the joy of strength training


December 15th, 2007 at 3:59 pm

Strength training books: 6 of the best

There’s a lot of useful information on the internet, but sometimes it’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. If you want to get serious about your strength training, it’s a good idea to get a decent book on the subject. Which to choose though?

Well, like a maitre’d helping you to choose your wine, I’ve picked out a fine selection of books, each of them chunky and packed with great info so you get plenty of value for your money. The authors come from various schools of thought and their approaches will differ but they are all very well regarded.

Maybe you have some great suggestions of books or authors I haven’t included. Maybe you violently agree or disagree with my reviews. Let us know in the comments!

STUART McROBERT – Beyond Brawn: The Insider’s Encyclopedia on How to Build Muscle and Might

Beyond Brawn is a handbook on how to build muscle. It gives a very thorough overview of the training process, advice on exercise selection, programming and so on. McRobert’s style is quite wordy and there are very few pictures in the book to break up the text. It is best read in chapter-sized chunks.

If you are keen but unsure about training and you really want a good grounding before you start, this book is an excellent choice. McRobert is a real stickler for technique and safety so you can start training without worry. It’s also a good book for intermediates, to consolidate what they have already learnt and perhaps experienced in practise.

Refreshingly, McRobert steers away from promises that are over-blown, such as promising “elite” results. His perspective is that of the ordinary trainee who wants to maximise his or her own potential.

Note that this book does not deal specifically with how to perform the different exercises. McRobert has already published this information in his Insider’s Tell-All Handbook on Weight-training Technique, which would make a good companion book to Beyond Brawn. It is also very thorough and has plenty of pictures this time!

MARK RIPPETOE & LON KILGORE – Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training (2nd edition)

starting strengthStarting Strength goes into even more detail than Beyond Brawn, so it might be a bit daunting for beginners. On the other hand, if you are serious about training there’s no reason not too start with something quite detailed if it is not going to put you off! The book contains plenty of guidance on how to perform the exercises. It focuses on the key strength exercises of Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Press, Power Clean and also includes assistance exercises. As the name suggests, the book focusses on barbell training so you won’t find any info on dumbbells, kettlebells, bodyweight or other types of strength training.

Where this book differs from many other strength training books is that, not only does it teach you how to perform the barbell exercise but it also explains what you might be doing wrong and how to fix it. The chapter on programming is also refreshingly plain and simple. It focusses on getting across key principles rather than telling you what to do. It will equip you to go away and make up your own basic programme.

This is the most detailed book on this list and one for a real enthusiast to get stuck into. Personally I would not buy this book for a beginner. The authors – whether consciously or unconsciously – assume a fair amount of knowledge from the reader, such as basic anatomy, position and names of muscle groups and a general familiarity with the weightlifting milieu. I think the first edition of the book may have been aimed at people who coach beginners, which would explain the assumption of knowledge. The prose can be a little uncomfortable as well, particularly when the authors are talking in a general way about an issue. Once they get into the nitty-gritty of explaining the exercises, the writing settles down a bit!

In short, this book is great for those with some experience in barbell exercises who want to be able to coach themselves and are primarily interested in getting stronger.

ROSS ENAMAIT, Infinite Intensity

Infinite Intensity Ross Enamait comes from the world of boxing and his methods are focussed on training for fighting sports. Infinite Intensity covers both strength and conditioning work, utilizing free weights and bodyweight exercise.

Enamait has a no-nonsense approach to training and this comes across in his books. He doesn’t dwell too much on theory, he plunges right in with exercises you can do straight away, often without much equipment or the use of a gym. He includes plenty of pictures to illustrate the exercises and there are video clips on his website

Ross Enamait’s books are great for people looking for all-round strength and conditioning, especially those who are training for combat sports. Infinite Intensity contains a sample 50-day plan covering all types of strength (maximal, explosive, core etc).

I’m reviewing Infinite Intensity because I know it well, but Ross has published further books which are just as good. These include Never Gymless and the new DVD and booklet combo Full Throttle Conditioning. I will certainly be ordering the new DVD when I am back home so expect more news on this in the next month or so.

ANITA BEAN, The Complete Guide to Strength Training (Nutrition & Fitness)

This book is comprehensive, but not as detailed or wordy as some of the other books in this list. It is more slickly presented than some of the other books, in terms of layout, illustrations and quality of materials.

This is a good entry-level book that covers everything you need to get started. The book sets the scene with some basic information about body types, muscles, body fat and training methods. Each body part has its own exercise chapter, although the exercise descriptions are not very detailed, just a few bullet points and a couple of pictures. I’d suggest getting some extra help if you are not familiar with the exercises (you could ask one of the fitness trainers at the gym to check your technique).

The book includes sample programmes for beginner, intermediate and advanced and gives a useful run-down of the main training principles and methods (eccentric, drop sets, supersets etc).

Unlike many other strength training books, this book includes guidance on nutrition and supplements, which will be useful for those new to diet and training. There is a strong emphasis on weight management and fat loss, as well as strength. This book will be most useful for absolute beginners and those who are pursuing strength training to lose fat and look leaner.

