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Reading great health and fitness books is one of the most effective ways to learn how to build your best body ever and a body you can proud of.
There are many fitness books out there, but we only have so much time and energy to give to reading. We want to make sure we pick the ones that will have the highest return on our investment. So which books should you read?
In this podcast, I’m going to share the nine best fitness books of all time (as of February 2022, at least).
So if you’re interested in getting at least a little bit better at losing fat, getting stronger, performing better, or getting healthier, this episode is for you. I’m going to share the books that have helped me do those things and that can help you as well.
0:00 – Our (new and improved) protein bars are back! Try them risk-free today! Go to buylegion.com/bar and use coupon code MUSCLE to save 20% or get double reward points
4:24 – Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe
8:52 – Bigger Leaner Stronger by Mike Mathews
14:29 – Thinner Leaner Stronger by Mike Mathews
15:56 – A Guide To Flexible Dieting by Lyle McDonald
18:40 – Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success
21:32 – Triathletes Training Bible by Joe Friel
24:14 – 5/3/1 by Jim Wendler
28:07 – Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier
29:04 – All About Powerlifting by Tim Henriques
Mentioned on the Show:
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What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hello and welcome to Muscle for Life. I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today to hear about book recommendations. You know, I haven’t done a book club episode in some time, not because I haven’t been reading. I have on my normal schedule every day, but I just haven’t made the time to do a book club episode.
I guess, is my only excuse and I’m gonna do. On the book on writing. Well, one of my favorite books on writing. That’ll be the next book club episode. But in this episode, I’m gonna talk about fitness books and I’m gonna talk about the 12 best fitness books of all time as of February 8th, 2022, at least. And as a little bit of a preamble to it, there was a Dutch philosopher, scholar and priest named Erasmus and he once quipped, when I have little money I buy books and if I have any left I buy food and clothes and you know that’s a human with his head screwed on straight.
Now while. He was focused on the health of the soul. I think his statement is equally true if you want to also maximize the the health and the wellbeing of the body. Because reading great health and fitness books is one of the most effective ways to learn how to build your best body ever to learn how to build a body you can be proud of.
And that, of course raises the question of, well, which books should. Read something I do get asked fairly often about, uh, my own books of course, but which other books are worth reading. There are many health and fitness books, many of them are not worth reading, and we only have so much time and so much energy and attention to.
Give to books. And so we wanna make sure that we pour these precious resources into the ones that are going to offer the highest return on the investment. And so if you are interested in getting at least a little bit better at losing fat, or building muscle, or getting stronger, or getting and staying healthier, living longer, performing better inside or outside of the gym than.
This episode is for you because I’m gonna share 12 books that have really helped me do those things, and that can help you as well. But first question, gentle listener, what would a perfect protein bar look like to you? How about plenty of high quality protein, nutritious plant-based carbs, fiber and fats, non gmo, gluten free, no artificial sweeteners, flavors, dyes, rather chemical, junk, fresh, soft, and delicious.
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You can find, and it gives you everything you need to know about squatting, bench pressing, overhead, pressing, and deadlifting safely and effectively. And for what it’s worth, I myself have been using Mark’s principles for, I guess it’s 10 years now. It was 10 years ago that I found him. And I found starting strength.
And I learned how to squat properly, how to bench press properly overhead, press properly, deadlift properly. And although I have made slight. Tweaks to my form, I think I’ve gotten better. I hope I’ve gotten better over the last 10 years. I am still fundamentally moving in the ways that Mark teaches in starting strength.
And these are also the principles that I teach in my own work. In fact, the first edition of Bigger, leaner, stronger had. The starting strength method of squatting, bench pressing, overhead, pressing and deadlifting, and I gave credit to Mark for it and plugged his book. In my book. I didn’t say that. This is how I think that people should squat and deadlifts and so forth, that this is how Mark Reito thinks that people should do it.
Here’s why I agree with him. And so in starting strength, what you’ll find is that each chapter focuses on a particular exercise and it breaks down the main challenges and characteristics of each movement, and it shows multiple pictures of proper and improper form from different. Angles. It also gives you some cues, some little mental reminders that you can use to help dial in correct technique and those can be particularly helpful when the weights get heavy and when you get deeper into sets and it’s getting hard and you don’t have the mental capacity to focus on four different components of your form.
You know, think about when you are. Coming close to muscular failure on a barbell squat or a barbell deadlift, it gets really hard and you can focus maybe on one thing, and that one thing could be a mental cue that helps you keep your lower back straight if you are deadlifting, for example, or helps keep your knees in line with your toes if you’re squatting.
