My Top 10 Fitness Books

We all have “those” books.

You know the ones – they always lay next to your bed, either with dog-ears or post-it notes to mark the most important passages.

These are the books that have helped mold you as a coach or trainer.

Today, I thought it might be helpful to give you all some insight as to my Top 10. Rick Kaselj actually gave me the idea for this post while I was in Vancouver a few weeks ago, so I really need to credit him for the idea!

Keep in mind these aren’t necessarily in any sort of order, but these are the books that I’ve most consistently referenced and referred to over the years. Enjoy!

1. Muscles Testing and Function – Kendall

Possibly the premiere text on not only static and isolative assessments, but this book also has a strong functional anatomy component as well.

My biggest takeaway from this book was not only understanding the functional anatomy, but how issues with one muscle could influence or manifest itself into issues at other muscles.

If your hip is hiked on one side, what does that do to the same side quadratus lumborum? The same-side gluteus medius?

And what influence does that have on the other side of the body?

If you’re new to training, coaching, or assessing, this book is a must-have.

2. Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance – McGill

80% of the population will suffer from lower back pain at some point in time in their lives.

Do you want to be in a situation where a client rolls in with low back pain and you’re totally shell-shocked as to what to do?

This book not only gives you a base reference of anatomy around the spine, but McGill describes a plethora of research to support his training methods.

Most importantly, I’ve used McGill’s work with great success with my clients and athletes over the past 10 years. I can honestly say I would not be the coach I am today without the work of Stuart McGill.

Random side note – Stu has an EPIC ‘stache. Need I say more?

3. The Complete Keys to Progress – McCallum

While this isn’t your typical anatomy/joint related book that you’ve come to expect from me, this is a fantastic text for those who are new to the iron game.

I read this book often as I was getting started in powerlifting, and it definitely helped me keep my focus on long-term goals and patience. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype of the next big program or routine, but at the end of the day consistent, steady progress will win out 99.9% of the time.

4. Joint Structure and Function – Norton and Levangie

Joint Structure and Function is possibly the best text I own with regards to anatomy and joints.  I’m a huge fan of the pictures (Mikey like pictures!), as they help depict not only the joints themselves but the surrounding musculature.  Perhaps the biggest draw to this book is the inclusion and representation of the joint capsules, which many books fail to mention or examine.

Awesome, awesome, awesome anatomy text – definitely check it out if you haven’t already.

5. Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes – Sahrmann

Another premiere text when it comes to movement and anatomy, I think this book changed the way many of us looked at movement dysfunctions. For me, the biggest take away was a better understanding of “gliding” within the joint – this isn’t exactly stuff they talk about in your basic ExSci classes at college!

The scary thing here is that Sahrmann does no tissue-based therapy such as SMR, massage, ART, etc. and still gets fantastic results. My immediate first thought was – if you take these ideas, and combine them with quality tissue work, how powerful can your methods become?

I’ll be picking up her next book soon as well. I’m sure it will live up to the hype.

6. Rehabilitation of the Spine – Liebenson

When I first got into the whole “corrective exercise”/rehab side of the equation, I really had no one to look up to or learn from.

Until I met Craig Liebenson.

This book is very similar to “Muscles: Testing and Function” but has more of an overall slant towards the spine.  This book also helped me better understand the assessment process, as well as how to interpret results and develop programming as a result.

7. Supertraining – Siff

Many would call this book the holy grail, or even the bible, of strength and conditioning.

And while it is great, it has its limitations.

DON’T sit down and try to read it cover to cover.  8 point font and 8.5″x11″ pages will be the ruin of you.

Instead, pick a topic you’re interested in and read up.  When you’re done, find something else, and read up on that.

Siff leaves almost no stone unturned in this text, but it can be overwhelming at times, too. It’s still a fantastic text and one that every serious coach/trainer should have in their library.

8. Anatomy Trains – Myers

In this list we have anatomy texts, we have joint texts, we even have movement/assessment texts.

But what about the tie that binds all of them?

Fasica is something we’re all still trying to understand.  At the end of the day, though, even if you never put your hands on someone, this book can help you understand how the body is tied together via fascia, as well as how these fascial lines can promote or inhibit quality movement.

It’s a bit on the dry side, but once you’ve mastered the basics (functional anatomy, joints, etc.), this will start to put the pieces of the puzzle together for you.

9. Science and Practice of Strength Training – Zatsiorsky

If Supertraining is the bible, this is the Cliff Notes version.

Science and Practice of Strength Training gives you a fantastic foundation for understanding how training programs work.

Why do you need to taper before a big event or workout?

