Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Brad StulbergPeak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Brad Stulberg

Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success

byBrad Stulberg, Steve Magness

Hardcover | June 6, 2017

Pricing and Purchase Info

$26.48 online 
$32.50 list price save 18%
Earn 132 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


In stock online

Ships free on orders over $25

Available in stores


"A transfixing book on how to sustain peak performance and avoid burnout" — Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Option B, Originals, and Give and Take

"An essential playbook for success, happiness, and getting the most out of ourselves." — Arianna Huffington, author of Thrive and The Sleep Revolution

"I doubt anyone can read Peak Performance without itching to apply something to their own lives." — David Epstein, New York Times bestselling author of The Sports Gene

A few common principles drive performance, regardless of the field or the task at hand. Whether someone is trying to qualify for the Olympics, break ground in mathematical theory or craft an artistic masterpiece, many of the practices that lead to great success are the same. In Peak Performance, Brad Stulberg, a former McKinsey and Company consultant and writer who covers health and the science of human performance, and Steve Magness, a performance scientist and coach of Olympic athletes, team up to demystify these practices and demonstrate how you can achieve your best.

The first book of its kind, Peak Performance combines the inspiring stories of top performers across a range of capabilities—from athletic to intellectual and artistic—with the latest scientific insights into the cognitive and neurochemical factors that drive performance in all domains. In doing so, Peak Performance uncovers new linkages that hold promise as performance enhancers but have been overlooked in our traditionally-siloed ways of thinking. The result is a life-changing book in which you can learn how to enhance your performance via myriad ways including: optimally alternating between periods of intense work and rest; priming the body and mind for enhanced productivity; and developing and harnessing the power of a self-transcending purpose.

In revealing the science of great performance and the stories of great performers across a wide range of capabilities, Peak Performance uncovers the secrets of success, and coaches you on how to use them. If you want to take your game to the next level, whatever "your game" may be, Peak Performance will teach you how.
BRAD STULBERG researches, writes, speaks, and coaches on health and human performance. His coaching practice includes working with athletes, entrepreneurs, and executives on their mental skills and overall wellbeing. He is a columnist at Outside Magazine and has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Wir...
Title:Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of SuccessFormat:HardcoverDimensions:240 pages, 9.29 × 6.22 × 0.82 inPublished:June 6, 2017Publisher:Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/RodaleLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:162336793X

ISBN - 13:9781623367930

Look for similar items by category:


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great advice Great read to start off the new year. It will change the way you think about stress as well as "rest days" and how you prioritize things. Highly recommended if you're sick of the vicious circle of productivity and burnout.
Date published: 2018-01-26