And the reason starting strength has gained Basical. Cult status at this point is it’s simple. It’s effective, it’s suited to many different goals, and it is not just teaching you how to do exercises, but it has programming too. There is a program you can follow and if you want to get strong, if you want to build muscle, if you want to become more resistant to injury, if you want to become more athletic, even if you want to age better, starting strength certain.
Can help. And if you like starting strength, if you give it a read, then I would also recommend practical programming, which takes a closer look at how to design workout routines. Starting strength has less of that. It’s more prescriptive in its programming and its routines. Here, just do this, which is better for the target crowd for that book, which is people who are relatively new or brand new to proper strength training, proper barbell training.
And when you’re new, I mean, I remember when. Was new to all of this stuff. There’s a lot to learn. There’s a lot to digest. It is more helpful to just be told what to do so you can get going and start seeing results. And then along the way, educate yourself further and further until you can start creating your own workout routines, for example.
And that’s what practical programming is before. Now one area where starting strength is lacking is diet advice. You should know that. So if you want to get the most out of your training, you’re gonna want to learn about at least the fundamentals of proper dieting. You’re gonna wanna learn about energy balance, you’re gonna wanna learn about macronutrient balance, micronutrient balance.
You’re gonna wanna learn basically how to control your calories according to your goals. How to make sure that you’re eating enough protein, how to set up your carbs and fat. So they work for you and how to ensure you are getting enough nutritious food. And those are things you are not going to learn in Starting Strength, but that you can learn in the other books we’re gonna talk about.
And let’s get to that next book, which is Bigger, lean or Stronger by Yours Truly, which I do think should be on this list, but. Also, which I think is a good follow up to starting strength because you will learn all of the diet fundamentals that are needed to lose fat and build muscle and maintain your ideal body composition.
So even if you don’t want to follow the bigger, leaner, stronger program, if you wanna follow Starting Strength, I still would recommend at. Reading the Diet Nutrition part of Bigger, leaner, stronger because that information is going to help you get more out of starting Strength and why else you should read Bigger, leaner, stronger, or maybe consider doing the program is.
In my humble opinion, what’s starting a strength is to barbell training. Bigger, leaner, stronger is to body composition training, so to speak. Lifestyle, body building, I guess you could say this book, bigger, leaner, stronger is the ideal. Fitness book for men who want to gain muscle, lose fat and get healthy, and it is especially geared toward men who have yet to gain their first 25 ish pounds of muscle, either because they are new or because they just haven’t been getting as much as they should have out of the years of training that they’ve been doing.
That was me, for example, in my first seven years of training and training. Five to six days per week, one and a half hours, sometimes in the gym, maybe even two hours after seven years of that consistent, I had gained maybe 25 pounds of muscle. That’s, that’s not very good an average responder. An average male responder to weightlifting should be able to gain 25 pounds in his first two years of weightlifting if he, if he knows what he’s doing.
If he were to read bigger leaders stronger and do it two years of bigger than stronger, would put, will put 25 pounds of muscle on. On just about anyone. And I should also mention that bigger leaners, stronger is geared a little bit more toward a younger crowd. Let’s say 20 to 40 or 20 to 45 or 18. Sure.
18 to 40 or 45 is the target demographic for bigger leaners stronger. Now, that is not to say that it isn’t for. Guys who are 45, 50, 55, plus many, many guys, 40 and 50 plus over the years, have read the book, done the program, and have done quite well. But I have a different book that is specifically geared.
To the 40 plus crowd, men and women called Muscle for Life. So if you’re listening and if you’ve heard about these different books that I have, and if you’re a little bit confused as to which one would be right for you, which program would be right for you? If you are 40 plus and relatively new to all of this stuff, get Muscle for Life.
If you are under 40 and. New to all this stuff. And if you don’t have a lot of weight to lose, let’s say, if you don’t have to lose more than 25% of your body weight, then bigger than or stronger is going to be right for you. And if you do have a lot of weight to lose, then I actually would recommend Muscle for Life because the program, well programs, it has beginner programs.
For men and women. Intermediate for men and women, and advanced for men and women. Whereas bigger or stronger has one program and it has a three day version of four day and a five day per week, but it is just one program that does call for squatting and deadlifting and bench pressing and overhead pressing, and that’s not where I would recommend that everyone start.
If I were personally coaching a. Even if he’s 20 years old, who has to lose a hundred pounds, let’s say, to get to a healthy body weight and a healthy body composition, I would not start with. Heavy squats and deadlifts and bench pressing and overhead pressing. We might start with daily walks, and then we would start with some resistance training.
