As I posted a few days ago, one of my goals following surgery was to start paying closer attention to what I do and how I train for fitness, and to use a skeptical testers mind to the process. In this regard, I thought it would be fun to go back and consider some books and ideas that have taught me a lot over the years about weightlifting, sports fitness, and nutrition. Today, I’m going to focus primarily on the weight training side of things, and what makes my “go to” list of books.
First, some context. I was a teenager in the early 1980s. Thus, it should be no surprise that the “hero’s” of my memory were the physique stars in the bodybuilding scene correspond with those who were active at that time. A friend of mine introduced me to Muscle and Fitness magazine around 1983, and I learned about such people as Samir Bannout, Bob Paris, and Lee Haney. It was also during this time I learned about the women of bodybuilding as well, including Rachel McLish, Carla Dunlap and the woman that would dominate the sport for much of the 1980’s, Cory Everson.
It was also during this time that a legend in the sport of bodybuilding, Bill Pearl, put out two very influential books. The first, which is a massive tome and that is encyclopedic in its coverage of just about every feasible weight training exercise out there, is Keys to the Inner Universe, Part 1. I think Bill may have thought there’d be a part 2 someday, but it never materialized, and barring that, I’d be hard pressed to think how in the world there could be a Part 2. If you want to find every conceivable free weight variation of an exercise, believe me, it’s here.
The second book, and probably one with much more mainstream popularity, is titled “Getting Stronger“, and this book doesn’t just assume that you are aiming to be a bodybuilder, but want to get stronger for a variety of activities. Skiing, Tennis, Rowing, Golf, you name it. There’s routines here for you, as well as conditioning training for more traditional sports like baseball, football, and yes, of course, bodybuilding.
Later on, I found myself getting frustrated with the bodybuilding magazines and the routines they seemed to be running us into the ground, with so much volume that it seemed impossible to recover, much less come remotely close to what I was seeing in magazines. It was with this in mind that a friend suggested in my late 20s that I read a book called “Brawn” by Stuart McRobert. Stuart spells out very early on what most of us already know. The bodybuilders in magazines are, in most cases, genetic anomalies that use pharmacopoeia most of us would never touch. This is not sour grapes, this is fact. Most of the bodybuilding books of the time didn’t admit this. Brawn does. Brawn also asks that you reset your expectations, that you don’t look at the superhero development of the super elite bodybuilders and think “hey, that could be me”. It’s much more likely that, like me, you will not be genetically blessed, or will be genetically blessed in one or some areas but not others. Note: some may feel different, but I much prefer Stuart’s First Edition of this book over subsequent editions. The later ones I’ve read through but feel they are overly repetitive. The First Edition I gave away several copies to friends. Let that tell you what it may ;).
The last book I’ll recommend right now is “The Insider’s Tell All Handbook On Weight Training Technique” and it’s also by Stuart McRobert. The title is silly, to be sure, but the information inside it is anything but. This is a nice companion volume to Brawn. Brawn is the philosophy, Insider’s Guide is the Practicum, so to speak. Lots of black and white photos alongside detailed instructions as to how to leverage and get the best use out of all the exercises in the book. The other added bonus is that this book emphasizes maximizing safe training and minimizing potential injury. as a middle aged guy now, I really appreciate that last aspect a lot more than I did two and three decades ago.
As I said, these books are my “core curriculum” and the one’s that I’ve held onto all these years. Other titles have come and gone, and while several of them were entertaining for their time, these are the ones that are on my all time short list, and that I usually recommend to anyone looking to get into weight training for any reason.