P aul’s Picks for Books on Personal Training, Nutrition, Mobility, Strength, and CrossFit

Every year hundreds of fitness books are published, but very few are worth buying, and even fewer worth reading.  With the vast majority just recycling fancy pictures of movements any half-way decent trainer should already know, it’s a challenge to find books that are actually worth reading.  After many months of deliberation (I make it a point to read to cover to cover every book I purchase) here are my picks for the top eight fitness books to read.  And if I’ve missed any, please add a comment below.

51 of the Top Fitness/Nutrition Books on Amazon

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Not one of the Best Fitness Books I’ve Read.

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I purchased this book because Mike Boyle is a renown strength and conditioning coach and someone who deals with research not fads.  I’ve had the opportunity to see Mike speak at several conferences and have learned much from him.  I’m prepared for a dense read, but this book will make me a better coach.

Update:  The book is below standard.  It is really a half-baked book full anecdotes with partial treatment on many subjects.  It’s hard to recommend this book over books that treat subjects completely.  I was able to read the book cover to cover in about 3 hours, because it’s just fluff.  Boyle’s a legendary coach, but this is no legendary book.

Top eBook on Dieting

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Origin Nutrition Meal Plan and Diet

Paul Roberts

Category: Nutrition and Weight Loss

The second edition of my eBook on nutrition boils down over 3000 hrs of coaching hundreds of clients on nutrition into 25 easy to understand rules.  These rules provide clear guidance on how to eat for weight loss or hypertrophy.  From answering questions on how to balance macros, how many calories you should eat, Origin Nutrition Second Edition covers what you need to know to lose weight safely and effectively.

Recommended Comprehensive Diet Book

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Whole 30

Melissa Hartwig

Category: Nutrition and Inflammation

Clear.  Concise.  Interesting.  Fast Read.  Melissa and Paul have a similar writing style.  Keep the rules clear where you can, explain the exceptions, and illustrate with examples.  The Whole 30 diet is an anti-inflammation diet couched in about 10 major rules that are easy to understand, but riddled with caveats (like Asimov’s 3 laws.)  Fruits are good, unless it’s juiced, but if it’s used to sweeten food then it’s ok :-).

In all fairness Melissa does a very good job of taking a very complex topic and drawing clear lines where she can, and showing the gray boundaries where she can.  People use the Whole 30 for weight loss, and honestly that is a mistake.  This diet is hard to follow, because it’s restrictive.  However, where the Whole 30 shines is eliminating foods that may be making you sick (Milk, soy, gluten, etc.)  Weight loss is slower on this diet, but you’ll feel better (after you go through the detox that is.)

The diet is easy to understand, but tough to master.  I am a better nutrition coach for having read this book, and for that reason alone I recommend it.

Outstanding Strength Training Book

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Designing Resistance Training Programs, 4th Edition

Steven Fleck

Category: Strength Training

One the best fitness books on designing fitness programming.  It covers almost every university study on almost every fitness topic.  How many bench press sets is best?  Should I mix strength training and yoga?  What two-a-days?  Covered.

It’s not an easy read.  While Steven does some of the analysis for you, you need to be very focused while you are reading it.  This is a good book for fitness professionals… but too dense for armature athletes (ask your coach to read it.)

Excellent Reference Text on Nutrition

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It’s an amazing collection of research on what foods to eat and avoid to combat almost every medical condition imagineable. It includes the latest research on micronutrients and herbal supplements. What’s really good about it is that everything is researched and organized. 90% of the nutrition information you find on the web is incomplete or just plain wrong. This book provides granular information and specifies the relative reliability of the information.

I’ve used this book to help many clients overcome nutritional deficiencies, and it’s a stalwart on my nutrition bookshelf. It should be on yours too.

One of the Best Books on Mobility and Flexibility

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An absolutely beautiful book that is a must-read for any CrossFit coach.  Kelly’s work along with Yoga, Anderson’s Stretching, and Kit Lauglin’s book formed the basis for our Mobility program at Sand & Steel.  It’s a really large book, so bring your notebook as you spend a good month reading it, and integrating Starret method’s into your methodology.  This Book and Kelly’s amazing work on mobilityWOD are not to be missed.

Best Book on Fitness Anatomy.

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Strength Training Anatomy

Frederic Delavier

Category: Strength Training

Learning the anatomy of muscle groups and the joints that function within that anatomy is a challenge for many coaches.  This book makes it easy to see the primary and second muscle groups of about 40 different exercises.  Delavier also points a number of important modifications and movement patterns which are contraindicated.