Read from the Book

SECTION 1THE GROWTH EQUATION1 THE SECRET TO SUSTAINABLE SUCCESSThink for a moment about what it takes to make muscles, such as your biceps, stronger. If you try lifting weights that are too heavy, you probably won't make it past one repetition. And even if you do, you're liable to hurt yourself along the way. Lift too light a weight, on the other hand, and you won't see much, if any, result; your biceps simply won't grow. You've got to find the Goldilocks weight: an amount you can barely manage, that will leave you exhausted and fatigued-but not injured- by the time you've finished your workout. Yet discovering such an ideal weight is only half the battle. If you lift every day, multiple times a day, without much rest in between, you're almost certainly going to burn out. But if you hardly ever make it to the gym and fail to regularly push your limits, you're not going to get much stronger, either. The key to strengthening your biceps-and, as we'll learn, any muscle, be it physical, cognitive, or emotional-is balancing the right amount of stress with the right amount of rest. Stress + rest = growth. This equation holds true regardless of what it is that you are trying to grow.PERIODIZATIONIn the world of exercise science, this cycle of stress and rest is often referred to as periodization. Stress-and by this we don't mean fighting with your partner or your boss, but rather, some sort of stimulus, such as lifting a heavy weight-challenges the body, in some cases pushing it close to failure. This process is usually followed by a slight dip in function; just think about how useless your arms are after a hard weight-lifting session. But if after the stressful period you give your body time to rest and recover, it adapts and becomes stronger, allowing you to push a little harder in the future. Over time, the cycle looks like this: 1.Isolate the muscle or capability you want to grow 2.Stress it 3.Rest and recover, allowing for adaptation to occur 4.Repeat-this time stressing the muscle or capability a bit more than you did the last time World-class athletes are masters at this cycle. On a micro level, their training alternates between hard days (e.g., intervals until the brink of muscle failure and total exhaustion) and easy days (e.g., jogging at a pedestrian pace). The best athletes also prioritize recovery, time on the couch and in bed, just as much as they prioritize time on the track or in the gym. On a more macro level, great athletes often follow a hard month of training with an easy week. They intentionally design their seasons to include only a few peak events that are followed by periods of physical and psychological restoration. The days, weeks, months, years, and entire careers of master athletes represent a continual ebb and flow between stress and rest. Those who can't figure out the right balance either get hurt or burn out (too much stress, not enough rest) or become complacent and plateau (not enough stress, too much rest). Those who can figure out the right balance, however, become life-long champions.SUSTAINABLE PERFORMANCEWhen Deena Kastor graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1996, she was a good collegiate runner who had never quite pulled off a major victory. She received multiple All-American awards and stood atop many podiums, but the collegiate national championship was always just a touch-a few seconds, to be precise-out of reach. This didn't deter Kastor from going all-in on running. Upon graduation, she connected with the legendary coach Joe Vigil and followed him to the oxygen-deprived air of Alamosa, Colorado, and ultimately to Mammoth Lakes, California. There, training at 9,000 feet above sea level, Kastor went to work on reaching a level far beyond what her collegiate success could have predicted. Glimpse into Kastor's training diary during her prime and one word comes to mind: extraordinary. A 24-mile-long run at 7,000 feet altitude; mile repeats at speeds that for most people would be equivalent to an all-out 100-yard dash; and her favorite, 4 by 2 miles at a lung-searing 5-minute- mile pace, all on the highest path in Mammoth Lakes. These heroic workouts make up only a small portion of Kastor's total running. At the end of each week, in the bottom right corner of her training journal, she circled "total miles run." This number almost always read between 110 and 140. While this may seem extraordinary, to Kastor it was all very ordinary. As a result, she reached the highest levels of athletic success. Deena Kastor is hands-down the name most associated with American women's running, and for good reason. She's won an Olympic bronze medal in the marathon, and has earned distinction in many major national races. She holds the American marathon record, having covered the 26.2 miles in just 2 hours and 19 minutes, or at a pace of 5 minutes and 20 seconds per mile. Just think about running one mile that fast, and then imagine doing it 26 times in a row. Perhaps even harder to comprehend is the 2 hour and 27 minute marathon (5 minute and 40 second mile pace) she ran at age 42. That's right, Kastor is still running insanely fast well into what should be the twilight of her endurance sports career. And although she may lose an occasional race to someone 10 to 20 years her junior, she's consistently at the front of the