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Book Review: Endure by Alex Hutchinson

posted Mar 11, 2018, 1:39 AM by Ben Jane   [ updated Mar 11, 2018, 1:52 AM ]
For some years now the book that I’ve found myself recommending most often to students is Alex Hutchinson’s “Which Comes First: Cardio or Weights”. Part of my continued enthusiasm for this title has been the positive feedback that students have given me having read it. Alex manages to strike a balance between reporting the technical details of the latest sport and exercise science with a style that is both readable and engaging; a balance which it appears from the limited number of titles that manage this is a difficult one. 

It was therefore with great interest that I started to see emminent sport scientists on twitter getting excited about Alex’s new release, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. I’ve just finished reading it and this article contains a short review, some related links and a selection of research cited within the book that I felt I wanted to review further. 

The book is structured in a way that the narrative is built around the Nike #breaking2 attempt however each chapter stands alone as a neatly focused review of a particular topic such as heat, hydration or oxygen, in turn reviewing the key contemporary research that is aimed at understanding the limits to human performance. The narrative flows clearly through most of the book and each chapter is readable in one sitting which is a feature I always like. Alex has spent many years engaging with the world’s best endurance scientists and sharpening his own ability to take complex, contested scientific findings and relate this information to a wide range of readers in a way that is interesting and simple to understand but which avoids patronising the reader. The success of this book is built on that ability to tell a good story and is no doubt why Malcolm Gladwell felt able to put his name on the front cover.

The main premise of the book is that no matter how good a performer one might be, our ability to achieve a personal best is limited by our physical attributes and fitness levels but also by our brain. Within the book, Alex attempts to break down the competing theories and then tries to find the consensus among them. While the book seeks to simplify some complicated science it manages to maintain a good level of credibility by drawing on many classic and contemporary sources, all of which are listed in the extensive endnotes (which can also be found here). I suspect the key protagonists in the narrative such as Tim Noakes, Ross Tucker, and Sam Marcora might all say that at times their research has been over-simplified for the sake of this book but for the casual reader, that’s a strength that allows Alex to keep the reader engaged and interested. Having read a few reviews on Amazon, there are plenty of people (wrongly imo) saying that it is over-complicated so it would appear that the right balance has been struck.

I’ve read a number of reviews that have suggested it fails to offer practical ways of increasing endurance but I also find this hard to fathom as the thread that runs through the entire book is that our brains work in tandem with our bodies in limiting performance of many types. Understanding this is an essential point for anyone trying to construct training programmes that might increase performance.

This book would no doubt appeal to keen endurance athletes and I have already started to recommend this for sport science undergraduates. I also think it’s a worthwhile read for postgrads who might be more familiar with some areas of the book but would find this useful in maintaining their peripheral vision and not losing sight of the fact that performance is complex and multi-dimensional.

Below I’ve included some links and resources that are related to the book and also picked out a number of the sources cited in the endnotes,


Many of the key scientists whose work has been included in the book are very active and engaging on Twitter.

@sweatscience (Alex Hutchinson)

YouTube Video

Selected reading taken from the endnotes

The full endnotes are available at Alex’s website here

Two Hours

Joyner, M. J. (1991). Modeling: optimal marathon performance on the basis of physiological factors. Journal of Applied Physiology, 70(2), 683-687.

Joyner, M. (2017) Believe It: A Sub-2 Marathon Is Coming Runner’s World, 6th May, 2017

Joyner, M. J., Ruiz, J. R., & Lucia, A. (2011). The two-hour marathon: who and when?. Journal of Applied Physiology, 110(1), 275-277.

Unforgiving Minute

Lansing, A., & Shackleton, S. E. H. (2000). Endurance: The Greatest Adventure Story Ever Told. Carroll & Graf Publishers.

Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Tice, D. M. (2007). The strength model of self-control. Current directions in psychological science, 16(6), 351-355.

Withers, T. (2015) LeBron pushes himself to total exhaustion in win over Hawks

Graubner, R., & Nixdorf, E. (2011). Biomechanical analysis of the sprint and hurdles events at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Athletics. New studies in athletics, 26(1/2), 19-53.

Halperin, I., Aboodarda, S. J., Basset, F. A., Byrne, J. M., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Pacing strategies during repeated maximal voluntary contractions. European journal of applied physiology, 114(7), 1413-1420.