ALWYN COSGROVE AND LOU SCHULER, New Rules of Lifting: Six Basic Moves for Maximum Muscle (also New Rules of Lifting for Women)

Lou Schuler is the author of many popular books on muscle building, including The Men’s Health Home Workout Bible and The Testosterone Advantage Plan. Alwyn Cosgrove is a respected strength training coach who also writes for several popular magazines. With two such ‘media-savvy’ authors, it’s no surprise that this book is easy to read and entertainingly written.

The philosophy behind the book is “form will follow function”. Schuler and Cosgrove have picked the six exercises they believe are essential for the body’s function: squat, deadlift, lunge, push, pull, twist. And of course, training these functional moves will also make you look good!

If it sounds a bit too simplistic, don’t worry! With each exercise, the authors include a number of variations, so the total number of exercises included is much higher than half a dozen. However, by boiling the basic concepts down to six, it’s easier to see how different exercises fit together and contribute to programmes. Once you’ve grasped the concepts you can mix and match your own programme if necessary, although Cosgrove also provides programmes in the book, together with information on nutrition.

I was intrigued and amused by the ‘exercises we hate’ section (for the curious, the 45-degree leg press is one of them), although this is not unique as Stuart McRobert is also vociferous on the subject of exercises he doesn’t like.

This book covers all the basics and is well-written. For more experienced trainees, it’ll provide a new way of looking at things and could be the inspiration to shake up tired old routines. For those new to strength training, it will set you on the right path and make you instantly much more knowledgable than most people in the gym.

FREDERIC DELAVIER, Strength Training Anatomy (also Women’s Strength Training Anatomy)

This is a sub-topic of strength training, although an important one. The book contains explanations of exercises, split by body part with detailed and lifelike illustrations.

The aim is to look closely at how the muscles work during exercise and how they interact with the joints and skeleton.

Although not as comprehensive as some of the other books on this list, this is something of a classic among strength trainees and would make a good second or third purchase after you’ve bought your starter book.

Delavier has also published a women’s version of the same content.

I am sure there are many good books out there that I haven’t seen or read yet, but I hope that’s given people some food for thought. A good book is an excellent investment for anyone who is serious about their training.

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  • 1

    Wow, I’ll have to check out Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength,” since people keep mentioning it. I enjoy anything from the following authors:

    Charles Poliquin
    Pavel Tsatsouline
    Vince Gironda

    Not only do these guys know their stuff, but they have a bad attitude to match. Makes for good reading.

    James Chan on December 20th, 2007
  • 2

    Thanks for the suggestions – good additions to the list! I am not familiar with Vince Gironda though. Googling as we speak…!

    gubernatrix on December 20th, 2007
  • 3

    Great blog you have here.

    I own 2 of the 6 books but will be checking out the remainder sometime soon.

    Merry Christmas

    Daniel on December 21st, 2007
  • 4

    Thanks very much Daniel and a merry Christmas to you too!

    Which books do you own?

    gubernatrix on December 22nd, 2007
  • 5

    Thanks for the list. 🙂

    Not exactly strength training, but I grabbed Kit Laughlin’s two stretching books from the library recently (Stretching & Flexibility and Overcome Neck & Back Pain) and was very impressed. Seems like they’d be a nice complement to a routine, especially in terms of injury prevention and recovery.

    He runs a program at an Australian university and his philosophy seems to be an evolving one, where they take stretching exercises from any discipline out there regardless of tradition. Then instructors first test techniques on themselves and eventually on patients. The books just really project credibility and sensibility, which is always a good sign I say..

    Also, while bored one day I was looking through the Search Inside This Book feature of Amazon and read the first 30 pages or so of Lori Incledon’s Strength Training for Women. It won’t let me look further, so I can’t comment on the actual exercise instruction, but it seems promising. Lots of science brought up and things like bone health, metabolism, intervals, circuits, etc were brought up.

    One thing that works pretty well for the Search Inside is once the Next arrows stop, to search for the page number two pages ahead. Then you can backtrack one and then continue forward. That usually lets you read a fair amount of a given book chronologically.

    Merry Christmas!

    Shawn Fumo on December 23rd, 2007
  • 6

    Merry Christmas to you, Shawn. Thanks for the ‘search inside’ tip!

    gubernatrix on December 24th, 2007
  • 7

    I own the strength training anatomy and Anita Bean’s guide to strength training. Looking to purchase Ross Enamait his videos on Youtube are outstanding.

    Daniel on December 29th, 2007
  • 8

    […] Strength training books – 6 of the best […]

    Exercise Programmes on January 14th, 2008
  • 9

    […] A good strength training book is a wise investment. If you are interested in buying a book, check out my recommendations in this post. […]

  • 10

    […] Strength training books: 6 of the best […]

  • 11

    […] Strength training books: 6 of the best […]

  • 12

    […] Strength training books: 6 of the best […]

  • 13

    […] Alwyn Cosgrove & Lou Schuler – The New Rules of Lifting (2008) – read my review […]

  • 14

    […] Alwyn Cosgrove & Lou Schuler – The New Rules of Lifting (2008) – read my review […]

  • 15

    nice list,though for real strengh training brooks kubiks dinosaur training,harry paschalls development of strengh or peary raders master bodybuilding,health and strengh course are the best of the best.

    n singh on March 20th, 2011
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