The most important fitness and bodybuilding books – MUST-READ BODYBUILDING BOOKS

The books presented here are considered classics in the fitness/bodybuilding industry. Generations of athletes relied upon these books. The muscular athletes you follow in Flex magazine or on Instagram got there partly because they read those classics early in their career. These books are must-reads if you want to get anywhere in this sport.

If you rely on a training partner (and you should, as stated in Beyond Brawn by Stuart McRobert) make sure that he is familiar with (some of) the books mentioned below.

Remember that these books are must-read! You do not have to read all of them – but if you’re serious about bodybuilding you should at least read 1-2 of the must-read bodybuilding books classics.

The list of books and the summaries are continuously updated!

Beyond BRAWN by Stuart McRobert*81XIRdjRNwL

Short summary/notes

  • Most training advice follows rules that only apply to 10% of the lifters (easy gainers)
  • DO NOT train like the successful bodybuilders on YouTube etc. – to reach your full potential you have to apply the standards outlined in the book
  • if you are a hard gainer (and almost everyone is a hardgainer) you have to train differently
  • Progression in the main exercises is crucial
    • Minimal poundage increases sometimes better than trying to do 1 more rep
    • Set deadlines (for example in two months I want to be able to bench press 100 kg)
    • Never train if you feel unrested
  • Change cycles each 4-6 weeks
    • Cycles are periods of training with a certain intensity level
    • Start with a basic cycle including low intensity to adjust to new exercises
    • Continue with cycles that have higher intensity (for example by utilizing intensity techniques like forced reps, drop sets, etc.)
  • Do not neglect leg press!
  • Train squats and back with high reps
  • One of the biggest targets should be to press 100% of your body weight overhead
  • John McCallum’s formula for estimating full size potential (the maximum size you can achieve by natural training)
    • Chest: 6.5 × wrist
    • Hips: 85% of chest
    • Waist: 70%
    • Thigh:53%
    • Neck: 37%
    • Upper arm: 36%
    • Calf: 34%
    • Forearm: 29%

More details: Beyond Brawn*

The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding by Arnold Schwarzenegger*

81DLEJ6F7wLShort summary/notes

  • ~1890: Eugen Sandow went to America and was admired for his physique
  • ~1940: first bodybuilding contests took place, bodybuilding got a clear distinction from weightlifting
  • Europe was always concentrated on weightlifting, America started the bodybuilding trend initially for health reasons
  • Training in order to „look good“ was often perceived as cheating as opposed to looking good because of regular sports activity (playing football, tennis, etc.)
  • Weightlifting: Olympic lifting, Powerlifting
  • Endurances: muscular endurance (to be able to contract often and to contract many fibers), cardiovascular endurance (ability of heart, lungs and circulatory system to supply muscles with oxygen and carry away waste products)
  • The better cardiovascular endurance the harder you can train!
  • Specific training advice pertaining to each muscle group (this chapter takes up 90% of the book – we advice you to read this part by yourself as it would be difficult to sum up all the important points)

More details: The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding: The Bible of Bodybuilding, Fully Updated and Revised*

The Poliquin Principles: Successful Methods for Strength and Mass Development by Charles Poliquin


Short summary/notes

1. The Borg Principle

  • Research (by Poliquin and others) shows that the body begins to adapt after having performed a particular routine 6 times
  • After that, it is time to change your training routine (frequency, exercises, intensity, etc.)

2. The Principle of Shifting Rep Ranges

  • Do not rely on the typical 8-10 rep range
  • to maximize results, incorporate „strength rep ranges“ (between 3-5) and „endurance rep ranges“ (above 12)

3. The II-B or Not II-B Principle

  • Type II-B fibers are known as fast-twitch fibers and are the ones called on to do very heavy lifting
  • strength failure is experienced due to the fact that type II-B fibers have petered out
  • type II-A fibers, will still be fresh, and they’re best stimulated with reps of between ten and twelve.
  • do heavy weight, low-rep movements first in the workout. Then, after those fibers are baked, go on to higher-rep movements

4. The Rest Principle

  • The more intense the set, the more rest is needed between sets to allow for neural recuperation
  • Performance on intense sets is more important than the amount of rest time you take
  • if you’re working heavy, you should rest between two and three minutes in-between sets
  • On less intense sets, rest anywhere from 45 seconds to 90 seconds

5. The Time-Under-Tension Principle

  • Time-under-tension refers to the time your muscles are actually working
  • weight, sets, and reps all play a part in the equation
  • time under tension should be anywhere from 30 seconds to about 70
  • Any more or any less is counterproductive over the long run

6. The Change the Beat Around Principle

  • this principle helps you to stay in the 30 to 70 second range for each set
  • for sets of 4 to 6 reps the tempo has to be decreased
  • this is done by lowering the weight slower to increase the time-under-tension
  • looking at a Poliquin workout sheet, one sees numbers that look like 302, or 501
    • for instance, a „5“ means you should take a count of five to lower the weight
    • the next number refers to the pause taken between the eccentric and the concentric portion of the movement
    • the last number refers to how long it should take you to raise the weight
  • if you’re working in a 4-6 rep range, you have to adjust the tempo in order for that set’s time under tension to reach at least 30 seconds
  • if you’re working in the 8-10 rep range, the tempo should be a little quicker so that you won’t exceed the 30 to 70 second time-under-tension frame

7. The Yin and Yang Principle

  • do not ignore neural recuperation
  • perform sets for an antagonistic body part in-between sets
  • for instance, if you do a set of dumbbell bench presses, do a set for your lats in-between,then go back to the next set of dumbbell bench presses
  • you’ll experience less of a drop in strength in between sets

