10 Best Strength Training Books For Beginners & Intermediates

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This article features some of the best weightlifting books available these days.

You know, it was just a book someone gave me, Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder, that inspired me to start weightlifting in 1982.

And then it motivated me to keep going, no matter what.

So without further ado, here are 10 great strength training books for beginner & intermediate weightlifters & recreational bodybuilders.

 

Best weightlifting books

Bigger/Leaner/Stronger 

Thinner/Leaner/Stronger

Men’s Health Big Book of Exercises

Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises

Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training

Practical Programming For Strength Training

Your Body Is Your Barbell

Mass Made Simple

Train Like A Bodybuilder

Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder

 

Important note about 4 of them

There are two sets of two books apiece that contain basically the same material as each other, except one’s marketed towards women, the other to men.

*Bigger/Leaner/Stronger is essentially the same book as Thinner/Leaner/Stronger.

“Thinner” has a purply pink cover and is intended for women. “Bigger” is yellow and marketed towards men.

The main content is nearly identical except for the gender editing of the grammar.

 

*And the two Big Book of Exercises from Men’s Health & Women’s Health Magazines are identical in content as well, except for the grammar being gender edited & the sex of the fitness model on the cover.

 

What’s next

A bit later I’ll provide a summary review of each of those ten eight books, and discuss how I chose them from the hundreds of strength training books on the market these days.

Next, I want to share just a little more on the impact Arnie’s book had on me.

 

 

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Science resources included

As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.

 

 

What a good book can do

Education of a Bodybuilder had that sweet combination of information & inspiration like the best books do.

Changed my life in many ways it did, sayeth my inner Yoda.

If I hadn’t read that book of Arnold’s, I highly doubt I’d have ever begun strength training at all.

I had absolutely no interest in lifting weights up to that moment.

And yet, that book shifted my whole mindset about what I wanted to eat, what kind of shape I wanted to be in, and how much effort I was willing to invest in my health.

(It wasn’t a passing fancy either. I mean, that was 39 years ago and I’ve been at it ever since.)

 

Power in the pages

It strengthened my mind and my resolve to overcome challenges of all sorts outside of the gym.

And Arnold’s book also showed me how to use any negativity & discouragement as fuel for my own accomplishments.

All that in a dog-eared little paperback the bass player in my band shoved at me while I was scarfing down candy bars on the way to a gig.

Here’s to a good read for everyone.

 

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So many books, so little time

From what I know and from what I’ve heard from people I know, there are lots & lots of well-written & informative books on weightlifting & fitness these days.

I can’t read them all. Then again, who can?

So the list of strength training books in this article isn’t attempting to be an all-encompassing “The ONLY best ones worth reading” kind of thing.

It’s more of a suggested reading list of titles I am familiar with, books that I think provide nice boosts of knowledge or inspiration (or both) to someone just getting into strength training.

Or someone who’s feeling like taking their beginning weightlifting approach up a notch or two.

Let me clarify who I’d suggest these books to.

 

 

Books on strength training for everyday people

I am everyday people, like Sly’s old song says.

And I figure most of the readers visiting my blog are everyday people too.

Meaning, regardless of our different levels of fitness, we’re not elite athletes, advanced powerlifters, competitive bodybuilders, and the like.

Given that assumption, I limited my strength training book choices to those that I felt would be appropriate for any of the following types of people:

  • beginner & intermediate weightlifters
  • recreational bodybuilders
  • those over 50
  • women & men alike
  • people looking to add muscle/lose fat, look/feel better

 

I mention all this because there are many excellent books out there for the advanced athlete, powerlifter, & bodybuilder.

Most are deep dives that are quite technical and specific to the goals of advanced strength & conditioning.

They’re great & all I’m sure, but beyond my interest level.



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Best weightlifting books for beginners & intermediates

(These aren’t listed in any particular order.)

Bigger/Leaner/Stronger

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Thinner/Leaner/Stronger

Author: Mike Matthews

4.6⭐ 8,000+ reviews (combined)

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Reminder: These two books are identical except for very slight cosmetic differences.

 

Who’s it for

*These books are meant for anyone regardless of age who wants to look better by losing their fat & replacing it with some muscle.

*Experienced intermediate lifters ought to be familiar with all of the exercises contained in these books.

But the author’s specific combo of training program & diet plan might be worth investigating, given the success other experienced gym goers have achieved with it.

