Required Reading for Invictus Members & Athletes
Written by Kirsten Ahrendt

If I could make a required reading list for anyone upon joining Invictus, these four (+1 bonus) books would be top of my list. After eight years of professional coaching, I am convinced that if a member-athlete understands and prioritizes any combination of these five topics, they will increase their chances of successfully reaching goals. 

You’ll notice that none of these have to do with narrowly focused topics such as strength, mobility, or nutrition. While each of those said topics may play a role in reaching a physical goal, each crumbles under its own weight without the strong foundational understanding and implementation of the following 5 subjects:

  1. The process
  2. Habits
  3. The Mind-Body Connection
  4. Personal Ownership
  5. (Bonus) Functional Breathing Patterns 

(I know, I can hardly believe this isn’t in my top 4 either! #NotoriousNasalBreathers)

Reading these books won’t guarantee you faster results at Invictus (that would be a quick fix – read book #1 on why that’s a shitty, fool-proof path to long term failure). However, they will guarantee that you create a common language and understanding with your coach of the timeline, process, and skills needed to achieve ANY of your goals in the gym.

YAY FOR BOOKS! May we read them, write them, and share them, meatheads!

Invictus Reading List

Mastery: The Keys to Success & Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard

I could write 5 articles on this single book. Oh wait…I already wrote two! You can read them on my website here: Part 1 and Part 2

This book resonated with me because I’m a really process-oriented individual. If you’ve ever tried to learn or improve at anything – be it muscle-ups, snatches, the practice of law or surgery, fine art, culinary, public speaking, professional sports, bread-baking, knife-making, rock-climbing, martial arts – this book teaches you the process to long-term fulfillment and coincidentally, excellency of craft. It goes beyond the stereotypical quips of “focus on the journey not the destination” and was written over a decade before Malcom Gladwell’s book “Outliers” where he discussed the “10,000 hour” rule. Author George Leonard describes the true definition and path of mastery:

Mastery is the path of patient, dedicated effort without attachment to immediate results. 

You should dive into this book if only for the sole reason that everyone in the health and fitness industry needs a radical perspective shift on the role of “plateaus”. Leonard points out that they are integral in any skill or knowledge acquisition that we pursue.

“If our life is a good one, a life of mastery, most of it will be spent on the plateau. If not, a large part of it may well be spent in restless, distracted, ultimately self-destructive attempts to escape the plateau.”

And for those of you who like to wax poetic:

“To love the plateau is to love the eternal now.”

Atomic Habits by James Clear

There are lots and lots of books in the universe about the impact of habits, how to make good ones, and how to alter poor ones – this book just happens to be one of my favorites on the subject. It is relatable, well-researched, personable, and drives many to take immediate action. 

What’s more important than reading THIS EXACT book, is that every athlete fully comprehends that our habits are the ultimate indicator of our future success or failures. Every member that joins our gym has goals; goals are universal. Successful habit creation is the bedrock of successful goal-attainment. Where people get lost – is when the gravitas of their goals is met with a seemingly diminutive habit task or skill-focus from their coach. They struggle to see how the tiny grain of sand (the habit) relates to the big beautiful beach (their goal). 

Clients like to THINK BIG; coaches understand that BIG THINGS are the culmination of many SMALL THINGS performed repeatedly. So regardless of whether you want to compete at the CrossFit games, climb Everest, get a 6-pack, gain 20 lb of muscle, or learn to walk on your hands, building and adhering to tiny habits are the necessary ingredients to reach your goal. This book will help you to learn the power of  “thinking small” and reap the benefits.

Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson

Set against the backdrop of man’s attempt to break the 2-hour marathon, Hutchinson explores extreme survival stories and impressive athletic performance against the backdrop of decades worth of sports-performance studies to explore the relationship between brain and body, and how they work together to “limit or stretch the boundaries of human endurance”. 

I loved this book because it put science and data to the experiential and often “motivational speaker-ness” that accompanies coach-talk about mindset. Often members come to Invictus to be taught physical training. But from a lifetime of professional sports and coaching myself, I can tell you – you cannot talk about the body without also addressing the mind. If you want to understand why I give so much coaching attention to what your mind is thinking during intense intervals, rather than simply telling you to run harder, this book will enlighten you. Or you can just keep thinking I’m woo-woo, whatever.

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink & Leif Babben

Written by two, Navy Seal Lieutenants now leadership and business consultants. Whether leadership principles written against the backdrop of battlefield policy is your genre cup-of-tea or not, this book cuts succinctly and honestly to the point – if something doesn’t go your (or your team’s) way, the first place to look is within, not outward. 

It’s been 6 years since I read this book (!) and its core tenant has been wedged so deeply into my brain, that I knew I must include it on this list. “Extreme Ownership” is the practice of owning everything in your world, to an extreme degree. It means you are responsible for not just those tasks which you directly control, but for all those that affect whether or not your mission (read: goal, conversation, project-launch, startup, fitness aspiration, etc.) is successful. 

Once you get clarity on extreme ownership, you’ll see opportunities to exercise it more frequently – in yourself and others. That is one reason I HATE this book – you cannot “unsee” a lack of extreme ownership once you become aware of it. Whenever I want to complain about something, I get two sentences in and immediately think…“Well what could I have done better to impact this result?” It really takes the fun out of complaining or explaining why you didn’t get what you wanted.

Pro Tip: Extreme ownership is best used to perform an honest self-assessment of your habits, behaviors, actions (or lack thereof), NOT to assign blame, but rather to identify areas of opportunity so that next time you know what to change to alter the result. Employing an attitude of extreme ownership feels uncomfortable at first, but the flip side of that discomfort is agency and free-will. You are the master of your fate and captain of your soul, after all.

**BONUS!**

Oxygen Advantage by Patrick Mckeown

This is the only book on the list about something PHYSICAL. I’m including it because it was so influential in sparking my own interest and increasing awareness of breathing patterns. 

How we breathe is directly correlated to our health, our nervous system tone (stress), blood pressure, heart rate, pH levels, metabolism, memory (!), face and jaw shape, even our blood sugar can be impacted by breathing styles! 

Beyond all these correlations, there are two main reasons I talk about breathing so much:

  1. If you have a breathing dysfunction, you’ll have a bracing dysfunction (and you’ll likely eventually have back pain since bracing is meant to protect our spine under load and movement). Learn to breathe better, and you’ll be more athletic and less prone to injury.
  2. Breathing’s correlation to our nervous system’s STATE (sympathetic or parasympathetic). Exercise is by definition a “stress” on our body. Efficient use of breathing styles can quite literally change the state of stress you are in while exercising, thus buffering your ability to continue to do work, or to perform work in a certain state. This has fascinating implications beyond this article!

Thank you for taking the time to read my book suggestions! Have you read any of these books? What other books have left a lasting impact on your mindset and behavior?

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