How do back extensions help improve your deadlift?

What are the three primary methods to strength train?

I can’t say enough about this book – I’d imagine I’ve read it at least 10 or more times, and I always pick up something new. If you want a foundational text on strength training, I would pick this over Supertraining any day of the week.

10. Anatomy of Movement – Calais – Germain

As trainers and coaches, we all need a basic anatomy reference text.

For me, this was the one.

Again, I’m a visual learner, so the pictures and drawings in this book helped me get a better understanding of how the individual muscles and joints function.

I’m sure there are more comprehensive texts out there, but as far as true understanding and not brute memorization, this one worked really well for me.

So those are my Top 10, and I had to leave some fantastic books off the list.

What would you guys add or subtract?

Any great books that I’ve flat-out forgotten?

I’ll be looking forward to some good discussion in the Comments below!

All the best

Mike

46 Comments

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  1. I find Mel Siffs Facts And Fallacies Of Fitness a lot more user friendly than Supertraining – which is okay as long as you have a decade spare to read it.
    In his latest DVD McGill appears to have shaved his ‘tache off – I was gutted when I saw him without the trademark facial hair!

    • Absolutely agree on F&F’s.

      And I saw the shaving of the ‘stache as well, but I chatted with McGill in September and it was definitely back!

      MR

  2. Good list of books for movement-related training, indeed. Anatomy of Movement, to me, was not what I hoped it’d be, but it wasn’t terrible.

    A few I’d add. A basic ex-phys text, Adaptation to Sport Training (Viru), and Theory and Application of Modern Strength and Power Methods (Thibaudeau), which is pretty good.

    Regards,
    Carson Boddicker

    • Yeah, I used the book a lot to transition from “textbook” anatomy to more “functional” anatomy. What’s your favorite anatomy book? Netter?

      Also agree on the other two books you mention – they’re both great. Viru is a little too much without a solid physiology background, though, IMO.

      Thanks Carson!
      MR

  3. Thanks for the list Mike. I have kendall’s book on my bedside table right now. Back when I was clueless and following muscle mag workouts, one book that really paved the way for me was Practical Programming by Mark Rippetoe. Great, no nonsense take on how to use barbell training and progressive overload to get results.

    • I saw someone mention PP as well below. For some reason it never really resonated with me, but I had also read a TON of programming stuff before it.

      Thanks Tom!

    • Me too! I really wish more young trainees would read them. I think it would help them slow down and focus on the big picture stuff, not bigger gunz in 14 days.

  4. Great list, Mike.

    And as for not trying to read Supertraining cover to cover, I learned that the hard way. I made it about 1/4 the way through and started to dread reading it. Now I flip to the index, pick a topic and read those pages. It’s much easier on the brain.

    • As I mentioned above, it’s fantastic – you’ll enjoy it!

      You might want to check out Randall Strossen’s “Ironmind” as well.

      MR

  5. Rippetoe’s Practical Programming is excellent stuff. However, Rippetoe’s Starting Strength is pretty much a must-own for someone who is new to lifting and wants to get serious about it. 5 important lifts explained in detail and simple progressive overload.

    • Agreed on SS. It didn’t make the list because I’d already read a ton of info on the big three, but it’s still a great book.

  6. Mike,
    Great list. I have many of the same books. I have an issue with Sarhman’s book that I seem to have with others like Cook’s functional Screening and assesment book. It is hard to visualize the movement disorder she is discussnig without a live model or at least a video. I get anterior glide etc. but in doing the assesment what does it really look like and what are the variations that are genetic differences vs. disorders? Asses and Correct is very helpful but it does not go far enough for me to internalize and visualize some of the movements enough to apply in real practice.
    Ideas? I guess it is just the hands on part that I need with an accomplished mentor?

    • John –

      You’re correct – I don’t know of a product out there that physically SHOWS what these things looks like. It’s definitely not impossible, but challenging.

      If you need more insight than a book, you either need to attend a course or work with a mentor. That should take your knowledge and understanding to the next level.

      Good luck!
      MR

  7. If a trainer read every book on this list they would set themselves up for great understanding of movement and general philosophy on methods for development. IMO Zatsiorsky is a must for someone who wants to start off as it gives a overview of everything that can be considered when developing athletes, clients, and even other populations.

  8. You have lifted a burden I have been carrying for many years. I’ve felt like a failure for not being able to read Supertraining cover to cover. Nice to know that one of the giants had the same trouble. Now I can stop beating myself up and move on and learn more stuff.

