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The Hidden Mechanics of Exercise

The Hidden Mechanics of Exercise

Molecules That Move Us

Christopher M. Gillen

ISBN 9780674724945

Publication date: 03/17/2014

As anyone who takes up a new sport quickly discovers, even basic athletic moves require high levels of coordination and control. Whether dribbling a basketball or hitting a backhand, limbs must be synchronized and bodies balanced, all with precise timing. But no matter how diligently we watch the pros or practice ourselves, the body’s inner workings remain invisible.

The Hidden Mechanics of Exercise reveals the microworld of the human body in motion, from the motor proteins that produce force, to the signaling molecules that activate muscles, to the enzymes that extract energy from nutrients. Christopher Gillen describes how biomolecules such as myosin, collagen, hemoglobin, and creatine kinase power our athletic movements. During exercise, these molecules dynamically morph into different shapes, causing muscles, tendons, blood, and other tissues to perform their vital functions. Gillen explores a wide array of topics, from how genetic testing may soon help athletes train more effectively, to how physiological differences between women and men influence nutrition. The Hidden Mechanics of Exercise tackles questions athletes routinely ask. What should we ingest before and during a race? How does a hard workout trigger changes in our muscles? Why does exercise make us feel good?

Athletes need not become biologists to race in a triathlon or carve turns on a snowboard. But Gillen, who has run ten ultramarathons, points out that athletes wishing to improve their performance will profit from a deeper understanding of the body’s molecular mechanisms.


  • Gillen’s enjoyable account emphasizes the molecules and protein structures that allow us to move, run, jump, control fuel use, and regulate adaptations to exercise training… Refreshingly, Gillen approaches the subject from the system down rather than the molecule up. Throughout the book, he emphasizes how tiny changes in protein structures scale up to produce whole-body movements… Gillen offers exercise enthusiasts wishing to understand the science behind their training an interesting read. The book also serves as an engaging primer for exercise-science students who want to begin to understand some of the underlying molecular mechanisms. The Hidden Mechanics of Exercise introduces concepts that make the step to the specialized textbook or research article easier. At the same time, researchers studying the behavior of the individual molecules may find Gillen’s account enlightening in regard to the functional implications of their work at the whole-body level.

    —Stephen D. R. Harridge, Science


  • Christopher M. Gillen is Professor in the Department of Biology at Kenyon College.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 1-1/8 x 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press