Essential Reading #1

I’ve worked with plenty of people over the years who have achieved impressive levels of strength and physique development without ever knowing what a myosin heavy chain is or the names of any of the muscles that attach to the scapula. You’d be surprised how far you can go with a barbell and lots of hard work and dedication.

But for those who work in the field professionally, that’s not good enough. In the information age your clients are bombarded with health information daily, and they often turn to their trusted trainer to help translate this information into strategies that help them achieve their goals and improve their overall help. How can you do that without a sound understanding of the underlying concepts on which many of these studies are based?

That understanding will only come with lots of long hours hitting the books, along with taking time to put that new-found knowledge into action. I’ve received some emails asking about my book recommendations and finally got around to putting some of those recommendations into a post. I’ll start it off with some foundational books that address overall concepts (anatomy, physiology, statistics), but don’t worry, I’ll fit in training-specific books as well.

1. Color Atlas of Anatomy: A photographic study of the human body

Color atlas of anatomy

Having taught cadaver-based anatomy for the past five years it’s not surprising that I’m biased towards books that contain real pictures of anatomy. Diagrams are nice, but nothing beats actually getting an inside look at how everything fits together. Sure there’s drawbacks to many cadaver programs; many specimens are well past their prime and without being totally hydrated the muscles can look more like strips of beef jerky than a bulging muscle belly. Despite this you’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to develop a thorough understanding of muscle origins and insertions than actually seeing them directly. Seeing these connections and interactions trumps hours spent memorizing tables of muscle actions and attachments any day.

Trust me, knowing the body from the inside out never hurts when it comes to training.

2. Atlas of Surface Palpation: Anatomy of the neck, trunk, upper and lower limbs by Serge Tixa

Atlas of surface palpation

After checking out those cadaver anatomy books, you’ll need to get your hands on a fresh body. A huge component of training is teaching clients to ‘connect’ with their muscles so they can activate the right muscles at the right time. Finding muscles on a nicely labelled diagram is one thing, but being able to catch some of the smaller muscles when covered by layers of fat and skin is another. A good palpation guide will help you develop your surface anatomy skills which will help you be a more effective trainer. There are definitely some heavier, clinical palpation guides on the market, but for those in the fitness industry this book is more than sufficient.

3. Anatomy Trains by Thomas Meyers

Anatomy Trains

There’s definitely a bias in anatomy texts towards the ‘money’ structures (muscles, veins, arteries, nerves, bones and organs), but what about fascia? In most books and prepared cadaver specimens the fascia has been totally removed with the exception of the major players (thoracolumbar fascia, plantar fascia). As time has progressed, we’ve started to rethink the role of fascia as a passive, connective tissue, and current ideas suggest it may play a more active role, or at least contribute to the quality of movement. Given its new-found importance, it may help you to know a thing or two about it. Whether you buy into the Anatomy Trains system or not, it definitely wouldn’t hurt to take a closer look at some of the specifics of fascia.

4. Neuromuscular Aspects of Physical Activity by Phillip Gardiner

Neuromuscular aspects of physical activity

I’m biased on this one, Dr Phil Gardiner was my MSc advisor and an influential mentor as I developed my ideas on the neuromuscular system in strength training. This book is not an easy read, just as any good textbook should be. You’ll read, reread, look other stuff up, all the usual components of a good study session, and in the end it’ll be worth it. Seems it’s trendy to talk about the nervous system in training, and reading this book will add a little substance to your thinking on it.

I’ve just noticed that he has a new book on the market that may be worth the read since this first one is a little long in the tooth. I haven’t read it myself, but it may be worth checking out Advanced Neuromuscular Exercise Physiology.

5. The Athlete’s Shoulder by James R Andrews et al

The Athlete's Shoulder

I can remember going through undergrad at a time when the overhead press became forbidden and according to your local corrective exercise specialist, we were all either impinged or an impingement waiting to happen. Apparently all of us were type III acromions, with that pointy hook just scraping away at poor old supraspinatus. Times have changed and we’ve learned that while not everyone will be able to overhead press, and that some of us may require some prep work to get there, many of us actually CAN put a weight over our heads safely.

So instead of condemning your trainees to a life where they are forbidden to raise the roof, and definitely never a heavy roof, buy this book, read it, and understand more about the shoulder than you ever thought possible.

6. Intuitive Biostatistics: A non-mathematical guide to statistical thinking by Harvey Motulsky

Intuitive Biostatistics

Do you need to know statistics to be a great trainer? Most would argue ‘no’, but I’m going with a definitive ‘yes’. If you’re a trainer that spends anytime writing online, it’s highly likely you’ve either critiqued or criticized any of the recently released, controversial studies. Wouldn’t it be great if you had more substance in your argument than taking issue with the study’s funding source, complaining of small sample sizes or that they used untrained subjects? You don’t need to be a stats wizard, but if part of your day includes discussing studies on your blog or with your clients this book will help. Plus any complaints about sample size are always more convincing when you actually calculate the required sample size given the difference in means and variability in the study, but maybe that’s just me being a stickler.

Get reading

That’s a good start for books, and if you’ve breezed through these you’re well on your way to becoming an evidenced-based training machine. Do you have any favourites of your own? Let me know in the comments below.


    JT says:

    While there are TONS of books out there below are some off the top of my head:


    Strength Training Anatomy by Frédéric Delavier


    Advanced Nutrition And Human Metabolism by Sareen S. Gropper


    Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky


    Maximum Achievement by Brian Tracy

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Dan Ogborn