We would do body weight exercises, and then we would probably add bands, and then we would add dumbbells and we would work our way into barbell training, but we wouldn’t start with it. And that is Muscle for Life. Muscle for Life takes people. Walking and doing body weight exercises all the way up to barbell training.
Whereas bigger, leaner, stronger asks you to do the barbell training from the beginning and in bigger, leaner, stronger. It is comprehensive. I mentioned that it gives you all of the know-how that’s needed to make. Your diet work for you, how to improve your body composition, eating foods you like, and then on the training side of things, it goes through every exercise on the program that I’m, we’re actually releasing a new fourth edition of Bigger, stronger in the next month or so that has pictures of everything and updated instructions for everything.
If you download the free bonus material, there are links to videos to everything. There is a year’s worth of workouts that you can follow that were created by me and are the kind of baseline programming that I’d recommend for anyone following the program. There’s a lot of information on supplementation.
I mean, there’s a lot. There’s a whole inner game section in, in bigger lean or stronger. I really did try to make this the last fitness book that most men will ever need to read. Uh, moving on. Moving on. All right. Enough of. Hugging my, myself, and my beautiful, bigger, leaner, stronger Book two thinner, leaner, stronger, and I’ll, I’ll just, I’ll make this one fast.
This is the female version of Bigger, leaner, stronger. And I wrote this book because back in the day, a lot of women were reading Bigger Leaners, stronger reaching out to me, asking if they could do a program like that. They don’t want to get bigger per se. They would, they’d rather get thinner or fitter, but they like the leaner and they like the stronger and after.
Hearing from so many women, I decided that, uh, I needed to take bigger, leaner, stronger and make it as applicable to women as I possibly can. And so I did that and that is thinner, leaner, stronger. And I’m also releasing a new fourth edition of that. It’s going to follow the release of, uh, BLS 4.0. But all of my work on the ma.
Is essentially done. So I have a couple of people helping just with formatting and digging up some references that I need and some other things. And so that’s gonna be out soon as, uh, as well, and I’m excited. I’m really excited. I’ll, I’ll make sure, I’ll let you know here on the podcast when the books are live.
And, oh, one other thing on those new fourth editions is if you have bought. An ebook of bigger leaners. Stronger or Thin? Leaner, stronger in the past, you will get, or the audiobook, I think. Yeah, I think it’s for eBooks and audiobooks, you will get the fourth editions, uh, for free. So if you have, well, one of them, you’ll get that one.
But if you have ’em both, you’ll, you’ll be able to just update your content and you don’t even have to pay for it. Okay. Moving on. Let’s talk about a guide to Flexible Dieting by. McDonald Now, Lyle has a special place in my heart because he was one of the first people to beat the drum for flexible dieting, which I recommend in all of my books in Muscle for Life in bigger, leaner, stronger, in thinner, leaner, stronger.
And I’ve recommended many times here on the podcast and articles and Lyle. Coined that term all the way back in 2005 when he published A Guide to Flexible Dieting. That’s, uh, that’s one of his books. And that book is based on a very simple and counterintuitive, but profound idea. And that is that people who take a, a black and white all or nothing, no pain, no gain, rigorous, rigid approach to dieting, usually fail.
And people who are more relaxed about it, who are more patient, who are willing to compromise here and there, who don’t expect perfection, they usually succeed and they don’t just succeed in losing weight. They usually succeed in keeping it off, which is really the goal, right? Weight loss. Is not necessarily a success.
Weight maintenance is the success. You don’t want to lose a bunch of weight with a diet and then gain a bunch of the weight back and then lose it again with the same diet or a different diet, gain it back and yo-yo like that forever. You want to lose weight and keep it off and maintain the body composition.
That you want. And flexible dieting is very effective for that because it allows you to be flexible enough to enjoy your diet and to actually stick to your diet while still getting results. And that’s what this book teaches you to do. And so if you’ve ever struggled to lose or maintain your weight or felt like there must be a better way than these silly fad diets, than a guide to flexible dieting is for you.
And even if you are an experienced. Dieter, you still are going to enjoy the book if you pick it up and you are going to learn things. Lyle has always been one of my favorite educators in the space and he has a controversial personality. He is an acquired taste, I guess you could say, but his. Mm. Spiky nature has never bothered me personally.
If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my sports nutrition company Legion, which thanks to the support of many people like you, is the leading brand of all natural sports supplements in the. Okay, moving on to Peak Performance by Steve Magnus and Brad Stolberg.
And if you’re the kind of person who is chasing some big goals in your personal and or your professional life, and if you sometimes feel frazzled, if you sometimes feel rushed. Frustrated. I think you’re gonna like this book. I really liked it. I actually did a book club episode on this book. It is a penetrating, it is a practical overview of the science of maximizing your mental and physical performance over the long haul.
