You want to get shredded, ripped, cut....you get the idea. But where do you start? A lot of us have some familiarity with lifting weights and hitting the gym. But, we settle into a routine and sometimes without even realizing it, get comfortable.
Today, we're going to take the first step to changing that. You're here because you want to learn, change, and grow, and I applaud you for that.
First and foremost, you need to have a plan. To have a plan, though, you need to understand how the body works, proper weight lifting technique, how to structure your diet, and more.
That's where books come in. You need to build a foundation of knowledge so you know what you're doing. Trust me, once you get started, it's going to get hard. There will be days when you want to quit, go back to bed, and settle into your old routine. But, one of the best ways to ensure you keep going is having confidence in your plan. If you don't trust the plan because you don't understand why you're doing things, your ability to stay disciplined will go down dramatically.
Your journey begins today, and we're going to start at the very beginning.
What is Bodybuilding?
Bodybuilding is a form of physical exercise and competitive sport that involves extensive strength training and muscle development to sculpt and enhance your physique. It is a discipline (with discipline being the key word) focused on building and shaping muscles through resistance training, primarily using weights and machines. It's one thing to lift and get big. Bodybuilders aim to achieve a muscular and symmetrical physique with well-defined muscles and low body fat levels. So, while you may be a beast in the gym, that same energy needs to apply to the kitchen.
Bodybuilding competitions, such as Mr. Olympia and the Arnold Classic, showcase the physiques of the world's best, who compete against each other based on criteria such as muscle size, symmetry, and conditioning. Beyond the competitive aspect, bodybuilding is also pursued by individuals for personal fitness goals, self-improvement, and overall physical well-being. Put simply, it feels good to feel good about how you look.
Why Should You Read A Bodybuilding Book?
We mentioned earlier that it's imperative you build a foundation of knowledge before you get started. With that, here are some other reasons why I believe you'll find tremendous value in the books below:
Knowledge and Education: Bodybuilding books provide comprehensive information and in-depth knowledge about various aspects of training, nutrition, and supplementation. They can help you understand the science behind muscle growth, metabolism, workout routines, and the role of nutrition in achieving your fitness goals. By gaining knowledge, you can make informed decisions about your training and diet, leading to more effective and efficient progress.
Training Guidance: Many of these books contain detailed workout programs, exercise techniques, and training principles. They can guide you through the process of designing and structuring your workouts, helping you optimize your training routine for muscle development, strength gains, and overall physique improvement. Learning proper exercise form and technique can also reduce the risk of injuries and maximize the effectiveness of your workouts.
Nutritional Advice: Nutrition plays a vital role in bodybuilding, and we all can benefit from guidance on meal planning, macronutrient ratios, calorie intake, and dietary strategies to support muscle growth and fat loss. Even if you're an expert on the importance of protein and carbohydrates, it never hurts to validate what you know and believe. For example, I was just introduced to clear protein powder. Implementing proper nutrition strategies can enhance your results and support overall health. I wrote a separate article about sports nutrition that is worth your time.
Motivation and Inspiration: My favorite part of reading the books below is the stories, experiences, and advice from successful bodybuilders and fitness experts. These accounts were motivating, inspiring, and insightful into the mindset and dedication required to get where I want to be. Especially if you're training alone, reading about others' journeys and accomplishments can encourage you to stay committed to your own fitness goals and overcome obstacles along the way.
Holistic Approach to Fitness: Factors like recovery, rest, mindset, and lifestyle habits often get overshadowed by training and diet. I'll be the first one to admit that topics like sleep, stress management, goal setting, and long-term sustainability aren't always top of mind for me. By incorporating these aspects into your fitness journey, you can create a well-rounded and balanced approach that supports your overall well-being.
If this sounds appealing to you, then let's take the next step and check out some resources that will help you build your foundation. Rather than rattle off a list of 20+ books, I narrowed this down to my favorite ten. I'm confident that if you read any of them, you'll have a good understanding of the topics above and be poised to confidently take your progress to another level.
Our Top 10 Bodybuilding Books
Bigger Leaner Stronger
Michael Matthews' "Bigger Leaner Stronger" serves as a comprehensive guide for men seeking to transform their bodies through evidence-based training and nutrition principles. The book focuses on fundamental aspects such as progressive resistance training, optimizing nutrition, and prioritizing recovery. Matthews presents practical advice and clear explanations, making complex concepts accessible to readers of all levels. Whether you're a novice or an experienced lifter, this book provides a solid foundation for building muscle, losing fat, and achieving a strong and impressive physique. We previously featured this book in our article titled: Sports Nutrition Books for Athletes. Matthews also wrote "Thinner Leaner Stronger," which has a lot of similar content geared towards women.
The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding
No discussion of bodybuilding books would be complete without mentioning the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding." Considered a timeless classic, this book covers everything from training techniques to competition preparation. Schwarzenegger, a seven-time Mr. Olympia, shares his wealth of knowledge and experience, making this book a bible for bodybuilders. With detailed exercise descriptions, nutritional guidance, and inspiring anecdotes, this book serves as a comprehensive resource for aspiring bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts.