  9. Great reference list——also like Dan John’s book Never Let Go–an easy read done with humor and lots of his opinions
    Also enjoyed the Liebenson’s book, especially the enclosed DVD–great to be able to see how someone works
    Wonder how Shirley Sahrmann’s Movement System Impairment Syndromes of the Extremities, Cervical and Thoracic Spines is?

  10. Thanks for the book list and insight for each one. With the huge selection of fitness related media out there it’s extremely valuable to have some feedback from a trusted source. I have some more reading to do. Currently finishing Movement.

  11. Mike,

    I could be wrong but you are one of the few people that has mentioned Levangie and Norkin’s book. Great great book that I had to buy for a college class on locomotion. It seems to be a very underrated and unknown book, since I do not see many people recommending it. Have a few on this list and a few of these are on my “to-buy list” but always good to hear peoples opinions on books; helped me move up a few books on my to-buy list.

    -Nick

  12. Mike,

    I’m confused. I just went to amazon to read take a look at “The Compelete Keys to Progress” and one of the reviews said that there are three chapters that menion that behind the neck presses are a key to gaining upper body strength and size. Behind the neck press. Really. I always thought that for most people (not all) that BNP was a particularly risky exercise for shoulders. Since, I have had shoulder injuries in the past, I stear clear of them. Should your review come with a caveat?
    Fred

    • Fred –

      Just because a book is high quality doesn’t mean that it’s bulletproof.

      I’m pretty sure it was published either 20 or 30 years ago – a lot has changed since then, but hard work and intelligent programming have not.

      Use a military press vs. a BNP, sure. The book is still a must-have, IMO.

      MR

  13. Great selection, Mike. Add to this list Gray Cook’s ‘Movement’ and Sahrmann’s newest book, ‘Movement System Impairment Syndromes…’

  14. MR,

    My anatomy text preference is pretty “broad” but I’m currently quite fond of Gilroy’s anatomy and The Trail Guide to the Body (a massage/palpation text). I also use Gray’s Anatomy quite a bit via Bartleby.com.

    Viru reads like stereo instructions, without a doubt. It took me a little over 4 months to finish it and it’s not a big book. Translated texts seem rough. I may attempt to read Biochemical Monitoring in Sport this year, which I’m told has better translation.

    Regards,
    Carson Boddicker

  15. Great list Mike

    Book resources are like training programs; there are a lot of different ones out there but I keep coming back to the few simple and effective ones that work for me.

    Happy New Year!

  16. I’ll echo what Steve said. It’s extremely valuable to get a recommended list from a trusted fitness source.

    And as a newbie trainer I’d love to see you business related book list too!

  17. I like this article and appreciate you putting together this list. I personally would add these three books; Core Performance by Mark Verstegen, NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, and Optimum Performance Training : Basketbal by Micheal Clark

  18. Another vote for Starting Strength. This book allowed me to NOT be afraid of trying dead lifts and squats. It has been my bible up to this point. I’m looking forward to trying the others on the above list.

  19. I’d put in the addition for anyone interested in hypertrophy, nutrition, supplementation and bodybuilding in general all from a scientific perspective Will Brink’s Bodybuilding Revealed. The nutrition section alone was worth the buy. For someone (myself) trying to gain some real footing in his knowledge and just fumbling around reading T-Nation, Brinkzone, originally Scooby and looking up every shoulder stabilization article I can find (your’s have proven to be by far the best) Will’s book has really helped me cover, understand and implement a lot that’s just plain critical.

  20. I have the Kendall book and have been wondering if it is still the best we have regarding functional anatomy with respect to individual muscles. After all, our body never recruits just one muscle, especially when on two feet performing our normal daily activities. Could this book be considered now to be short-sighted?

    • Erik – I think Kendall’s it still a foundational text. Do you read and apply everything verbatim now? Probably not.

      BUT, there’s still a ton of great information in there, especially with regards to functional anatomy, assessments, etc. I think every trainer/coach should read this as a foundational component of their learning.

  21. A very interesting guide/list of books.

    I did know a lot about fitness (studied it at school to A-Level) however over the years that knowledge has somewhat evaporated.
    So I am very interested in picking up a few books to regain and further my knowledge on strength and conditioning training, the anatomy, etc…

    I am hoping to apply that knowledge to myself as i did suffer a bad fracture to my femur and patella.
    Are there ay that i should really look at or pick up?

    Thanks

  22. Hey coach, I am noel, a physical therapy student in the Philippines.

    This is a very good list. I want to be a CSCS like you someday. I’m very interested in strength training and have been training for ~2 years already. You are an inspiration. Good job

  23. Movement by Gray Cook and Advances in functional training by Mike Boyle deserved a place each in the list, I feel.

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