One of the toughest things about starting resistance training is to learn how to do the individual exercises accurately. As alluded to earlier, venturing head on into weightlifting is not the best idea. One must start gradually, learn the proper form of the exercises and then progress slowly but steadily.
Hence, we have two major challenges at hand.
We shall look at the first one today.
Resistance training can be done in several forms - bodyweight training or callisthenics, weightlifting with free weights and/or machines, and dumb bells/kettle bells. Let’s look at some great resources for these.
The best way to start resistance training is to learn bodyweight training. It’s easier to learn. There is little, if any investment needed and the chances of injury are also less. Further, there is nothing more efficient than learning to move one’s body in space effectively.
1. Convict Conditioning by Paul “Coach” Wade
This is one of the best resources to learn about body weight exercises. Learn it from people who have nothing to develop their strength, except their hands and feet, and sheer will power – convicts. This wonderful book outlines the history of bodyweight strength training (with multiple photos), and the techniques to master the big 6 basic exercises – push-up, pull-up, squat, bridge, hanging leg raises and the handstand. Not just this, it gives the means of progression to elite standards in these (though the last couple of elite levels in the one-arm pull-up or one-legged squat are probably unrealistic). Still, it’s one of the best books to get started on the subject.
2. Never Gymless by Ross Enamait
Another great text on a wide variety of body weight exercises, their variations and progressions. Also, it looks at the use of simple tools to make these exercises easier, or harder, as per requirement, for instance ropes, boxes, etc. More to the point, but perhaps, not as inspirational as Convict Conditioning.
3. Raising the Bar by Al Kavadlo
For those who want to do the pull-up and can’t, or think pull-up is the only exercise you can do on a bar, is this little gem from one of the finest practitioners of Callisthenics, The Kavadlo brothers have written several books on the subject. Here, he outlines the steps to master these difficult exercises, as well as how to make slow, but steady progress. To see the results, check out their “human flag” photos. You can see four progressions for the pull-up here.
Bodyweight training has enough juice to last a lifetime. However, there are many who want to lift heavy weights. While Schwarzenegger and Bill Pearl do give cursory descriptions of hundreds of strength exercises in their huge volumes on weightlifting, these are not the best sources for learning the proper form. For that, the classic text is Starting Strength.
4. Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore
Perhaps the best book to master the big 5 - the bench press, overhead press, squat, dead lift and power clean. While he does spend pages on apparently simple aspects like positioning of the feet, where one should look and the different types of grips, at the end, one does come out much wiser. However, my favourite part is the Foreword. Rippetoe dedicates the 2nd edition to his teacher, Philip S. Colee, who passed away with cancer. He writes,
You have not witnessed determination until you have seen a man wearing an oxygen bottle do deep squats for sets of five across…(the metastatic cancer) was not going to prevent him from living his remaining days as he saw fit-he taught many of us here at the gym what was possibly the most valuable lesson…no matter what your personal circumstances might be (the universe is unconcerned with such details), you get out of life exactly what you have contributed to the effort. It is my honour to have been his student. He will be missed.
5. Strength Training Anatomy Workout by Delaware and Gundill.
This is a useful text which shows good anatomical photos of various muscles, and outlines of several exercises with barbell and dumbbells. Should ideally come after one has learnt the basics from Starting Strength.
6. Exercise Technique Manual for Resistance Training by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
A useful resource, it encloses two DVDs showing correct and incorrect exercise techniques.
However, Olympic lifts (snatch, clean and jerk) are much more technical and more injury prone than the power lifts (squat, bench press, dead lift). Hence these are best learnt from a coach, especially in the younger age group. As one ages, it’s much harder to master these rapid jerky movements, and much more likely to cause injury.
7. Enter the Kettlebell by Pavel Tsatsouline
Pavel is the Russian strength coach who introduced Kettle bells to the West. This is one of his finest books in mastering the difficult art of handling the “gym in the palm of one’s hand”. Many of his books have been criticised for being overpriced and too brief; this isn’t one of them. It contains detailed descriptions of the major kettle bell exercises – the swing, the Turkish get up, the clean, the press and the snatch. Embellished with tips and tricks from the master himself, this book is a must-have for all kettlebell enthusiasts.
8. Kettlebell RX: A Complete Guide for Athletes and Coaches by Jeff Martone
This is the other complete guide to learning the above-mentioned exercises and more. A Martial Artist and a trainer of repute, Martone is well known for his feat of performing get ups with a female athlete clinging to his forearm, instead of holding a kettlebell, highlighting the strength these exercises can build over time. While this book is more structured and systematic than Pavel’s, the two are probably complementary.
Other Useful books for Strength Training
9. Never Let Go by Dan John
A well-known strength coach, Dan John specialises in writing practical, no-nonsense guide books on strength training. Subtitled “A Philosophy of Lifting, Living and Learning”, this one is full of useful insights. Dan John’s inspiring writing is sure to fire up the newbie as well as the seasoned athlete.
10. Practical Programming For Strength Training by Mark Rippetoe
Another book by the author of Starting Strength, this one teaches us the tough art of programming - the term used for cycling of workouts, or simply, taking two steps back, in order to take three steps forward. As one starts plateauing which is inevitable within 6-12 months (probably even sooner) of starting strength training, programming is critical to progress.
11. Strength and Physique (3 slim volumes) by James K Chan
A police officer and a martial artist, Chan shows how to build strength, fitness and bulk by using the right exercises and the right schedules. While these books are printed privately (hence lack proper page numbers), they pack a lot of useful information for designing your own workouts, should you choose to exercise in your home.
12. Body By Science by Doug Mcguff and John Little
The best for the last. This is a complete text book for fitness, strength and fat loss. It discusses the metabolism at length, followed by a description of 5 major exercises (both machine based and using free weights) that are crucial to building whole body strength. It also packs in detailed chapters on HIIT and fat loss.
13. The Complete Keys to Progress by John McCullum
An old-school guide to strength training. If one starts to lose enthusiasm or novelty, this is the go to resource for finding inspiration and variety.
14. High-Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way by Mike Mentzer, with John Little
The detailed work on HIIT protocols, as applied to strength training.
15. Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline
His detailed exposition on using just two basic exercises (dead lift and the side press) for two workouts a week for maximal strength and fitness.
What Should One Start With
I suggest Convict Conditioning or Starting Strength as the first text, depending upon preference for body weight training or weightlifting. The NSCA Manual is also useful due to the DVDs showing correct and incorrect exercise forms. Those preferring kettle bells can start with either Pavel or Martone, both are excellent.
Once you have eased into a routine of regular exercise, Dan John and James Chan give you more variations, as well as philosophy (especially Dan John and McCullum). Raising the Bar will serve well for conquering the one-arm pull, the muscle-up and other enviable, impossible to perform bar exercises.
As Pavel says, “Power to You!”
P.S. One can refer to Athlean-X to understand the correct posture for the exercises mentioned through the article.
You can buy a book by clicking on its title in the article. You would be re-directed to Amazon where you can place your order. Happy reading :)
This is a recurring column published every Sunday under the title: A Guide to Exercise.
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