athlete, I was also happy with Fitzgerald's consistent focus on the customization of training. His assimilation of cross-training and variety into workouts along with the "brain-centered" model made it a no-brainer for me to believe in this system. He even included a section on corrective stretches with pictures and descriptions of each yoga-like movement.

Fitzgerald has taken the science of running to a whole new level with this book. Brain Training for Runners is for any runner searching for a customizable system that supports the continued development of the mind and the body. I am training and competing on a whole new level because of what I discovered while reading this book and have never been more confident in my potential as an athlete because I now have a better understanding of how my brain regulates my body--not the other way around.

Click here to order your copy of Brain Training for Runners.

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