 

What’s in it

*433 pages

*Smart weight training & a lean diet are the two main ingredients of the Bigger Leaner Stronger – Thinner Leaner Stronger program.

(Again, the workout & diet plan is the same in both books.) 

*A lot of impressive before/after photos of people who’ve been doing this program

 

Got patience?

There are 21 chapters over the following four sections of setup before you get to any workout instruction:

  • What’s In This For You
  • Key Things They Aren’t Telling You
  • How To Win The Inner Game of Getting Fit
  • The Last Diet Advice You’ll Ever Need

 

Mike has a lot of points to make and he backs them all up with hundreds of scientific & medical references. It just takes awhile…

…and he also does a lot of marketing of his products aimed at you throughout the book too.

 

Good things come to those who keep on keepin’ on

If you can get through all that stuff unscathed, you’ll be able to dive into the real substance of the book: the hows & whats of effective strength training & dieting in order to get into really good shape.

 

Many proven (good) ideas put into this program

*The workouts focus on good old-fashioned weightlifting. Images included as needed for instruction, and all facets of the Leaner Stronger program are clearly explained.

 

*The exercises consist of most of strength training’s important compound movements & essential isolation exercises, without the useless fluff on display at many gyms.

 

*The Leaner Stronger training program is very straight ahead as well, nothing extreme or bizarre.

Just a fundamentally sound schedule with general progressive resistance training principles at work.

 

*Diet is covered in full detail.

And there’s plenty of sound nutrition advice, tips on keeping track of your calories and more, including a detailed overview of various supplements.

 

*Lots of tips on form, recovery, etc., all sorts of things.

He’s obviously gone to great lengths to try & cover any questions or concerns a person might have during the Leaner Stronger program.

 

*There are multiple sections in the book devoted to developing the right mindset for training success.

 

Summing up:

Both of these Leaner Stronger books are bestsellers, with thousands of people having left positive reviews.

And as I mentioned earlier, there are lots of before/after photo testimonials that speak to the effectiveness of the Leaner Stronger program too.

Read owner reviews on Amazon (women’s)

Read owner reviews on Amazon (men’s)

 

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Men’s Health Big Book of Exercises

Mens Health Big Book of Exercises - heydayDo image

 

 

Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises

Author: Adam Campbell

4.7⭐ 1,300+ reviews (combined)

Womens Health Big Book of Exercises - heydayDo image

 

Reminder: These two books are identical except for very slight cosmetic differences.

 

Who’s it for

*Many people interested in weightlifting can benefit from this practical encyclopedia-type book dedicated to strength training.

*An excellent informational resource for beginners to get started with, and for early intermediates looking to up their existing knowledge base.

 

What’s in it

*560 pages

*Individual chapters providing several exercises apiece for each of the 7 major muscle groups, plus chapters dedicated to total body, warmup, & fat loss exercises.

*Clear explanations of exercises & strength training principles, supported with over 1,300 images.

*Several weightlifting workout programs from various trainers, many tailored to specific goals; cardio workouts included.

*Dozens of training & nutrition tips.

*There are tons of exercises for every muscle group, but they’re not just listed en masse without context. They’re provided along with multiple training routines into which the exercises are already integrated.

 

Summing up:

All these features I’ve mentioned makes it so a beginner can quickly get up & running lifting in no time.

And for a recent intermediate, the book could provide additional exercises they weren’t aware of, as well as expand their knowledge of potential training programs.

Read owner reviews on Amazon (women’s)

Read owner reviews on Amazon (men’s)

 

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Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training

Author: Mark Rippetoe

4.8⭐ 2,200+ reviews

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This is widely considered the most highly-regarded instructional book on the use of a barbell for the five major lifts.

 

Who’s it for

*No doubt a reading requirement for any aspiring strength & conditioning coach, Starting Strength also has great value within it for any weightlifting enthusiast who intends to use a barbell while training.

*The level of detail & sports science in this book might overwhelm a casual beginner who’s just dipping their toe in the water with weightlifting.

*However – this book is considered the best source for accurately describing how to correctly perform the 5 most important barbell exercises.

This makes it very useful for a beginning weightlifter who doesn’t want to hire a personal trainer, let alone a bad one who isn’t an authority on proper form.

 

What’s in it

*347 pages

*Unparalleled detailed instruction with photos & diagrams on the correct form required for the:

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Overhead Press
  • Bench Press
  • Power Clean

*Several variation exercises and additional barbell lifting exercises are also included.