pack, racing against, and often beating, women young enough to be her daughters. Ask Kastor how she's been able to sustain this level of performance and you'll get a lesson in periodization. While Kastor's quick to mention the hard work she puts in, she's equally as quick to mention the rest that follows. "The leaps and bounds I've made over the last several years have come from outside the training environment and how I choose to recover," she told Competitor magazine in 2009. "During a workout you're breaking down soft tissue and really stressing your body. How you treat yourself in between workouts is where you make gains and acquire the strength to attack the next one." Kastor says she realized early on that simply working hard wouldn't do. She's even called her workouts the easy part. What sets her apart, the magic that has allowed her to run so fast and so far for the past 25 years, is how she recovers: the 10 to 12 hours of sleep she gets each night; her meticulous approach to diet; her weekly massage and stretching sessions. In other words, it's all the things she does when she isn't training that allows her to do what she does when she is. Stress demands rest, and rest supports stress. Kastor has mastered the inputs, and understands how much stress she can tolerate and how much rest she requires. Thus, the output-a lifetime of growth and excellence-isn't all that surprising.ALL THE BEST FOLLOW STRESS AND RESTKastor is certainly unique, but her story is echoed by the research of Stephen Seiler. In 1996, shortly after earning his PhD in physiology in the United States, Seiler relocated to Norway. When he first arrived, he noticed something that befuddled him: During cross-training runs, world- class cross-country skiers were stopping before hills and then slowly walking up. Seiler didn't understand. Why were some of the best endurance athletes on the planet training so easily? Seiler tracked down Norway's national cross-country ski coach, Inge Bråten, the man behind the training of legends such as eight-time Gold medalist Bjørn Dæhlie. He asked Bråten if he was imagining athletes slowly walking up hills in their training, and if not, could Bråten please explain what was going on. Bråten simply told Seiler that the skiers he saw walking had recently trained hard, so now they must train easy. Upon hearing this, Seiler's mind flashed back to a paper he'd read that claimed Kenyan runners spent a majority of their training time running at a snail's pace. When he revisited the research, Seiler also saw it mentioned that the Kenyans alternated between very hard days and very easy days. At that moment, it struck Seiler that the best summer athletes in the world and the best winter athletes in the world appeared to be training quite similarly. As any good scientist would, he set out to test his hypothesis. Seiler tracked the training of elite athletes across a variety of endurance sports including running, skiing, swimming, and cycling. He found that, irrespective of sport or nationality, their training followed roughly the same distribution. The best athletes in the world weren't adhering to a "no pain, no gain" model, nor were they doing fitness-magazine popularized high- intensity interval training (HIIT) or random "workouts of the day." Rather, they were systematically alternating between bouts of very intense work and periods of easy training and recovery, even if that meant walking up hills. The ongoing progression and development of elite competitors, Seiler found, was an exercise in stress and rest.INTELLECTUAL AND CREATIVE DEVELOPMENTAround the same time that Seiler was exploring commonalities among the top endurance athletes in the world, another researcher was exploring commonalities among the top creative and intellectual performers in the world. This researcher was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chick-sent- mi-hi), PhD, a pioneer in the field of positive psychology known for his ideas on happiness, meaning, and optimal performance. If you've ever heard of the term "flow"-or a state of being fully absorbed in an activity with laserlike focus, completely in the zone-that's Csikszentmihalyi's work. Less known than his work on flow, but equally insightful, is Csikszentmihalyi's study of creativity. Over the course of 50 years, he conducted hundreds of interviews with field-altering geniuses from diverse domains. He spoke with groundbreaking inventors, innovative artists, Nobel Prize-winning scientists, and Pulitzer Prize-winning writers. Just as Seiler found that world-class endurance athletes migrate toward a similar style of work, Csikszentmihalyi found that the same held true for creative geniuses: the brightest minds spend their time either pursuing an activity with ferocious intensity, or engaging in complete restoration and recovery. This approach, Csikszentmihalyi discovered, not only prevents creative burnout and cognitive fatigue, but it also fosters breakthrough ideas and discoveries (we'll explore why this happens in more detail in Chapter 4). Csikszentmihalyi documented a common process across almost all great intellectual and creative performers, regardless of their field: 1.Immersion: total engagement in their work with deep, unremitting focus 2.Incubation: a period of rest and recovery when they are not at all thinking about their work 