Dr Michael Gervais is a psychologist specialising in high performance: literally, in the record-breaking cases of Felix Baumgartner’s freefall from the edge of space and Luke Aikins’ 7620m skydive without a parachute into a net; more figuratively so with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks or the business arena. His soft tone makes him a master of the deceptively probing question and his credentials give him authority over other hosts.
A newcomer to the podcast scene, performance and lifestyle coach Blake Worrall-Thompson specialises in identifying and dismantling mental tripwires, be they in the gym, at work or even in your home life. An engaging audio presence, BWT offers highly digestible, actionable sonic self-help designed for those who prefer to attack life’s hills with a full head of steam.
A former Navy SEAL commander with a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a voice with more gravel than Jason Statham’s driveway, Jocko Willink is up at 4.30am every day and hasn’t even wasted time putting “the” on the name of his podcast. A leadership coach and author of books such as Extreme Ownership, he has the stony countenance and unyielding nature of an Easter Island statue.
Galvanising stories from those at the top of their game to inspire those who strive to be better
Gotham Chopra takes a clear-eyed look at sport and its players, revealing the distinguishing nuances of the competitive mindset and transformative power of contests. Come for the inspiration, stay for the revelations.
6. 30 for 30
Season three of the spin-off from ESPN’s Oscar-winning docu-series was a five-part saga on yoga guru Bikram Choudhury, who left the US in 2016 amid sexual assault claims. Season five looks into the shady dealings of former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Pugilism is a particularly ripe domain for audio exploration, allowing the skilled practitioner to pull back the curtain on the pantomime of the ring. Radio presenter Adam Catterall and former Liverpool Echo boxing correspondent Nick Peet do it better than anyone, going toe to toe with big hitters from the ring and octagon, without pulling any punches with their judges’ decisions.
The perfect driving podcast (stick to the speed limit, please), host Tom Clarkson steers genuinely revelatory conversations with Formula 1 luminaries past and present: Lewis Hamilton and Sir Jackie Stewart, F1 managing director Ross Brawn and iconic commentator Murray Walker (now 95), among others. You couldn’t get closer to the action if you were in the pits.
The Rwandan goalkeeper who was saved from genocide by football, the journeyman British boxer who lost 96 out of his 100 fights, the skier who became the first Ghanaian to take part in the Winter Olympics: Benched recounts “human stories sidelined from sport”, with rolling hosts who have a personal connection to each tale. You can apply the takeaways to your life, whatever field you’re in.
Winning propositions to ignite your career
10. How I Built This
TED Radio Hour host Guy Raz “dives into the stories behind the world’s best-known brands” and cribs business-empire blueprints from prodigies such as Instagram’s Kevin Systrom and Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard. Whether you have plans for your own start-up or just need a career pep talk, it’s foundational.
When life gives you lemons, start an eight-stand lemonade franchise, as Gary Vaynerchuk did, aged seven. He made thousands selling baseball cards as a teen, then turned his dad’s discount liquor store into an online wine boutique worth $60m. An early investor in Facebook, the best-selling author is worth a listen, even if all you have to sell is yourself.
As much as you wish he was your boss, host Bruce Daisley’s day job is VP of Europe, Middle East and Africa for Twitter. Acutely aware that most of us don’t work in Silicon Valley, the down-to-earth Englishman and author of The Joy of Work draws from diverse industries, extracting practical ways to change your company’s culture for the better – even if it’s just upgrading the daily grind.
Insider training tips for every discipline
As exercises in branded content go, this Nike podcast gets a big fat tick. The world’s most valuable clothing brand has the heft to rope in some major athletes: retired serial gold-medallist sprinter Michael Johnson, CrossFit Games champ Mat Fraser, Black Panther and Creed star Michael B. Jordan, PT Corey Calliet… Just queue it.
14. Barbell Shrugged
Raising your traps in indifference? As unfailingly high-ranking as Novak Djokovic this fitness pod will raise the game of anyone wanting to become more athletic or muscular. Its popularity has spawned a whole Shrugged Collective network of shows, including Body of Knowledge (about the intersection of science and fitness), Feed Me Fuel Me and Real Chalk.
We all know PBs start in the mind, especially in disciplines as physically and mentally taxing as CrossFit. Hosts Lachlan Rowston and Raphael Freedman probe WOD gods like Mat Fraser and Brent Fikowski on the mental strategies that have taken them to the top, as well as gleaning innovative workout hacks that can catapult you out of a training trough.
There’s nothing the Ironman, performance coach and bio-hacker won’t try in the pursuit of self-improvement, including injecting his penis with stem cells (he felt 16 again). His Master’s in exercise physiology and biomechanics helps provide an educated, if not always impartial view – he does have a business to run.
Athletes from MLB, UFC, WWE and all 32 NFL teams have rolled off the conveyor belt at DeFranco’s gym: essentially a 46 square-metre storage closet that’s spawned countless garage gyms. His podcast features sporting stars, entrepreneurs and “other highly successful people”.
Your deep dive into the human psyche
Who’d have thought an ex-junkie stand-up notorious for his dalliances and dress sense (not least that ill-judged Osama Bin Laden costume) would re-Brand as a deep thinker? The poet-philosopher delves “beneath the surface of people we admire, of ideas that define our time, of history we are told” with guests such as Iceman Wim Hof and armed robber-turned-Ironman John McAvoy.
Long-time writer-at-large for US Esquire, Fussman is the Muhammad Ali, Jeff Bezos and Robert De Niro (when he was good) of interviewing, all rolled into one – which is handy, because he’s chewed the fat with each of them. The author, speaker and now host furthers your education by “uncovering the heart, head and soul of his guests”, who also include Kobe Bryant.