And you’ll find a lot of the information in peak performance in other self-development books, which is inevitable. A lot of these books are very derivative. Now, this one, I don’t feel. But I’m just saying a lot of self-development, self-help books seem to say the same thing, just in different words. But in this case, the author’s background in competitive sports, uh, Magnus and then corporate America, Stolberg, give their teachings a unique flavor.
They bring their personalities and their backgrounds and their experiences into the book and in different ways, both of them. Overreached and undermined their aspirations. And this book is full of insights on how to avoid the same fate. This is very much the book they wish they could have just given themselves back before they decided to do many stupid things, and that also was bigger lean or stronger by the way, that.
Was how I wrote that book initially, it was the book that I wished I had when I started lifting weights. So I didn’t do many stupid things and waste a lot of time doing stupid things. And back to, um, Peak performance. I particularly enjoyed in this book the guidance on finding and formulating a purpose in really any area of life and how that can help you guide your decision making on a day-to-day basis.
And if you’ve never taken time to do big picture painting, so to speak, to look at your bigger picture and how your day-to-day ties into it, I would recommend setting some time aside when you can be. By yourself and when you have quiet and you can think to do that, because if you get it right, it not only helps you make better decisions and helps you realize more of your potential, it makes everything that you do more enjoyable and more satisfying.
Even the drudgery, the drudgery now feels. Purposeful, and I’m speaking firsthand. I could record a whole podcast on that in particular. Maybe I should. Let me know if you want me to, [email protected] Um, so anyways, if you wanna learn simple, effective, and sustainable strategies for finding your purpose and consistently working toward it for the months and years and maybe even decades that it really takes without burning out, I think you are going to enjoy.
Performance. The next book on my list is another one of my own, but Hear me out, humor me. It is called Muscle for Life and I wrote it for a very specific crowd. I wrote it for men and women who are 40 plus and who are. Starting out newly in their fitness journey, and especially men and women who are 40 plus, who have a lot of work to do, who have a lot of weight to lose or or who are very out of shape.
And if you are one of those people, then muscle for life is going to be much better for you than say, bigger. Leaner. Stronger or thinner. Leaner, stronger. Because for example, muscle for Life has three. Exercise programs to choose from a beginner program, an intermediate program, and an advanced program. Now, if you compare that to say, bigger, leaner, stronger or thin, leaner, stronger, those uh, books, they have three, four, and five day per week programs to choose from.
But the difficulty is a bit higher than the advanced program on Muscle for Life, whereas the beginner program in Muscle for Life, you can. At home with basically no equipment. You start out working with your body and then you add some bands, and then as you get stronger, as you get fitter, you work up to including some dumbbell exercises, and then you work up to including some machines and finally some barbell exercises.
Whereas in bigger, leaner, stronger and thin or stronger, you’re jumping right into the barbells, the dumbbells, the machines. Those books are written for people who are. Ready to jump into the deep end, so to speak. And so if you are 40, 50, 60, even 70 plus years old, I have some good news for you. And that is research shows that it is never too late to build muscle, lose fat and get healthy and muscle for life will give you a time proven and science-based blueprint for eating and exercising that will help you get from wherever you.
No matter how out of shape you might be right now, you can go from that to fit or even super fit. No matter your age, no matter your circumstances, muscle for life will show you the way. The next book on my list is the Triathletes Training Bible by Joe Friel, and if you have caught the endurance sports bug, then you have a problem that you’re going to have to.
How do you keep getting faster without training all the time or without getting injured? And especially if you want to also keep doing some strength training. Maybe you can’t do five days per week, but you want to keep doing something to retain muscle and strength as well. Well, this book, the Triathletes Training Bible, Is going to help.
It will help you make your endurance workouts as productive as possible so you can keep pushing the envelope of your fitness and keep improving your performance without having to live for it while still being able to fulfill obligations at home and at work and while still being able to stay healthy and.
Strong and injury free. And just to mention, if you are getting into triathlons, if that’s what you want to do, this book is even more important for you because you have to train for three very different sports simultaneously, and this book is going to help you tremendously with doing that. In it. Friel explains the physiology of endurance sports.
He explains the fundamentals of proper training and periodization extremely important in endurance sports. He also offers great advice on the mindset that is needed to excel at endurance sports. And it has systems, it has tools, it has tips for really any sport that you. Want to pursue it is not just for triathletes.
So for example, frills system for budgeting, training time throughout the week, month and year is just as applicable to a runner, a weightlifter, or a golfer as it is to a triathlete. And you know, really that systematic approach to the application of effort, that’s really what we’re talking about. It can be applied to any area of life that require.
