Book Review: Unplugged by Brian Mackenzie, Andy Galpin and Phil White

Unplugged by Brian Mackenzie, Andy Galpin and Phil WhiteThe twenty-first century has seen the sudden rise in the awareness of the need for physical fitness, coupled with a surge in popularity of biohacking and self-quantification. More and more people have realized the deleterious health effects of our increasingly sedentary jobs and leisure activities. The demand for health and fitness solutions is on the rise. As a result, companies have delivered a smorgasbord of technology designed to track and shortcut physical changes. In their 2017 book Unplugged, co-authors Brian Mackenzie, Dr. Andy Galpin and Phil White combine to pump the brakes on the fitness technology revolution. They argue that we need a more considered and purposeful use of technology. Otherwise, we end up measuring more data than we can use, inducing more stress and getting farther away from the interventions that actually improve wellness. Unplugged showcases their exploration of the most beneficial balance of fitness technology, nature and self-awareness.

The book incorporates the scientific expertise of kinesiology professor Galpin and the writing chops of Emmy-nominated author White. But it adopts the first-person perspective of strength and conditioning coach Mackenzie.  With Mackenzie leading the way, they offer suggestions on how to use—but not abuse—a variety of fitness technologies. These include step counters, calorie trackers, heart rate monitors, GPS watches and more. They address 1) how to make sense of all the data these devices can offer, 2) how to avoid become addicted to and stressed out by this abundant technology, 3) how to incorporate technology with time spent outside in nature and 4) how to get back in touch with your body and its needs and capabilities.

With its message to control technology and not let it control us, Unplugged is a book after my own heart. I’ve encouraged a similar approach to tech use in the context of my novel Our Dried Voices. And encouragements to move more and explore what health interventions work best for you echo what I’ve written on KineSophy. Unplugged does especially well in identifying the metrics that matter most for health and longevity, recommending inexpensive tools to measure this data and encouraging readers to recognize how their bodies feel when these measurements are optimized.

However, the technical aspects of the book come up a bit short. In general, the shift toward Mackenzie’s perspective is noticeable; Galpin’s scientific knowledge and research experience seem largely cast aside. Instead, the writers quote extensively from other coaches and thinkers in the health and exercise fields. But this tactic is overused and often unnecessary. They encourage readers “to do what yoga expert Jill Miller suggests and ‘turn off the switch,'” (85). And they caution against “what Dave Asprey calls ‘junk light'” (98). Such references add nothing to the text and come off as little more than name drops.

The text is also interspersed with apparently random images. Many of these appear to be stock photographs that contribute nothing to the written information. For example, a section of advice from Tim Ferriss includes an unrelated photograph of the back of a woman holding a barbell instead of something relevant like a picture of Ferriss (217). And a sample training plan at the end of the book includes charts to illustrate the Conconi Test on which the plan is based (238-239); however, these charts are not properly titled or labeled. I think I managed to decipher them correctly, but they introduce confusion into the most valuable part of the text.

Still, the training plan looks useful (if I’m reading it right). And it dovetails nicely with the overall message of the book, showing athletes at all skill levels how to use heart rate data while developing a feel for exertion levels to reduce their reliance on such tech-supplied data. Besides, this message is, in my opinion, a good one and one that will help athletes navigate further evolutions in fitness and technology. I recommend using Unplugged as a reference book. Read it straight through to get a sense of the overall argument, then apply the training plan if you so desire and return to relevant chapters for reminders on how to execute that plan.

Rating: 3/5 stars

For more reviews of books on physical fitness, sports, philosophy and society, check out The KineSophy Library.