Looking for a "strength training 101" book/resource.
April 30, 2011 9:32 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a "strength training 101" book/resource.

I'm a guy looking to put on some size, and recently got started with weight training. I'm looking for a book/resource on the fundamentals of strength training that:
• Explains the fundamentals
• Provides sample exercise programs
• Is written by an eminently qualified expert
• Is written for laymen
• Is based as much as possible on up-to-date mainstream exercise methodology, rather than an original/novel/controversial technique, even if well researched

I also want something that will answer my various beginner questions, such as the following (note: do not answer these questions -- tell me where I can find the answers!):
• How should I time my workouts in relation to my meals and sleep times?
• When should I do low reps vs. high reps?
• What are the advantages/disadvantages of free weights vs. machines?
• How should I evolve my strength training program over time?
• How important is it to stretch/cool down?
• What are the most common newbie mistakes?

So far, the best candidate I've found is Men's Health: The Book of Muscle. However, reviewers on Amazon criticize the book's workout programs for being too intense. Also, it's a 2003 book, and I am wondering if there is something more up to date out there.

Any recommendations?
posted by lunchbox to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe is probably the best comprehensive beginner strength training book, but the actual program in his Practical Programming book is arguably superior for a beginner.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 10:08 PM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Um... sounds like you want Starting Strength. The follow-up is Practical Programming. I think your emphasis on the latest greatest tech is misguided. There tends to be trends even in strength training, usually based upon some new observation that yields a sensible recommendation... which then takes on a life of its own to become the most important exercise/routine/diet/stretch/etc. ever created.
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 10:09 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stumptuous is a fantastic online resource. Yes, her emphasis on getting women in the weight room, but the information and programs women need and the information and programs men need when starting a lifting routine are the same (despite what Self Magazine and Men's Health would have you think).

New Rules of Lifting (as well as the "New Rules of Lifting for Women" counterpart) is a good book, Alwyn Cosgrove is a pretty decent fitness dude and his training program are tailored towards the casual enthusiast. He incorporates good, complex movements with solid training advice and does go into the science of things.

People will probably recommend Starting Strength. I think Starting Strength is a great book, but it definitely has a certain tone to it that can be off-putting to beginners (first sentence: "Strength is the most important thing in life"). It's more like a textbook of the basic complex lifts (squat, bench, power clean, overhead press, deadlift), so if you're looking for really intense, detailed instruction on how to do lifts and their biomechanics it's a good resource (caveat: some of his instructions are extremely debatable, like how he recommends people do cleans). But it sounds like you want something a little more casual than that. He also doesn't really address nutrition or meal timing outside of "Eat everything you can get your hands on" because his advice was originally aimed towards skinny teenagers who wanted to put on weight for the football team. His basic program would likely be a good one for you, it's just the book itself is not everything you're looking for.
posted by Anonymous at 10:19 PM on April 30, 2011

nth Starting Strength then Practical Programming. There is a DVD for Starting Strength that I highly recommended. There is a unofficial Starting Strength wiki you check out to before you receive the book.

For absolute beginner questions try this.
If you have more questions ask at T-nation.
posted by Carius at 10:22 PM on April 30, 2011

Oh yes, and two more things: in NROL--do be careful to double-check instruction on the exercise against other resources, like you'll find at Stumptuous, as the instruction is not always as detailed as one would like.

Also, Brain over Brawn is a simple, smart health-and-fitness eBook (and free!).
posted by Anonymous at 10:26 PM on April 30, 2011

Oh I forgot, Strong Lifts is not bad source of information, but unfortunately, they closed the registration to the forum.
posted by Carius at 10:31 PM on April 30, 2011

My advice is try not to look for a book that will be the be-all-end-all of exercise books. If you're starting out, what you need is a book that will teach you the most important ideas and get you into shape without being a giant reference manual.

The Men's Health Hard Body Plan is a book, also co-authored by Lou Schuler, that splits the content between exercise and nutrition. A -huge- part of effective weight training is knowing what to eat, and the book contains everything from basic ideas about nutrition, to a body weight table and menus that will help you plan your diet based on how much you weigh, and whether you want to lose weight or gain weight.

This is in addition to a comprehensive 12-week program with variable difficulty so you can go back through it multiple times, with each time being progressively more difficult. The beginner exercises it contains are for beginners, the intermediate less so, and the advanced exercises are pretty difficult even if you've been weight training for a while.

I find Men's Health great for beginners because they provide the technical information, but as you required, write for laymen. I think this is probably why you're leaning towards The Book of Muscle. I haven't read through it, but I'm guessing given it's length, it's not as concise as Schuler's previous book. I say go with The Hard Body Plan (it's a quick read), finish a 12-week workout with the beginner exercises, feel awesome, and assess yourself.

Good luck!
posted by lemuring at 10:52 PM on April 30, 2011

I agree with the above posters re: Starting Strength, and Practical Programming. Starting Strength will teach you to do the basic barbell lifts that should form the core of any weightlifting program.

Specifically, Starting Strength meets all of your criteria and answers all of the questions you posed except for these two questions:

• When should I do low reps vs. high reps?
• How should I evolve my strength training program over time?

... which are the subject of Practical Programming. And neither book deals with nutrition all that much, so your question

• How should I time my workouts in relation to my meals and sleep times?

will probably go unanswered if you read only these two books. As some other posters noted, the nutrition advice is limited to "eat more"... But, as you're a guy looking to "put on some size", that might indeed be all the diet advice you need?
posted by JumpW at 12:01 AM on May 1, 2011

Starting Strength.

But be careful about form and who teaches it. Look for real qualifications. Ask them to demonstrate their technique and tape it to see if they know what they're doing.

Three days a week I watch crossfitters taught by various "level 1" or "level 2" coaches in the gym I use hammer through dozens of squats, snatches, etc. with form so bad that I can barely watch it, extreme inward flexing of their lower backs, horrible rotated snatches, cleans that look like snatches, etc.

Just terrible.
posted by rr at 10:17 AM on May 1, 2011

Seconding "The New Rules of Lifting." I've only ever used the women's version, but assuming the original (men's) version is similar, it should be just what you're looking for.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 11:30 AM on May 1, 2011

Nthing Starting Strength. It's a great read. It's been very helpful for me to learn proper form.
posted by thatgirld at 1:14 PM on May 2, 2011

Starting Strength is a good starter book but be aware of a couple of things. Literally three quarters of the book is "how to squat/bench/etc.". Literally. So, you'll learn top to bottom how to do the exercises but very little else.
Second, it uses a basic linear progression. Nothing wrong with that, and works just fine for plenty of people. For a while at least.
So my suggestion is if you do buy SS and want to pick up a second book for more info than I would suggest a completely different author/strength coach than Rippetoe. It'll make you a heck of a lot more well rounded and knowledgable in the long run if you do gather from more than one source and you won't fall into the trap of believing in the "There is only one way to lift!" syndrome.
Most top coaches have differing philosophies on how to go about training that are just as valid and work just as well, so here's a couple of good ones.
Dan John just released a book, based off a popular article he did, which should be fantastic (as everything else he says is): Mass Made Simple
Wendler is another top guy and has a very popular program:
5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System for Raw Strength
posted by P.o.B. at 12:07 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

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