The title is Latin for “invisible things”. In this case, the show is, er, looking at the unseen forces that control our behaviour. Now five seasons in, science writer Alix Spiegel and co-host Hanna Rosin explore intangible qualities such as empathy, pain and instinct, in order to help us better understand our own minds.
Everything you wish you’d learned at school
By crunching numbers instead of swallowing assumptions, the best-selling book by economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner famously revealed, among other “things you thought you knew (but didn’t)”, that a swimming pool is 100 times more likely to kill a child than a gun. The show is a goldmine of useful info – money talk, data-driven parenting guides, happiness tips – and less functional (but arguably more fun) stats for the pub.
Even if you’ve avoided Malcolm Gladwell’s bestsellers – Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, David & Goliath – you’ve probably encountered the concepts he’s brought to prominence, such as the (debated) 10,000-hour rule for achieving expertise. Season three of the popular intellectual’s podcast includes his 12 rules for life, statistical analysis of Elvis’ lyrical lapses and “the complete, unabridged history of the world’s most controversial semicolon”.
Award-winning, one of the world’s most popular pods, presented by two writers for HowStuffWorks.com – that’s just some of the stuff you should know about SYSK. The utilitarian title doesn’t begin to hint at the dazzling breadth of subjects: dyslexia, druids, ASMR, Etch a Sketch, sign language, immigration. Don’t know where you’ll find the time? The “Short Stuff” episodes last 13 minutes.
Unconventional ideas for aspiring self-optimisers
A one-man self-improvement industry, Ferriss is also an “effect”: going on his 300-million- download podcast turns writers into bestsellers and products into sellouts. The author of the 4-Hour series has been described as “the Oprah of audio”, only more interested in LeBron James’ recovery protocol or director James Cameron’s plant-based diet.
The endurance athlete and plant-powered advocate was an overweight entertainment attorney until he had an epiphany at 40: two years later, he finished in the top 10 at Ultraman, a three-day double Ironman. Conducting a “weekly aural dance” with big names in health, fitness, nutrition, entertainment, business, art and, yes, spirituality, Roll plants the seeds for turning over your own new leaf.
Another of the most popular podcasts across the board, the JRE is like The Tim Ferriss Show on acid – or, in the case of Elon Musk’s infamous appearance, weed and whisky. (Ferriss has talked about his medicinal mushroom use on the JRE.) Rogan is a stand-up comic, MMA nut (he commentates on UFC) and self-described “psychedelic adventurer”. The conversations range widely and wildly, from profound to profane and everything in between.
Practical strategies for solid mental well-being
MH editor Scott Henderson and October cover star Lincoln Lewis are setting eardrums on fire with their illuminating chats with A-listers and athletes. From Chris Hemsworth and Mark Wahlberg, to cystic fibrosis-stomping rugby player Nathan Charles and Livin’ founder Sam Webb, men who’ve won staring contests with self-doubt weigh in on what strength means to them. Hint: it’s not what you can bench.
28. Hurdle Freelance
journalist and US Men’s Health contributor Emily Abbate interviews the health and fitness industry’s leading lights, such as Headspace founder Andy Puddicombe, Nike’s senior director of performance Ryan Flaherty and Peloton’s fitness programming VP Robin Arzon. All talk frankly about how they overcame obstacles – personal and professional – or how they continue to struggle.
The winner of podcast of the year at the 2018 British Podcast Awards, this is proof that talking about bereavement needn’t be unbearably morbid or deathly dull. It helps that host Cariad Lloyd and guests – Adam Buxton, Robert Webb, David Baddiel – are dead funny. One UK reviewer described it as “a weekly mini-counselling session that should be available on the NHS”.
Your 5-9 Life
Expert-approved relationship advice
Parenting is no toddle in the park, as illustrated by this Webby Award-winning podcast’s original tagline “a 3am bedside companion” – named for the time when creator and shell-shocked new mum Hillary Frank first managed to post it. Rechristened “the parenting show for everyone”, including the childless, it tackles issues such as sleep (or lack of), poo (not yours) and vasectomies.
Relationships aren’t about winning – see the episode title: “You Can Be Right or You Can Be Married”. But prominent therapist Esther Perel’s counselling of real couples delivers lessons that will help enhance your own romantic, platonic or professional relationships while allowing you to stick your ears into other people’s business. That’s win-win.
32. Project Pleasure
Hosts Frankie Wells and Anouszka Tate met as producers on a radio sex show, where they realised there was a widespread lack of basic education. Their award-nominated project is “putting pleasure back into safe sex and healthy relationships” from a chiefly, but not exclusively, female viewpoint. But if you sleep with women, or want to, that’s no bad thing.
Get acquainted with your body’s inner workings
Super-editor Jacqui Mooney and the gang interview the best and brightest in the world of health and fitness to deliver a blitz of instant life upgrades. Hear from the likes of Tiffany Hall, Pip Edwards, Yumi Styles and Emily Skye as they recount pivotal life lessons. Who knows, a dollop of wisdom from the fairer sex could give you a fresh, more holistic perspective on your own health and wellness.
34. TEDTalks Health
If there hasn’t been a million-plus-viewed TED talk about it, then it doesn’t count – such is the scope of the non-profit organisation that focuses on “ideas worth spreading” in technology, entertainment and design (and health). Doctors share their discoveries, from smart daily habits to medical breakthroughs. One of their finest ideas? Many episodes are only 10 minutes.
To anyone who really knows their onions and has a PhD to prove it, this is the alpha and omega-3 of nutrition podcasts. Host Danny Lennon is a performance nutritionist for pro MMA fighters and boxers; plus, he powerlifts and practises Brazilian jiu-jitsu in his spare time. Which is maybe why he’s so respected.