Throughout my time as a Coach I’ve been consistently reading up on new material and old school books/articles. As it turns out, based off the newer research and material, very little has changed since the lifting days of old, and nothing too revolutionary has come to pass. In fact, research has become so dull and stale in my opinion I’ve become less and less inclined to brush up on it.
Essentially, we know what works:
- Lifting heavy/training hard
- Eating in a (moderate) calorie surplus
- Progressive overload
- Managing recovery and fatigue
- Having fun
There are many pathways and program variations you can choose in order to achieve this, but in the end the underlying foundations remain the same, so long as the final point remains. You can read endless amounts of Strength & Conditioning research and published books, but if you aren’t adhering to the basic principles you’re better off pissing in the wind.
Now, with that being said, there are a handful of books I’d recommend everyone reads before getting into lifting. These aren’t necessarily books based on research or books containing huge insights and “secrets” that are gonna make you a world class lifter, but I’ve found they were amazing for challenging the general perspective and the dogmatism that plagues the art of lifting and strength these days:
Beyond Brawn by Stuart McRobert
Beyond Brawn by Stuart McRobert is without a doubt one of the most insightful books a lifter should own and a book I only wish I’d read sooner. Beyond Brawn smashes through all the naivety and bullshit that generally radiates from these types of books and unveils itself as a complete, undisputed guide to training. The focus of Beyond Brawn is to educate the reader on the basics of strength training without falling for gimmicks or fads and isn’t afraid to stress that real training isn’t an easy ride. The book heavily promotes the use of heavy barbell training, using hard hitting compound lifts and stresses the idea of resting enough, unlike most of the crappy body part split routines that were popular at the time. On top of that, Beyond Brawn doesn’t hide under the guise of a “one size fits all” program and truly forces the reader to open up and think for his/herself. The only place Beyond Brawn falls short in my eyes, is with its incessant anti-drugs preaching. I for one couldn’t care less if you wanna take PED’s. If you’re a grown adult you’ve a right to make up your own mind and a little bit of testosterone isn’t gonna do anywhere near as much damage as going out binging every weekend and might actually make some of you lesser oestrogen filled pussies.
Destroy The Opposition by Jamie Lewis
One of my all time favourite reads by Jamie Lewis, original author of the Chaos & Pain blog and now Plague of Strength.
Fuck me, where to I begin with this? This book, in classic Jamie fashion absolutely obliterates the general consensus and boring ass training routines these so-called “evidence based” zealots preach and spits in the face of traditional dogma. However, while serving a big “fuck you” to lame pussy’s who fear any form of hard work and hide behind the idea of “overtraining” this book is absolutely jam packed with insights and golden titbits of wisdom. From revisiting some of histories great lifters, showcasing how almost each and every one of them somehow squatted, deadlifted and benched differently despite the classic cues that are ingrained and regurgitated to us, to hammering the idea of training hard (and I mean, really fucking hard). I’d probably say this book has been the biggest “game changer” or influence for me personally as a lifter and also as a Coach.
On top of all of Jamie’s insights and views on training and lifters of the past, he even includes a handful of pretty decent, yet brutal programs. Even if you don’t agree with all of what Jamie says (as I’m sure many don’t), simply reading and taking in what’s in the book will undoubtedly change your perspective for the better.
The Leangains Method by Martin Berkhan
Martin Berkhan’s dietary answer to Beyond Brawn. Berkhan originally caught my attention years ago when he published his “Fuckarounditis” article which you can find here. Martin’s main fame comes from populating the idea of intermittent fasting. Now, IF doesn’t do much for me, I can take it or leave it however, the fundamental knowledge and insights you’ll find in “The Leangains Method” will resolve any dietary confusion you may have and set you off on the right path. Martin does nothing but keep it 100% real. In this book Martin teaches you the basics calorie consumption for both fat loss and/or muscle gain, the idea behind thermogenesis and the thermic effect of food, how to track calories and even breaks down his preferred approach to training. So, for those that don’t know, Martin is strong as fuck and stays pretty fucking “shredded” almost year round using intermittent fasting and his way of training, so he might be someone worth listening to.