*Other topics discussed are safety, nutrition tips, equipment, spotters, soreness & injuries.

*The book doesn’t go deeply into how to program a workout using these exercises.

It’s about how to perfect these important lifts so you can get stronger while avoiding injury.

 

*For applying this top-notch barbell information into a workout, see its “partner” book below – Practical Programming For Strength Training.

Read owner reviews on Amazon

 

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Practical Programming For Strength Training

Author: Mark Rippetoe & Andy Baker

4.8⭐ 570+ reviews

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Who’s it for

*I included this book here for any intermediate level lifters who’re looking to bump up their game & go deeper into the science of designing their own training programs.

*I own the book. Knowing the material, I think it’s a little dense & complex for the casual beginner.

A hungry, chomping-at-the-bit beginner might get off on it though.

*Given its technical tone and sports science-heavy vocabulary, this book’s intended audience is likely strength & conditioning coaches and advanced lifters.

 

But an intermediate level trainee can gain a ton of knowledge from Practical Programming if they have a high interest level in weightlifting.

 

What’s in it

*256 pages

*This book is all about training and not about exercise or fitness, and it makes that distinction right off the bat.

*Topics covered in great detail include:

  • strength training program basics
  • muscle adaptation
  • training volume & intensity
  • overtraining
  • measuring strength performance
  • the disconnect between academia’s strength research & the reality in the gym & on the playing field.

*Program considerations for all levels of strength trainees are discussed, including:

  • Novices
  • Intermediates
  • Advanced
  • Women
  • Older lifters
  • Youths
  • Post-injury re-habbers

Read owner reviews on Amazon

 

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Your Body Is Your Barbell

Author: BJ Gaddour

4.5⭐ 220+ reviews

Your Body Is Your Barbell - Gaddour - heydayDo image

 

Exercises that use your own body weight as the resistance are a form of strength training, and so I felt this well-written book on bodyweight exercises ought to be included in this article.

 

Who’s it for

*Beginner or intermediate trainees both. The book is designed for anyone looking to develop a strength training program with exercises that only require their bodyweight.

 

What’s in it

* 288 pages

*8 bodyweight exercises explained clearly with images. And each of the exercises has 5 levels of difficulty to them called  progressions. As you get stronger you work your way up through them.

*The exercises are all compound (multi-joint, multi-muscle) exercises targeting the major muscle groups.

*There are 8 workout routines that you can tailor to your training goals (strength, fat burn).

*There is also a helpful chapter on nutrition for someone who hasn’t dialed that in yet.

*Other chapters include one dedicated to perfecting the Burpee form, and one on a cardio workout built from the bodyweight exercises previously explained.

Read owner reviews on Amazon

 

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Mass Made Simple

Author: Dan John

4.6⭐ 130+ reviews

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Who’s it for

*Intermediate weightlifters who are looking to significantly increase their lean muscle mass.

*Ideally, this is designed for someone with access to a gym or home setup that has a squat rack with safety pins. Spotters are recommended too.

*Dan John’s program could easily be modified to work at home for someone with adjustable dumbbells. But the results won’t be as impressive compared to following it verbatim in an equipped gym.

 

What’s in it

* 160 pages

*It’s a six-week high intensity program focused specifically on lean mass building.

It’s written in an entertaining, folksy style – in simple English – by an award-winning Olympic lifter who’s also a college professor.

As he says, mass building is based on simple principles: lots of time under heavy loads, lots of good food, lots of sleep/rest.

And while the training program & diet recommendations are simple, the workouts are intense.

 

Workouts

It’s a one day on, two days off schedule that cycles out to 14 workouts over the six-week period.

Those extra days off ought to clue you in to the program’s intensity level; the extra recovery is critical for success with this program.

There are a few dumbbell/kettlebell exercises, and a handful of barbell exercises. The three parts of each workout consist of:

  • upper-body strength work
  • complexes (6 lifting exercises in succession)
  • high repetition squats

There is a lot of humor and good advice found in Mass Made Simple’s pages.

I enjoyed it, even if I’m not able to give its workout program a go, due to limitations on my end.

