Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Matt Fitzgerald's Brain Training for Runners: A Book Review

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After sitting on Brain Training for Runners for a while, I finally had a chance to write my thoughts. First off, the book takes and complies a copious amount of information. Like many well written books on sport, especially about endurance sport, Fitzgerald strives to apply scientific backing to his claims. Following a similar model to what Jack Daniels does (and many others I have read over the years), Fitzgerald walks you through the physiological science of running. This style of training, which he coins as the Catastrophic Model—trains the body to the limit of each physiological system. Train each system to withstand stain and shutdown and improve. The book includes many strategies for form refinement, discusses the need to use varying speed in training, and has intriguing core routines and exercises, so of which I have tested, tinkered with, and added to my own coaching regimen.

Where Fitzgerald differs from the norm comes in the fact that he advocates a model that goes against standard training styles. These styles are based in the argmunet that there is “no direct physiological cause of fatigue” (xi). With this idea in mind, he notes that the catastrophic model is flawed. Fitzgerald ignores the lactic accumulation, moves beyond glycogen depletion and the idea of training the body to better cleanse toxins and use energy. Not that he discounts the need to train your body and improve the various systems associated with running, but he claims that training should also: “Raise your brain’s threshold of response to the body’s danger signals” (6). In essence teach the brain to endure and survive: “I’ve done this before; I can do it again” (16). He advocates working through mental blocks just as much as physical ones and then he backs the ideas up with scientific data and metaphor, and in part, these ideas are very helpful, especially if understand the basic premises of training and the physiology behind said processes.

Outside of core and scientific explanations, Fitzgerald breaks into the standard fare. He targets training by pace, using current fitness as a barometer for your targeted paces. In this case, he uses TPL levels in lieu of the Jack Daniels VDOT charts, but both of these methods have comparable if not overlapping numbers. He provides sample plans, based on time, distance, and pace but in this case he provides an emphasis on neural feedback as well. He maintains a focus on constant tinkering, refinement, and efficiency “use the material of the run experience” and control the “feedback loops” as a focus on proprioception to improves both form and ability (6, 12). The more feedback you include, the more you tinker, the more neural control. Improve your overall abilities and focus on how “training increases the number of motor units that your brain is able to access and use to contribute to running” (42).

That said, the book is a fine compliment to any runner’s bookshelf, especially if they want to explore new options. These options cemented much of my research, back up many of the clinics I have attended, and in the end his suggestions of working on a less rigid training philosophy were already in practice in my book, for a combination of scientific wherewithal and emotive understanding is needed to find success in any and all sport.

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