More details: The Poliquin Principles*

Brother Iron, Sister Steel: A Bodybuilder’s Book

Short summary/notes

„The ten years behind the counter and on the floor of my gym in California have signaled to me that everyone must exercise and eat right if he or she hopes to live a sound and fulfilling life. Too few do and far too many lives are in a shambles because of it. As conscientious gym owner, I am in a prime position to help the ailing, negligent and uneducated masses. And, certainly others and I do.“

Great quotes:

  • „The secret is there is no secret“
  • „Just head to the gym when all roads lead elsewhere“
  • „Strength, iron, sweat, exercise, work, progress…if any of these things matter to you…if they matter to you in the way they matter to me, you’re in for a treat“

Key insights:

  • Discipline – Dave’s main man.  He never goes anywhere without it
  • Set a realistic goal – short and long term
  • Plan an orderly and thorough routine to train the entire body
  • Make a commitment to stick to your routine for 4-5 weeks – – to begin to see changes and benefits, develop perseverance and create a habit
  • Enthusiasm for training must be recognized as the main and driving force to perform successfully
  • Ease into a training program with a wholesome, thoughtful nutritional plan – proper food, order and amount of consumption
  • Be confident from the beginning that the application of these sound principles will produce the desired results.

Dave’s top 20 exercises:

  1. Bench press
  2. Dumbbell press, flat and incline
  3. Lateral raise, sidearm, front, bentover
  4. Stiffarm dumbbell pullover
  5. Cable crossover
  6. Pulldowns
  7. Seated lat rows
  8. Bentover row, one- and two-arm
  9. Standing barbell curl
  10. Dumbbell curls, standing, seated alternate, incline
  11. Triceps pulley pushdown
  12. Triceps extensions, lying and overhead
  13. Dips
  14. Chins
  15. Squats
  16. Leg extension
  17. Leg curl
  18. Calf raise, seated and standing
  19. Deadlifts
  20. Midsection, crunches and leg raise

More details: Brother Iron, Sister Steel: A Bodybuilder’s Book*

Blood and Guts

Short summary/notes

  • Do 50% of your 10-rep-PR on the first set, 70% of your 10-rep-PR on the second set and 100% of your 10-rep-PR on the third set BUT push really hard to get to 12 or 13 reps instead of just 10 – this is where the real magic happens
  • Do your negative reps very slowly so that your muscles fail at the positive and negative rep simultaneously
  • Pauses between reps are a trade-off – you need to find a proper balance between intensity of your workout (short pauses) and cardiovascular recovery in order to break PR’s (long pauses)
  • His favorite back exercise: Bent over row, upper slightly higher than parallel to the floor, supranated grip allows to pull the weight even closer to the chest
  • His favorite intensity techniques:
    • Triple Drops (do a heavy set to failure ONLY on dumb-bells and machines, drop the weight so you can get some more to failure, drop again and again until muscle is exhausted – Ronnie Coleman also does these)
    • Staggered Grips (his version of ‚Rest-Pause‘: do a wide grip bench press very heavy for 2-3 reps, rack it, rest 10 seconds, narrow the grip and do another 2-3 then rack it again and continue in this groove until your hands are as close as comfortably possible)
    • Forced Reps (his trademark; get a training partner to assist with the ‚eccentric‘ or positive part of the rep when you’ve reached the point of failure, then lower it as slowly as possible without said partner’s assistance)

Example routine:

Bench Press (he prefers a slight decline)
Incline Smith Machine Bench Press
Dumbbell Flyes / Cable Crossover (alternate each workout)

Wide-Grip Pull-ups
Reverse-Grip (underhand grip) Barbell Row
Seated Cable Row
One Arm Dumb-bell Row
Reverse-Grip Lat Pulldowns

Smith Machine Squat
Leg Press
Leg Extension
Lying Leg Curl
Semi-stiff Legged Deadlift (slight bend in the knees)
Standing and Seated Calf Raise

Smith Machine Press-Behind-Neck
Dumbell Side Laterals
Rear Laterals, lying facedown on a bench
Machine Shrugs

Dumbbell Concentration Curl (seated with arm over inside thigh)
Barbell Curl

Lying EZ-Bar Extensions
Machine Pressdown

Cable Crunch
Hanging Leg Raise

More details: Blood and Guts*

High-Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way (NTC Sports/Fitness)

More details: High-Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way (NTC Sports/Fitness)*

BONUS: 50 Fitness Meals That Take 5 Mins Each

Short summary/notes

  • DISCLAIMER: This one is not considered an official all-time bodybuilding classic yet
  • It is a relatively new ebook presenting fast fitness meals
  • „It took well more than 5 years to find different meal hacks and shortcuts to integrate a fitness nutrition into a busy life (My job as a strategy consultant requires me to travel a lot, live in hotels and often work 80+ hours per week)“
  • „Still: I manage to maintain a fitness nutrition by preparing many of the 5 minute foods I present in this ebook“


  • Free example recipe:

More details: Fast Fitness Meals: 50 Fitness Meals That Take 5 Mins Each

More Book Recommendations and Summaries coming soon!


* Affiliate Link: we offer this website, summaries and service for free so feel free to show us some support in case you decide to buy one of the mentioned books.

Ein Gedanke zu “The most important fitness and bodybuilding books – MUST-READ BODYBUILDING BOOKS

  1. What are the best lifting programs to follow?

    This is a very general question – so my answer has to remain general, too. * Depending on what your goals are – your lifting program will vary * depending on how much spare time you have – your lifting program will vary * alsoo depending on how experie…


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