Dorotik-Nana, C. The Four Minute Mile, The Two Hour Marathon, and The Danger of Glass Ceilings

Tucker, R. (2014) The 2-hour marathon and the 4-min mile

The Human Machine

Worsley, H. (2011). In Shackleton's Footsteps: A Return to the Heart of the Antarctic. Random House.

Noakes, T. D. (2006). The limits of endurance exercise. Basic research in cardiology, 101(5), 408-417.

Fletcher, W. M., & Hopkins, F. G. (1907). Lactic acid in amphibian muscle. The Journal of physiology, 35(4), 247-309.

Gladden, L. B. (2004). Lactate metabolism: a new paradigm for the third millennium. The Journal of physiology, 558(1), 5-30.

Hill, L. (1908). Oxygen And Muscular Exercise As A Form Of Treatment. British Medical Journal, 2(2492), 967.

Hill, A. V., & Lupton, H. (1923). Muscular exercise, lactic acid, and the supply and utilization of oxygen. QJM: Quarterly Journal of Medicine, (62), 135-171.

Hill, A. V. (1926). Muscular activity. [More on Hill….A.V.Hill by Katch, F.I.]

Hill, A. V. (1925). The physiological basis of athletic records. The Scientific Monthly, 21(4), 409-428.

Halsey, L. G., & Stroud, M. A. (2011). Could Scott have survived with today's physiological knowledge?. Current Biology, 21(12), R457-R461.

Scheffler, R. W. (2015). The power of exercise and the exercise of power: The Harvard Fatigue Laboratory, distance running, and the disappearance of work, 1919–1947. Journal of the History of Biology, 48(3), 391-423.

Caesar, E. (2016). Two hours: the quest to run the impossible marathon. Simon and Schuster.

The Central Governor

Noakes, T. D., & Marino, F. E. (2009). Point: Counterpoint: Maximal oxygen uptake is/is not. J Appl Physiol, 106(1), 341-342.

Tucker, R., Lambert, M. I., & Noakes, T. D. (2006). An analysis of pacing strategies during men’s world-record performances in track athletics. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 1(3), 233-245.

Allen, E. J., Dechow, P. M., Pope, D. G., & Wu, G. (2016). Reference-dependent preferences: Evidence from marathon runners. Management Science, 63(6), 1657-1672.

Noakes, T. D. (2008). Testing for maximum oxygen consumption has produced a brainless model of human exercise performance. British journal of sports medicine, 42(7), 551-555.

The Conscious Quitter

Martin, K., Staiano, W., Menaspà, P., Hennessey, T., Marcora, S., Keegan, R., ... & Rattray, B. (2016). Superior inhibitory control and resistance to mental fatigue in professional road cyclists. PloS one, 11(7), e0159907.


Cycling Weekly (2014) Jens Voigt: the man behind the Hour attempt

Freund, W., Weber, F., Billich, C., Birklein, F., Breimhorst, M., & Schuetz, U. H. (2013). Ultra‐Marathon Runners Are Different: Investigations into Pain Tolerance and Personality Traits of Participants of the TransEurope FootRace 2009. Pain Practice, 13(7), 524-532. doi:10.1111/papr.12039

Angius, L., Hopker, J. G., Marcora, S. M., & Mauger, A. R. (2015). The effect of transcranial direct current stimulation of the motor cortex on exercise-induced pain. European journal of applied physiology, 115(11), 2311-2319.


The 1983 World’s Strongest Man Competition

Cairns, S. P. (2006). Lactic acid and exercise performance. Sports Medicine, 36(4), 279-291.

Goodwin, M. L., Harris, J. E., Hernández, A., & Gladden, L. B. (2007). Blood lactate measurements and analysis during exercise: a guide for clinicians. Journal of diabetes science and technology, 1(4), 558-569.


Nestor, J. (2014). Deep: Freediving, renegade science, and what the ocean tells us about ourselves. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Panneton, M. W. (2013). The mammalian diving response: an enigmatic reflex to preserve life?. Physiology, 28(5), 284-297.