What I like the most about this book is there is almost no fluff.  Everything is useful in this book, and it’s inexpensive.  This is information every personal trainer should know.

Best Book on Barbell Training

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Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, 3rd edition

Mark Rippetoe

Category: Strength Training

There are few widely regarded experts in the field of strength training, but Mark Rippetoe is one of them. If you want to learn the real mechanics to getting a 500# squat or really mastering the Barbell Clean — This is the seminal book.

This book is so strong and well written, I require every coach that works for me to buy a copy and read it.  It’s that good.   Don’t think you have anything to learn on the squat?  Can you write 40 pages on it?  No?  Squat, Deadlift, Press, Clean, Bench, Snatch, and some accessories.  Read it, you’ll learn something from this book.

Gray Cook’s Teachings are powerful, but this book is long, redundant, and poorly edited.  Mr. Cook please make a second edition.

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Movement: Functional Movement Systems: Screening, Assessment, Corrective Strategies

Gray Cook

Category: MAT, Rehabilitation, Physical Therapy, Corrective Exercises

Few people can heal muscle injuries better than Gray Cook. He hasn’t written that many books, and maybe that’s a good thing.  This book is awkwardly put together, and really needs videos to let the reader understand the content.  Cook’s done that in the form the FMS and SFMS certs.  So should you buy this book?  The first few chapters are good, and they’ll change the way you look at injuries and how to prevent them.  I outlined many of these topics in my detailed review of this book.

I’ve also taken the functional movement certifications FMSI and FMSII.  These were great (especially level II).  Cook knows what he’s doing, but he would need to put a lot more editing into this book and create a second edition before I’d recommend it.  It is useful for determining whether you’d want to study Cook’s research, but it’s challenging to implement on its own.

Mediocre Book on Stretching — Kit Laughlin’s book is Better

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Stretching: 30th Anniversary Edition

Bob Anderson

Category: Mobility, Flexibility, and Stretching

Let’s get the elephant in room out of the way, first. The cover looks ridiculous, and the illustration design sucks… period. However, the stretches and options and variations of those stretches are amazing. This book takes the same content and organizes it 6 different ways depending on what the person needs. The book is so good it powerful that is going to be the basis behind an entire mobility program we are adding at Sand & Steel: Anderson Stretching Dynamics. Big tip when you get this book, be prepared to implement what you read. You really have feel the stretches to get much value from the sage advice in these pages.

Highly Recommended Book on Treating Pain

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The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief

Clair Davies

Category: Sports Medicine, Recovery, and Physical Therapy

Myofascia release techniques work. Trigger point works. When implemented correctly, these technique reduce pain and prolong the periods of time muscles can be trained. I chose this book to read because of its long list of followers, and my experience in reading Davies’ blog. I’ve had the opportunity to attend two workshops on Trigger Point techniques and both were immensely helpful. Hopefully once I complete this book, we can implement further guidelines to further reduce incidence and duration of injuries.

Highly Recommended Book on Kettle Bell Movements

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Kettlebell Simple & Sinister

Pavel Tsatsouline

Category: Kettle Bell, Technique, Fitness, Functional Strength

I don’t think you can learn proper kettle bell technique from a book. RKC still puts out the best certifications, and I’ll be taking my second certification from them in 2017. Pavel is pretty much the godfather of kettle bell technique, and his earlier work “Enter the Kettlebell” was quite good.  This book is highly rated, and maybe it’s worth a read, considering my RKC cert costs $1400 and this book a mere $13.

Most Detailed and Overall Greatest Book I’ve Read on Kettlebell Technique

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Kettlebell Rx

Jeff Martone

Category: Kettle Bell, Technique, Fitness, Functional Strength

This is my goto guide for new personal trainers to learn the elements of kettle bell movements.  Martone uses a ton of pictures and shows both faults and correct technique.  There is a good balance of text and pictures in this book, very important when trying to learn proper technique.  I like that he also show regressions and skill drills to help you master techniques.  Knowing when to use which drill honestly requires a coach, but that is the nature of training.

To be fair, I don’t think you can learn kettle bell technique completely from a book, but Martone does a pretty good job.  Read this book, and hire a qualified coach to correct your mistakes.  Kettle bells are an amazing tool and so is this book.   Highly recommended.

The eBook is OK, but his method is simple and effective.  Excellent Novice Power Lifting Sequence.