For more on Arnold and his training programs, check out the video below.
Strength Training Anatomy
"Strength Training Anatomy" by Frederic Delavier is a highly regarded resource that provides a comprehensive look at the anatomy and mechanics of strength training. The book is richly illustrated with detailed anatomical drawings, showcasing the muscles involved in various exercises. Delavier explains proper form, muscle activation, and exercise variations, helping readers develop a deeper understanding of how their bodies work during weightlifting. This book is an excellent tool for both beginners and advanced lifters who want to optimize their workouts and target specific muscle groups effectively.
The Bodybuilding.com Guide to Your Best Body
Kris Gethin's "The Bodybuilding.com Guide to Your Best Body" provides a step-by-step approach to transforming your physique. The book combines workout plans, nutrition advice, and motivational strategies to help readers achieve their fitness goals. Gethin, a renowned fitness expert, outlines effective training techniques, meal plans, and supplement recommendations. With a focus on a holistic approach to body transformation, this book aims to empower individuals to make sustainable lifestyle changes and build their best bodies.
Practical Programming for Strength Training
"Practical Programming for Strength Training" is a highly regarded book that explores the science behind effective strength training. Written by strength training experts Mark Rippetoe and Andy Baker, the book delves into the principles of programming, periodization, and exercise selection. It provides practical guidelines for structuring workouts and optimizing progress in strength and muscle gain. This book is a valuable resource for those looking to take their strength training to the next level and design programs tailored to their specific goals.
The Wisdom of Mike Mentzer
"The Wisdom of Mike Mentzer" pays homage to the legendary bodybuilder and philosopher, Mike Mentzer. Authored by John Little, this book delves into Mentzer's revolutionary training principles, including his Heavy Duty system and high-intensity training techniques. It explores the science and philosophy behind Mentzer's approach to bodybuilding, providing valuable insights into training intensity, recovery, and the mind-muscle connection. This book is an excellent choice for those interested in exploring alternative training methods and gaining a deeper understanding of the mental and physical aspects of bodybuilding.
Maximum Muscle, Minimum Fat
Ori Hofmekler's "Maximum Muscle, Minimum Fat" explores the concept of achieving a lean and muscular physique through a strategic combination of nutrition and training. The book introduces the concept of "Warrior Diet" and intermittent fasting as methods to promote muscle growth while minimizing fat gain. Hofmekler delves into the science behind these approaches, providing practical advice and strategies to achieve a chiseled physique. This book offers an alternative perspective on bodybuilding nutrition and can be a thought-provoking read for those seeking to optimize their physique.
Brother Iron Sister Steel
"Brother Iron, Sister Steel" by Dave Draper is a captivating book that delves into the mindset, experiences, and philosophy of a bodybuilder. Draper, a former Mr. America and Mr. Universe, shares his personal stories, training insights, and motivational strategies. This book offers a unique blend of practical advice, reflections on the bodybuilding lifestyle, and a touch of humor. It provides inspiration and encouragement to readers, regardless of their experience level, as they pursue their bodybuilding goals.
If you're a fan of vintage videos, check out the one below from 1987.
The Purposeful Primitive
"The Purposeful Primitive" by Marty Gallagher takes a unique approach to bodybuilding by exploring the primordial laws of fitness and how they can be applied to trigger dramatic physical transformations. Gallagher draws upon his decades of experience as a strength coach and powerlifting champion to provide insights into building muscle, increasing strength, and optimizing performance. This book combines training methodologies, historical context, and motivational stories to inspire readers to push their limits and achieve extraordinary results.
"Dinosaur Training" by Brooks Kubik is a book that draws inspiration from the old-school, no-nonsense approach to strength training. Kubik explores the training methods of legendary strongmen and powerlifters, providing insights into their mindset, workouts, and training philosophy. This book emphasizes the importance of simplicity, heavy compound exercises, and consistent effort in building strength and muscle. It serves as a refreshing and motivating read for individuals looking to tap into the timeless principles of strength training.
The interview below with Brooks is long, but it's really good if you have some time.
Obviously, if you've never touched a weight before, your plan is going to be much different than someone who's training multiple times per week.
Regardless of your situation, we can all get better. If you're an expert, think about the little things when it comes to recovery, diet, stress, etc. If you're a beginner, build a foundation and a plan. Both groups should remember that often, small changes lead to big gains.
Have a book that we should check out? Shoot us a note below in the comments section or on our Contact page.
For additional book recommendations by sport, check out our Recommendations page. We also have a large library of sports articles on our Blog that dive into sports history, hot topics, and other relevant issues.
Last, check out my friends at Gymreapers, who have launched some top notch performance products for bodybuilders. Whether today is day one or day one thousand, it's not about where you've been; it's about where you're going.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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