Review and Summary: How Bad Do You Want It?

How Bad Do You Want It Book Cover

Flex your mind, not just your muscles! Read into ‘How Bad Do You Want It?’ to uncover the fascinating fusion of mental might and physical prowess. This book is not only about pushing past your limits—it’s about understanding the power behind every thought and every stride. Beyond the sweat and grit lies a dance between the brain and muscles, an intricate tango of determination and drive. Matt Fitzgerald packed it with gripping real-life tales of athletes defying odds in the toughest endurance challenges, this book pulls back the curtain on the ultimate performance partnership: brain and body in perfect harmony.


  • The essential challenge of long-distance racing was mental. The essential challenge of endurance sports really is psychological.

From a psychobiological perspective, endurance performance is determined solely by the mind’s output; biology is no more than an external input to the mind, influencing its output.

Paavo Nurmi, Finnish runner

Perception of effort

  • The most important discovery of the brain revolution on endurance sport: One cannot improve as an endurance athlete except by changing one’s relationship with perception of effort.
  • What endurance athletes must endure above all is not actual effort, but perception of effort.
  • Perceived effort is essentially the body’s resistance to the mind’s will. The fitter an athlete becomes, the less resistance the body puts up. therefore, increased physical capacity is always felt.
  • The neurophysiology of perception of effort is complex and not yet fully misunderstood but it appears to be closely linked to the intensity of activity in parts of the brain that drive the muscles to contract. Those brain areas are intensely active from the very start of an all-out upphill sprint, so the effort feels hard right away. Those same brain areas are much less active in the early miles of a marathon, but they become increasingly active as the race goes on and the muscles become fatigued, hence less responsive to the crack of the brain’s whip, requiring the brain to wok harder in order to get the same level of output from the muscles. There’s a twist, though. Samuele Marcora in Journal of Applied Physiology, 2009: the brain itself becomes fatigued during prolonged exercise, and brain fatigue also increases perceived effort.
  • Perceived effort has 2 layers:
    • How athlete feels; strictly physiological
    • How the athlete feels about how she feels; strictly emotional, or affective

Anticipatory regulation

  • The mechanism of regulatory anticipation that athletes use to control their pace is not a number but a feeling, and like all feelings it is open to interpretation. One of the most important and valuable coping skills in endurance sports is the ability to interpret the perceptions that influence pacing decisions in a performance-maximizing way.
  • Setting and pursuing time-based race goals is very helpful in the process of calibrating anticipatory regulation → enables athlete to interpret their effort perceptions in a more performance-enhancing way by transforming the racing experience form an effort to go as fast as possible into an effort to go faster than ever before.

The art of pacing

In races that last longer than 30 seconds, competitors do hold back. Instead of going all-out, they maintain the highest intensity they feel capable of sustaining through the full race distance. Why 30 seconds?

  • Because humans cannot sustain maximum-intensity exercise longer than about 30 secs without exceeding the highest level of perceived effort they can tolerate. Athletes are conscious of their effort in shorter races, of course, but because they know their suffering will end quickly they do not use this perception to control their pace, which is constrained only by their physical capacity. But when an athlete starts a race that he knows will last longer than 30 secs, he holds back just enough that his perceived effort limit is not reached until he is at the finish line. That is the art of pacing.

The Workaround Effect

  • Some athletes gain not only mental fitness but also physical fitness-after first losing it–through an injury or some other setback. → called the “workaround effect
  • When the body loses the ability to achieve a desired level of performance in the accustomed way, the brain responds by seeking out new ways to get the same level of performance out of the body, ways the athlete might never have discovered otherwise.
  • In order to benefit from the workaround effect, an athlete must first exercise another, psychological coping skill, one that requires a conscious hoise and that Willie Steward relied on intuitively: adaptability. Adaptability is responding with a similar mindset whenever a physical setback occurs.


  • Definition: the quality that keeps a person engaged in challenging situations long enough to develop specific coping skills with which to overcome them, and, like pain tolerance.
  • Certain amount of misfortune is needed to toughen the mind against suffering and hardship, but excessive trauma leaves scar tissue.

The Group Effect

  • Endurance athletes perceive less effort and perform better when training and racing cooperatively than they do alone.

The Audience Effect

  • The Psychology Dictionary*: the influence of the presence of the people on an individual’s behavior.
  • Research: the audience effect becomes more powerful when observers are not merely present but are actively encouraging the performer.
  • Not only makes athletes try harder but also makes them feel capable of trying harder
  • Social encouragement boosts endurance performance not only by motivating athletes to dig deeper, but also by reducing perception of effort relative to exercise intensity

Author: Matt Fitzgerald

Publication date: 1 November 2015

Number of pages: 265 pages


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