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5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System for Raw Strength

Jim Wendler

Category: Power Lifting, Strength Training

Jim Wendler’s program is one of the simplest strength training programs around. While I don’t find it quite as effective as the Westside Power Lifting method, it’s far less complicated to implement and requires less specialized equipment. For the vast majority of beginner and intermediate level power lifters, this method is perfect. We implemented the 5/3/1 Strength Training method at Sand & Steel, because it works. I gained 25# on my deadlift and squat in 2 weeks using this method.

Best Stretching and Flexibility Book on the Market (in least based on the ones I’ve read.)  Highly recommended.

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Stretching & Flexibility, 2nd Edition

Kit Laughlin

Category: Mobility, Flexibility, Stretching

Highly regarded book on stretching focusing on 3 key stretches.   Kit has a pretty strong following outside the US, so this is definitely a book I am going to pick up.  If you’d read it and can provide some links on his main movements, please add them in the comments field.

Two chapters in, and I’ve learned a good deal about the benefits of providing active assistance in stretching.  It’ll be a long read, but it looks like it’ll be worth it.

Very Highly Recommended Book on Gymnastics Progressions … Can’t wait to read it.

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Free+Style: Maximize Sport and Life Performance with Four Basic Movements

Carl Paoli

Category: Gymnastics and Body Weight Training

Carl Paoli is the force behind gymnasticsWOD, and is an amazing teacher of gymnastics.  Many of his drills help me master the freestanding headstand pushup and the handstand walk.  This is an advanced book way beyond what the average Gold’s gym user would ever need, but if you are looking to become the best athlete in your local CrossFit box, give this book a look.

Looking forward to reading this book soon.  I’m sure it’s excellent like Starting Strength.

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Practical Programming for Strength Training

Mark Rippetoe

Category: Strength Programming

I haven’t read this book, but I have read Mark’s other book Starting Strength — and that book is a game-changer.  I know for a certain that Mark is an expert, is an entertaining writer, and does a great job on illustrations.  So, this book is on my short-list of books to read, and I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

This book is famous, but I don’t think I’ll buy a copy.  I have a feeling that most of it’s content appears in later books.  I’ve also heard that it’s hard to read.

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Science and Practice of Strength Training, 2nd Edition

Vladimir Zatsiorsky

Category: Strength Programming

This book is kind of the bible for strength training.  It’s one of the books every strength says they have read.  Maybe 10% of them flipped through it, and only 2% actually read it.  From what I’ve read it’s difficult, time consuming read.  The authors are very educated (phd’s) and as a result some of the writing is hard to read, and often requires back ground Wikipedia searching.  I have a feeling it’s in a class like the Movement Book by Gray Cook.  It’s probably great research in a poorly written book.  A book where the author doesn’t do enough to make the material digestible to the reader.

Hoping to Read this Book in 2017

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The Purposeful Primitive: Using the Primordial Laws of Fitness to Trigger Inevitable, Lasting and Dramatic Physical Change

Marty Gallagher

Category: Strength Programming, Corrective Exercises, Physical Therapy

This is a highly regarded strength training book, which I predict will be similar to some of Mark Ripptoe’s books.  Anyone read both and can provide comments.  This book has been around for a while, and while it was groundbreaking in 2008, I predict it’s likely most of its content may be well known by now.  We’ll see when I read it.  Updated review coming soon.

On my 2017 Reading List for Books … I have a feeling its over rated, but we’ll see.

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Better than Steroids

Warren Willey

Category: Bodybuilding

From what I’ve read on the forums, this book does about the best job of organizing all the secret information of how professional bodybuilding build mass and prepare for shows.  I’m looking forward to reading this book, and incorporating it’s teachings into Sand & Steel’s hypertrophy programs.

Always fun to read books written by Arnold Schwarzenegger (he’s charismatic and clever as an author.)  His book is very dated, and not very helpful for learning about training.  It has great pictures though (but it’s quite dated.)

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I read the first edition of this book in high school in one sitting at a Barnes & Nobles.  It was an amazing book back then.  Since then websites like CrossFit and bodybuilding.com have become popular.  I am going to reread this book, and see how much of the material is still relevant.  Anyone read it recently?

Update: Alex was good enough to let me borrow his copy.  This book is great if you want to learn the history of bodybuilding.  It has a ton of pictures.  It’s a great tool to learn about posing.  It’s not great for learning about workouts or workout movements.  Arnold does provide a few workouts in there, but these will easily take about 2.5 hours (which was the norm at the time.)  All of the nutrition advice is dated.  There are lots of topics that are introduced and then aren’t fully explained.  It’s 700 pages long, but should be distilled down to 70.   And if he did that, it would be a better book.