Read owner reviews on Amazon

 

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Train Like A Bodybuilder

Author: Erin Stern

4.8⭐ 150+ online reviews

Train Like A Bodybuilder - Erin Stern - heydayDo image

 

Who’s it for

*This will work great for beginners, as everything (training programs & the individual exercises) is laid out in a clearly-explained, well-photographed manner.

*An intermediate might find value here even if they know all of the various exercises already, if by chance they don’t have a good training program going.

The book has several of the most common training splits used by weightlifters & bodybuilders.

 

What’s in it

  • 192 pages
  • 9 training programs
  • 50+ weightlifting exercises covering all of the major muscle groups & core
  • 11 dynamic bodyweight exercises

 

The book is divided into three main sections

* An intro that provides an overview of the whys of strength training, how to eat right, & a number of other appropriate training tips.

* A section on the 9 training programs you can choose from, along with guidance on how to put together the right workout routine.

* Then there’s all of the lifting exercises sorted by muscle group and demonstrated via explanation & good photos. Core & dynamic bodyweight exercises round out the final section.

 

Gym-oriented

To follow her training routines on the money, you’ll need a commercial gym membership, because much of the training emphasis is on gym-type equipment.

So doing it at home will require adaptation for someone armed with only a few pairs of dumbbells or a simple bench.

Read owner reviews on Amazon

 

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Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder

Author: Arnold Schwarzenegger

4.7⭐ 500+ online reviews

The Education of a Bodybuilder - Schwarzenegger - heydayDo image

 

Considering the positive impact this book had on my 38-year strength training journey (it Big-Banged it into existence), I had to include it on this list.

 

Who’s it for

*Anyone into weightlifting & bodybuilding, or wanting to get into them.

*This book is not like those books that target specific training & diet information to either beginners or to intermediate or advanced lifters.

*But it has plenty of training & diet specifics for varying levels of weight training experience.

 

What’s in it

* 256 pages

*The book is written in the first person from Arnold’s perspective, and is divided into two main sections.

 

Part autobiography

The first half reads like an autobiography, starting with his early strength training beginnings in his Austrian hometown.

The book goes from there all the way up to the time it was first published (1978 I think), chronicling all of his triumphs and challenges along the way.

He’s a bright guy and provides insight into his mindset during various situations, which is cool.

 

Part bodybuilding training & diet manual

The second half is where he goes into the details of the various training programs he used, as well as the components of a successful bodybuilding diet.

He shares plenty of advice on lifting exercises, training programs, & diet for both the beginner and for someone moving beyond the novice stage into intermediate muscle building.

There’s nothing complicated or overly technical in his explanations on workout programs & diet. It’s all in easy-to-understand plain English.

 

Two different book covers

As with many books that were published decades ago, the cover of Arnold’s book has (at least) a couple of variations.

There’s the one I showed above, and then there’s the original cover from 1978. Here’s a pic of my copy:

My Education of a Bodybuilder book - 5x5 workout - heydayDo image

 

My 2 cents’ worth

As mentioned earlier, I found his sharp observations & transparency regarding his goal-setting & motivations to be very inspirational to me back when I read it at the tender age of 23.

I followed his training ideas closely when I began strength training.

At that time I had reached my present height of 6’ 2”, but I was an ectomorph-ing 167 lb. skinny dude.

After 15 months of doing my “broke kid in college” version of Arnold’s training & diet suggestions, I had put on 40+ lb. of lean body mass and weighed in the neighborhood of 210 lb.

Read owner reviews on Amazon

 

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Wrapping Up

I hope that this article on strength training books is useful to you, and that you find a helpful and inspiring book to curl up with too.

I wish you well on your fitness journey; let’s go.

– greg

January 2021

 

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About heydayDo

heydayDo author Greg Simon
Hi I’m Greg Simon. Fitness training & nutrition researching since 1982. Organic food & wine grower. Surfer. Congenital heart disease survivor (so far). Read more…
heydayDo is my “fitness after 50” website that’s about embracing the physically active lifestyle as we get older.
 
I write about the fitness and health research I’ve found concerning the quality of life benefits that exercise and good nutrition provide.
 
When I get curious about something, I’ll dig into whatever sports science & medical facts there are on the topic to learn what’s real & what’s only hype. I also post my experiences product-testing & evaluating home gym equipment & fitness supplements.
 
 It’s an information-sharing, personal opinion blog of mine.
 
So if you’re looking for medical or nutritional advice, please consult with your doctor or health professional for that, since heydayDo does not provide medical advice.