Constantini, K., Tanner, D. A., Gavin, T. P., Harms, C. A., Stager, J. M., & Chapman, R. F. (2017). Prevalence of Exercise-Induced Arterial Hypoxemia in Distance Runners at Sea Level. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 49(5), 948-954. 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001193

Haugen, T., Paulsen, G., Seiler, S., & Sandbakk, Ø. (2017). New records in human power. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 1-27. Researchgate


Cramer, M. N., & Jay, O. (2016). Biophysical aspects of human thermoregulation during heat stress. Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical, 196, 3-13. DOI:

Périard, J. D., Racinais, S., & Sawka, M. N. (2015). Adaptations and mechanisms of human heat acclimation: applications for competitive athletes and sports. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 25(S1), 20-38.

Schneider, S. M. (2016). Heat acclimation: gold mines and genes. Temperature, 3(4), 527-538. (in place of original Dreosti reference)

Leon, L. R., & Helwig, B. G. (2010). Heat stroke: role of the systemic inflammatory response. Journal of applied physiology, 109(6), 1980-1988.


Beis, L. Y., Wright-Whyte, M., Fudge, B., Noakes, T., & Pitsiladis, Y. P. (2012). Drinking behaviors of elite male runners during marathon competition. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 22(3), 254-261.

Sawka, M. N., & Noakes, T. D. (2007). Does dehydration impair exercise performance?. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(8), 1209. DOI: 10.1249/mss.0b013e318124a664

Nolte, H. W., Noakes, T. D., & Van Vuuren, B. (2011). Trained humans can exercise safely in extreme dry heat when drinking water ad libitum. Journal of sports sciences, 29(12), 1233-1241.

Goulet, E. D. (2012). Effect of exercise-induced dehydration on endurance performance: evaluating the impact of exercise protocols on outcomes using a meta-analytic procedure. Br J Sports Med, bjsports-2012.

Hutchinson, A. (2015) How much water should you drink? Research is changing what we know about our fluid needs


Volek, J. S., Noakes, T., & Phinney, S. D. (2015). Rethinking fat as a fuel for endurance exercise. European journal of sport science, 15(1), 13-20.

Burke, L. (2017). Low carb high fat (LCHF) diets for athletes–Third time lucky?. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 20, S1.

Burke, L. M., Ross, M. L., Garvican‐Lewis, L. A., Welvaert, M., Heikura, I. A., Forbes, S. G., ... & Hawley, J. A. (2017). Low carbohydrate, high fat diet impairs exercise economy and negates the performance benefit from intensified training in elite race walkers. The Journal of physiology, 595(9), 2785-2807.

Training The Brain

Tucker, R. (2009). The anticipatory regulation of performance: the physiological basis for pacing strategies and the development of a perception-based model for exercise performance. British journal of sports medicine, 43(6), 392-400.

Mauger, A. R., & Sculthorpe, N. (2012). A new VO2max protocol allowing self-pacing in maximal incremental exercise. Br J Sports Med, 46(1), 59-63.

Beltrami, F. G., Froyd, C., Mauger, A. R., Metcalfe, A. J., Marino, F. and Noakes, T. D. (2012) Conventional testing methods produce submaximal values of maximum oxygen consumption. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol. 46, No. 1: 23–29. [Online]. Available from: doi:10.1136/bjsports-2011-090306

Marcora, S. M., Staiano, W., & Merlini, M. (2015). A randomized controlled trial of brain endurance training (bet) to reduce fatigue during endurance exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 47(5S), 198. doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000476967.03579.44

Simons, D. J., Boot, W. R., Charness, N., Gathercole, S. E., Chabris, C. F., Hambrick, D. Z., & Stine-Morrow, E. A. (2016). Do “brain-training” programs work?. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 17(3), 103-186.

Zapping the Brain

Sarmiento, C. I., San-Juan, D., & Prasath, V. B. S. (2016). Letter to the Editor: Brief history of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS): from electric fishes to microcontrollers. Psychological medicine, 46(15), 3259.

Hutchinson, A (2014) Your Body on Brain Doping

Underwood, E. (2016) Cadaver study casts doubts on how zapping brain may boost mood, relieve pain


Halson, S. L., & Martin, D. T. (2013). Lying to win—placebos and sport science. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2013, 8, 597-599

Burfoot, A. (2011) Milkshakes, Mile Repeats, and Your Mind: a Delicious Combination

Magness, S. (2016) A Case for Running by Feel- Ditching your GPS because of Ecological Psychology