The Science and Practice of Strength Training by Zatsiorsky and Kraemer
The most science heavy book in the list, but an absolute masterpiece all the same. Now, everyone harps on about “Supertraining” like it’s some kind of Strength & Conditioning bible. And while Supertraining is a fantastic book containing a wealth of knowledge it’s also one of the most tedious, dull and fairly difficult reads you could think of, especially if you’re simply a recreational lifter or someone who doesn’t have a scientific background. Comparing these two books kinda reminds me of my time in university where we were asked to read Charles Darwins “Origin of Species”, which in itself is fucking boring. Halfway through the mind-numbing endeavour I found out Steve Jones had published a book titled “Almost Like A Whale” which was basically a less boring, easier to read version of Darwin’s work. Science and Practice of Strength Training is basically an easier to read version of Supertraining, without a lot of the boring shit (in my opinion).
The Hybrid Athlete by Alex Viada
Now, I’ve already done an overview of this book and concurrent training that you can find here. It’s probably one of the most in depth and readable books on concurrent training. Concurrent training basically translates to serving two masters at once i.e. mixing two different and what some would consider conflicting training goals. This book goes into great detail on how you can essentially do two things at once, like train for a powerlifting meet while simultaneously tackle 5km, 10km or even freakin’ marathons if you’re up to it! The book does an excellent job of going over the various pathways within the body in relation to training stimuli and how the body adapts to various types of training, and more importantly how you can combine various types without them interfering with one another. Also, it’s written by an absolute unit of a man; Alex Viada who I’m sure used to routinely pull 600lbs+ and then hit marathon runs within the same week. Overall this book squashes the still prevalent “cardio kills gains” myth and does it beautifully.
Squat Everyday by Matt Perryman
Another top quality book! The book mainly revolves around the overhyped “Bulgarian Method” which anyone who trains more than 3 times per week thinks they’re doing when in actually, unless you were there under Coach Abadjiev you aren’t and will never ever do true Bulgarian training. I’ve attempted squatting to a max everyday and even ended up hitting 500lbs for 30 days straight, and you know what? I got bored as fuck! The book however, doesn’t simply talk about squatting daily. Perryman gives his thoughts on high frequency training (something I’m a huge fan of), overtraining (something I believe overhyped and used as an excuse more often than not) and how to manage recovery after training intensely (another word that gets thrown about without much meaning). I remember reading this book around 2 years ago and being instantly hooked. It felt like the words I was reading were coming out of my own mouth rather than that of Perryman’s. Strength is a skill that needs to be practiced frequently. It isn’t enough to know “how” to squat, deadlift, press etc. You need to know how to squat, deadlift, press etc with heavy ass weights. Any Coach can teach you about technique, but when you’ve got 95%+ on the bar and every fibre in your body is screaming in protest, your head’s telling you “no, rack it” and you feel like your about to burst then you’ve got a choice to make; rack the bar and spend life safe but full of regret or tighten up, get tense and fucking lift! No one can teach you about the latter but yourself, however, you’re gonna be in much better hands if you train with/under someone who’s been there him/herself. As Perryman says in this book; “to get good at lifting heavy things, you must practice lifting heavy things”.
Your Own Damn Training Journal
I find it fucking insane how many people I talk to who claim to “train” (when they really just exercise, there’s a difference) yet don’t keep a training journal. The only people I ever truly let off are some of my clients as I essentially keep a log for them and advise them on progression. Even in the gym I train and work out of I still see some of the members asking week in week out what they did last week or sticking to the same weight, set and rep scheme for months. And some people wonder why they make fuck all progress, despite years of training! Keep a damn log and go over it routinely. What worked? What didn’t? When was your last PB? What are your numbers like now? Has anything changed training wise? If you can’t even be arsed to keep a little log or record of your sessions then how the fuck do you expect me to believe you’re putting any effort into actually training? Your training log over the years will eventually supersede any journal, manual or training book you can buy.