A deep dive into the science and psychology of why pushing our physical limits is so impactful—and how we can achieve so much more than we know.
Everyone wants to know if they could do the impossible. Few of us will ever try. Alyssa Ages was the strongest she’d ever been, able to flip monster truck tires and walk with 300 pounds on her back. She felt invincible, until the day her body betrayed her, leaving her vulnerable and grasping for control. Rebuilding her strength slowly brought her back to life. She began to wonder: What if strength isn't about how much we can lift? What if it's about how we manage life’s struggles? In Secrets of Giants, Ages, now a mom of two, embarks on an immersive journey to the fringe of the weight-lifting world, the sport of strongman. She hoists kegs and lifts boulders in suburban parking lots, attempts to pull a 50-ton truck using only a rope, and occasionally frightens her neighbors by dragging a sled full of weights down her quiet tree-lined street. She meets a powerlifter-turned-boxer who shares how lifting taught her to become a master of the mundane. A ten-time World’s Strongest Man competitor is brought to tears illustrating how the gym helped him survive an abusive childhood. A pro strongwoman muses on managing setbacks before stepping on stage to deadlift the weight of a baby grand piano. Psychologists, researchers, and coaches offer insights into the fascinating ways that the pursuit of strength can permeate every aspect of our lives, from building resilience and confidence, to finding joy in discomfort, to teaching us to handle adversity.
Part personal narrative, part research mission, part reckless midlife crisis odyssey, Secrets of Giants uncovers why physical strength matters, and how it teaches us that we’re capable of so much more than we know.
About the Author
Alyssa Ages is a journalist whose work has appeared in GQ, The Globe and Mail, Wired, Men’s Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Parents, MTV News, Spin,and Vibe. She is a former personal trainer and group fitness instructor, as well as a strongman competitor, marathoner, triathlete, and occasional rock climber. A born-and-raised New Yorker, she now lives in Toronto with her husband and two daughters.
A fascinating and moving book. Secrets of Giants reveals not only why the pursuit of strength matters, but also that you are stronger than you know, and we are stronger when we face challenges together.—Kelly McGonigal, PhD, author of The Joy of Movement
Enthusiastically researched and authentically lived, this in-depth exploration into the world of strongman goes behind the scenes of the flashy feats like pulling trucks and hoisting stones to uncover what really drives us to test our physical limits. With unvarnished honesty, Alyssa Ages takes readers on a relatable journey that's about gaining so much more than just muscle.—Haley Shapley, author of Strong Like Her
Along with salient insight into female anxieties about becoming “bulky”—rooted in cultural notions that “a woman who takes up space is threatening”—Ages weaves a lively, research-rich appraisal of the hidden psychological depth of a deceptively primitive human pursuit.—Publishers Weekly
In Secrets of Giants, Alyssa Ages intertwines her personal journey into the world of strongman—lifting Atlas stones, flipping large tires, and pulling semi-trucks—with scientific and historical research to understand why humans are driven to test the limits of our strength. Through this fascinating and immersive excursion, she learns that strength isn’t just about being strong, but it’s tied to our sense of identity, community, resilience, and joy. It’s the ultimate love letter to and celebration of strength.—Christine Yu, author of Up to Speed
Building strength is about a lot more than the weight on the bar. If you want to understand the true meaning of strength, read this book and thank me later—Dr. Marc Bubbs, Performance Nutritionist and author of Peak and Peak40
Mental techniques and thought rituals can help you push through life’s challenges—whether it’s lifting that next rep or moving forward after a tragedy. In Secrets of Giants, Ages shows how mental training is equally as important as physical strength and can help you overcome any obstacle in life.—Eric Potterat, PhD, High Performance Psychologist and author of Learned Excellence
Secret of Giants weaves personal stories of success and failure together with the psychology of how we perform up to our potential. A great read for anyone interested in better understanding their own performance and how they can achieve more than they ever thought possible.—Sian Leah Beilock, President of Dartmouth, author of Choke and How the Body Knows Its Mind
Through affecting and personal stories of her life as an athlete and mother, along with interviews with some of the strongest people on the planet as well as experts in the field, Alyssa Ages examines what strength is and why it matters. A valuable addition to this burgeoning genre.—Daniel Kunitz, author of Lift
Secrets of Giants is an eye-opening, insightful, and delightful journey into the subculture of strongman competition and the personal odyssey a middle-age mother who you might expect to see lining up for spin class, but instead seeks thrills -- and finds empowerment in -- hoisting boulders and pulling trucks. An elegant writer and painstaking researcher, Alyssa Ages reveals a surprising new story of how a world with which few are familiar, or dismiss as spectacle, is a source of tremendous physical and emotional strength. Secrets of Giants makes me want to lift heavy things, and most importantly reminds you that you never know what you're capable of until you try.—Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, PhD, historian and author of Fit Nation