3.Insight: the occurrence of "aha" or "eureka" moments-the emergence of new ideas and growth in their thinkingPERFORMANCE PRACTICES.Alternate between cycles of stress and rest in your most important pursuits. .Insert short breaks throughout your work over the course of a day. .Strategically time your "off-days," long weekends, and vacations to follow periods of heavy stress. .Determine when your work regularly starts to suffer. When you find that point, insert a recovery break just prior to it. Look familiar? The manner in which great intellectual and creative performers continually grow their minds mirrors the manner in which great physical performers continually grow their bodies. Perhaps this is because our muscles and minds are more alike than we might think. Just as our muscles deplete and run out of energy, as we're about to see, our minds do, too.MIND AS A MUSCLEIn the mid-1990s, Roy Baumeister, PhD, a social psychologist who at the time was teaching at Case Western Reserve University, revolutionized how we think about the mind and its capacity. Baumeister wanted to get to the bottom of common-day struggles such as why we feel mentally "tired" after toiling away at a complex problem. Or when we are on a diet, why we are more likely to crack at night after diligently resisting unhealthy food all day. In other words, Baumeister was interested in understanding how and why our intellectual power and our willpower run out of gas. When Baumeister set out to solve this problem, he didn't need the latest and greatest brain-imaging technology. All he needed were some cookies and radishes. In an elegantly designed experiment, Baumeister and his colleagues had 67 adults file into a room that smelled like chocolate chip cookies. After the participants had taken their seats, freshly baked cookies were brought into the room. No sooner than everyone's salivary glands began working, things got interesting. While half the study participants were allowed to eat the cookies, the other half were prohibited from doing so. Adding insult to injury, the non-cookie-eaters were given radishes and told they could eat them instead. As you might imagine, the cookie-eaters had no problem with the first part of the experiment. Like most people in their situation, they enjoyed indulging. The radish-eaters, on the other hand, struggled mightily. "The [radish-eaters] exhibited clear interest in the cookies, to the point of looking lovingly at the display and in a few cases even picking up the cookies to sniff them," writes Baumeister. Resisting the cookies was no easy task. This doesn't seem groundbreaking. Who wouldn't struggle to resist delicious desserts? But things got even more interesting in the second part of the experiment, during which the radish-eaters' struggles continued. After both groups finished eating, all participants were asked to solve a seemingly solvable, but actually unsolvable, problem. (Yes, this was a cruel experiment, especially for those stuck with the radishes.) The radish- eaters lasted a little over 8 minutes and gave the problem 19 attempts. The cookie-eaters, on the other hand, persisted for over 20 minutes and attempted to solve the problem 33 times. Why the stark difference? Because the radish-eaters had depleted their mental muscle by resisting the cookies, whereas the cookie-eaters had a full tank of psychological gas and thus exerted far more effort in trying to solve the problem. Baumeister went on to repeat several variations of this study, and he observed the same result every time. Participants who were forced to flex their mental muscle-be it to resist temptation, solve a hard puzzle, or make tough decisions-performed worse on a subsequent task that also required mental energy as compared to participants in a control group who had an easy first task, like eating fresh cookies.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers WeeklyIn an increasingly competitive world, how can people excel without burning out, and how can top performance be achieved sustainably? Columnist and former McKinsey consultant Stulberg and distance running coach Magness, both high achievers in their chosen fields, provide a thoughtful look at taking one’s game to the next level without crashing and burning. They show that the culture of extreme competition is bad for society as a whole, as it pushes people to cut corners just to stay competitive; for example, large numbers of students are using Adderall just to keep up with their workloads. The authors present a set of principles for sustainable—ethical, legal, and healthy—success. Stulberg and Magness guide readers through a program of meditating, resting, prioritizing and minimizing distractions, seeking out “just manageable” challenges, and working in discrete, comprehensible blocks. Citations of research into the neurochemistry behind success frame each step. The accessible science and easy-to-grasp instructions on healthy ways of developing a sense of purpose are encouraging and inspiring, and readers looking to realize their potential without harming themselves would do well to take their advice.“This is a transfixing book on how to sustain peak performance and avoid burnout. Stulberg and Magness have worked with (and been) elite achievers, and they combine that rich experience with the science of success to share actionable insights.”—Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take “Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness have written an essential playbook for success, happiness, and getting the most out of ourselves and our lives.”—Arianna Huffington, author of Thrive and The Sleep Revolution“Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness are one-percenters when it comes to skill in translating high performance science for the public. I doubt anyone can read Peak Performance without itching to apply something to their own lives.”—David Epstein, New York Times bestselling author of The Sports Gene “What do top performers actually do to make themselves great? Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness are here with some powerful answers. From rethinking stress to transcending your ‘self,’ the ideas in Peak Performance will help you become better than you ever imagined.”—Daniel H. Pink, New York Times bestselling author of Drive “Brad Stulberg is my favorite health and science writer and Steve Magness is a deeply thoughtful coach of champions. They are the perfect team to show us, through principles that are applicable to just about anyone and anything, how we can get the most out of ourselves and do so in a healthy and sustainable manner.”—Amy Cuddy, New York Times bestselling author of Presence “So much in this book resonates with me. With practical advice for performance in the workplace or on the playing field, Brad and Steve meticulously deliver a comprehensive understanding of peak performance and how to achieve it.”—Dick Costolo, CEO of Chorus, formerly CEO of Twitter “Brad Stulberg is one of my favorite writers about two of my favorite topics: physical and mental performance. This book brings them together.”—Ryan Holiday, bestselling author of Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy “Tackling the mysteries of human optimization with science and insight from some of the world’s greatest athletes, artists and intellectuals, Peak Performance provides the road map you need to transcend your limitations, unleash your inner greatness and, most importantly, sustain it over time. An absolute must read for anyone interested in unlocking potential to become your best self!"—Rich Roll, author of Finding Ultra and The Plantpower Way “Brad Stulberg is one of the most gifted science writers of our times, a master at translating fascinating findings into concrete strategies. Peak Performance provides actionable insights from the cutting-edge research on how people excel. This book will be a must-read for anyone who wants to up their game, transcend their boundaries, and get out of their comfort zone.”—Kelly McGonigal, Stanford psychology instructor and author of The Willpower Instinct and The Upside of Stress “What do great artists, champion athletes, and brilliant researchers have in common? More than you'd expect, as Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness reveal in this magnificent silo-breaking synthesis of the hidden patterns that enable great performance across disciplines.”—Alex Hutchinson, Runner's World "Sweat Science" columnist and author of What Comes First: Cardio or Weights? “Peak Performance is a must read for anyone hoping to grow and achieve success in any area of their life. Relatable and readable, it identifies the skills and disciplines successful people have in common and teaches us what we can do to achieve the success that we want. I am excited to put what I have learned to use in my running and beyond.” —Kara Goucher, Two-Time Olympic Marathoner “Full of inspiration and information, Peak Performance is a must-read for anyone dedicated to self-optimization. I will be reading and re-reading this book for years to come.” —Matt Billingslea, Drummer, Taylor Swift Band “Brad and Steve uncover secrets of the world's best performers to help us all become more effective in our own pursuits. Peak Performance is a must read for everyone: from athletes to artists, and certainly entrepreneurs. Basically, this book is for anyone looking to take their skills to the next level.”—Dr. Bob Kocher, Partner at Venrock Capital, Consulting Professor at Stanford School of Medicine, Formerly Special Assistant to the President of the United States on Health Care “We all wonder why some people become great successes and others do not. It seems a mystery. However, Peak Performance presents the science that illuminates the common practices of game changers, and most important, shows us how we can benefit from applying them in our own lives.” —David Goss, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at The Ohio State University “As I read Peak Performance I found myself amazed that there is actually science to back up what I have found true as a sought to maximize my abilities throughout my professional running career. The reader is sure to be perplexed by their surprising findings and empowered to make some changes to their competitive mentality so they can achieve their own peak performance.”—Ryan Hall, United States Half-Marathon Record Holder “Peak Performance deeply explores the cycle of intense creativity that remains a mysterious realm even to me—despite my best efforts to mine it for all it's worth. I think it's clear that Stulberg and Magness are really onto something here.”—Emil Alzamora, internationally-acclaimed sculptor