Highly Regarded Book that is actually quite terrible.  Sometimes less is more.  You don’t need a 1000 exercises done with incorrect technique.  Books that gloss over important topics aren’t worth reading.

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Keys to the Universe

Bill Pearl

Category: Bodybuilding

This book and Better than Steroids are probably some of the most recognized books on bodybuilding.  Bill has a 20 month programming guide on his website, I’ll definitely check that out.  I’ll be curious to see how it compares to Arnold’s encyclopedia of bodybuilding which I read 15 years ago.

Update: This book is terrible.  It contains about 1200 exercises, but 1100 of them show body positions which are wrong.  From the wrong shoulder position, wrong head position, etc.  It contains basically no programming and no useful information on how to body build correctly.  The men’s health big book of exercises is more up to date, and a better book in all respects.

Really excellent book on executing the proper form for CrossFit Movements.  Sean may claim the book covers other modalities (e.g. orange theory, box and row, etc.)  But it doesn’t.  However, if you own a CrossFit Box, I’d buy this book — and make all your coaches read it.

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By the Numbers

Sean Manseau

Category: Metabolic Conditioning

Widely regarded as the seminal work at how to get better at rowing, running, spinning, and general physical preparedness (e.g. CrossFit.)  It’s a large book tipping the scale at 500+ pages.  Other people have called it the go to guide that every coach needs to read.  From what I’ve read on the CrossFit forum, this is the essential guide for CrossFit programming, so it’ll definitely make my list of 2017 book purchases.

I have feeling this book is one of those that will take a long time to implement, and probably require I take Brian’s course to make full use of it.  It’s been on my reading list since 2016.

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Power Speed Endurance

Brian MacKenzie

Category: Endurance Training

Brian formed much of the CrossFit’s Endurance programming.  It’s a guide on how to train for endurance without running 70 miles a week.  I’ve heard great thing’s about MacKenzie’s work, and this is a practical guide for getting better at endurance training.

I probably won’t read this book based on the reviews I have read.  Although I am curious (as is everyone else) about the mental focus Rich Froning must have.  God amongst CrossFitters.

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First: What it takes to win

Rich Froning

Category: CrossFit

At first thought, this book should be a no-brainer because no one knows about being a better athlete than Rich Froning right?  Well, let me save you the trouble.  If you want to learn who Rich Froning is or why he is the way he is… buy this book.  If you want to how Rich Froning trains… this book will disappoint.  It’s a shame too, because he has won so many times, it would be awesome for him to share his legacy method of training.  I’ll keep looking.

Drinking the CrossFit Koolaid?  Their two main selling points, you’ll work harder with a partner (that’s true for me), and you work harder when it’s scored (also true.)  It’s still my dream to figure out a business method to allow personal training style effectiveness with fun factor of CrossFit.  I would need a space of about 24000 square feet.  Enough for three separate classes.  Anyone investors interested?

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Learning to Breathe Fire

J.C Hertz

Category: CrossFit

If you want to learn about the origins of CrossFit, want to know why it works, and where it fall short — this is the seminal book.  From what I’ve read it’s inspiring and well written.  I don’t think it is necessarily a book for learning how to be a better CrossFitter, but it’ll probably inspire you to work harder.  I might read it … anything that motivates me to work harder is worth $10.

The Best Book for Olympic Lifting?  Yep, best one I’ve read at least.  Be prepared to strap in though….  You don’t flip through this book.  Grab your espresso and your barbell and be prepared to study and practice.  Use a video camera too so that you watch your technique.

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Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches

Greg Everett

Category: Olympic Lifting

Olympic Weight Lifting is two moves: the snatch and the clean and jerk.   From what I’ve read, this is the best book on the subject.  So if you can’t afford to hire a professional Olympic lifter to teach you — this book should be your first choice.

Update, so I’ve been reading this book… and it’s as good as I have heard.  It will be a lot of work to memorize and implement, but all good books are.  Best book on Olympic lifting I have read.

One of the most highly rated books on physical therapy.  One of Many Books in 2017-2018 I plan on reading and reviewing.

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Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists, 3e

Thomas Myers

Category: Rehabilitation and Movement Patterns

This book was recommended to me by Back to Health Chiropractics.  If you are in the business of helping other deal with pains and rehabilitate non-functioning muscles, this book is definitely worth a look.