Effort. And the same is true about chapters 10 and 11, which are all about threading the needle between training, load and recovery. And one of the most powerful lessons from the book that, that I took away from it at least, is that consistent, moderate. Purposeful training beats out sporadic, extreme haphazard training every time.
The secret to excelling in endurance sports is to put in the time, year in, year out, and not crush yourself with workouts in the months or the weeks leading up to a competition. Okay, let’s move on to 5 31 by Jim Wendler. And this is often called Wendler 5 31, just so you know what I’m referring to. And it is a strength training program and there is a book to go with it that helps you get as strong as possible, as fast as possible, and as safely as possible, and to understand the value.
Of 5 31, though, you have to first understand a little bit about Jim. So he had a successful college football career, and then he became possessed by power lifting and he worked his way to squatting over 1000 pounds, bench pressing 675 pounds, and deadlifting 700 pounds. And in the process though, he became overweight and overtrained and a bit unglued.
As he says in his book, and I’m quoting here, I was 280 pounds and I wanted to be able to tie my shoes without turning red. I wanted to be able to walk down the street without losing my breath, and after losing weight through dieting, of course, Wendler decided that he wanted to get strong again, but he didn’t want to follow the complex time consuming programs that he had used as a power lifter.
He wanted something simpler and something that he could maybe share with other people. So, Have to make the same mistakes that he made and after concocting the many training programs that he had followed over the years, he took those essences and he created a bare bones but very effective program called five three.
One. And really what this program is, is it’s the most useful features of some of the more advanced power lifting programs without a lot of the frills and unnecessary complexity. So this is a very minimalistic routine. And it can work for anyone. I, myself have done it. I haven’t done it in a while, but I did do it when I first learned about it because it sounded like fun.
And my first edition of Beyond Bigger, leaner, stronger, the programming, at least some of the programming was inspired by Hendler’s work. The periodization in particular in the first edition of Beyond Bi Leaner Stronger, was inspired in part by Hendler’s work and now, The second edition, which I released oh, about a year or so ago, has different programming.
And I do think it is a better approach, but that is not to say, well, let’s say a better approach for the people beyond bigger lean or stronger is for, but that is not to say that the approach in the first edition is bad. Uh, I just think again that the second edition better meets the needs of its intended audience.
Now, why is it called 5 3 1? Well, this is the progression system. So in it Wendler has you increase the weights in a specific way that he describes that makes for a very productive and short workout where you’re going from five reps to three reps to one rep over a series of weeks. Now, 5 31 is not ideal.
For everyone. Uh, its main drawback, for example, is that it is low volume, which we know is not optimal for more advanced weightlifters who are trying to maximize muscle and strength gain. But 5 31 is an excellent introduction to periodized strength training. And so if you have never tried a periodized strength training program, you could do a lot worse than starting with 5 31, or if you are more interested in body building, even if it’s just lifestyle body building, like I consider myself a lifestyle bodybuilder, and you want.
To follow up maybe a, a high volume training block with something that is lower volume, and if you wanna see how much strength you can gain in a lower volume training block, then 5 31 could also be great for you. All right, next up we have Strength Training Anatomy by Frederick Dvir. And while there are many books out there, That explain how to do different exercises and how to train different muscle groups.
None are as thorough as strength training anatomy. Each exercise description is brought to life by fine-grained anatomy drawings that show which muscles the exercise works and how the different positions can affect muscle recruitment, and how the surrounding anatomical structures, uh, In the exercise, you know, bones and ligaments and tendons and connective tissues, and this is one of those books that when you flip through it, you can’t help but appreciate the amount of work that went into it.
DeVere studied human anatomy for years. He even conducted autopsies on cadavers to better understand the human body. And so he poured all of that understanding into this. Okay, last, we have all about power lifting by Tim Henriks. And power lifting, of course, is the game of lifting as much weight as you can for a single repetition on the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
And in that order. And although competitive power lifting isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s not mine, for example, you can learn a lot. Getting big and strong by studying the sport, even if you don’t want to participate in the sport. And in this book, all about power lifting, weightlifting, coach, and competitive powerlifter, Tim hen reeks, he examines the sport of power lifting from all angles.
You learn about the history of it. You learn specific technique, tips for increasing your squat, bench, press, and deadlift. You learn about power lifting gear, what to use and why, how to use it properly. The book goes into programming your workouts and preparing for your first meet and much more. And so if you’re someone who is interested in getting really strong or at least as strong as you possibly can, then I think you are going to enjoy this book.
Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.
And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you. Uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share. Shoot me an email, mike muscle for life.com, muscle f o r life.com and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.
I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you.