When it comes to looking for the best exercise books, you have a seemingly endless amount of options. You can quickly get overwhelmed by the abundance of authors selling you on the latest and greatest “effective training system.” In reality, most exercise books simply repackage old information and slap a new name on it.
The exercise books you’ll find cover everything from functional training, bodyweight workouts, high-intensity training, and sports training to body workouts, classic strength training, and every other type of exercise system you can imagine.
However, among all of the noise, there are some truly fantastic exercise books worth your time. We’ve made a list here covering the top exercise books of all time that cover specific categories like weightlifting, running, and functional movements.
The best exercise books go beyond exercise, and into the science, philosophy, and mindset of incorporating exercise into your life—for life.
Table of Contents
The Best Exercise Books
The 4 Hour Body
Born to Run
Bigger Leaner Stronger
Becoming a Supple Leopard
Strength Training Anatomy
The TB12 Method
The Joy of Movement
You are Your Own Gym
The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding
Fast Track to Aging Backwards
Jim Stoppanie's Encyclopedia of Muscle & Strength
The Oxygen Advantage
Muscle for Life
Weightlifting is a Waste of Time
The Best Exercise Books
Here’s our rundown of the best exercise books for 2024. Because there are hundreds of books on the topic, some great, some mediocre, and many bad. We chose a mix of classic bestsellers, books written for specific groups, and a few new books that provide a combination of foundational information with new science and new functional training techniques.
The 4 Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman was a #1 New York Times Bestseller shortly after its release.
The book was a follow-up to author Tim Ferriss’ best-selling 4-Hour Work Week, only now with a focus on health. Ferris made his name through podcasting and writing about biohacking. The 4 Hour Body is the result of over a decade of personal testing.
Readers can take in the wisdom of hundreds of elite athletes, dozens of MDs, and thousands of hours of mind-bending personal experimentation from the author. The book takes you on a journey from Olympic training centers to black-market laboratories, from Silicon Valley to South Africa. The main thrust of the book is Tim’s obsession with discovering what small changes yield the biggest results in the human body.
National Bestseller Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen changed the way the majority of the world runs.
The book is an epic adventure that began with an attempt to answer the question, why do feet hurt after running?. The book takes the reader to Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons and into the world of the Tarahumara Indians. The tribe is noted as the best runners in the world, with the ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury.
In a page-turning narrative, award-winning journalist and runner Christopher McDougall sets out to discover the tribe’s secrets. In the process, he takes the reader from a Harvard lab to sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks. This is an inside look at the world of ultra-marathon runners and how they do what they do.
Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body is for males looking to build lean muscle in as little time possible without great genetics or steroids.
Author Michael Matthews argues that you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars every month on supplements and hours every day at the gym. He says changing up an exercise routine to “confuse” muscles is a myth, and burning through canisters of protein powder every month is a waste.
The overall thrust of the book is to shave all the fat off the popular ways people have been taught about getting bigger, leaner, and stronger. He focuses on diet, specific exercises, and a system to optimize muscle growth based on time and frequency.
Kelly Starrett, Glen Cordoza—2015
Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance has been updated to a 2nd edition with an additional 80 pages.
This book focuses on the principles of human movement. It lays out the blueprint for moving safely and effectively through everyday activities and sport. Whether you’re performing a squat in the gym or picking up a bag of groceries, knowing how to optimally move your body is important for injury prevention.
The book includes hundreds of step-by-step photos to show you how to perform popular exercises like squats, deadlifts, and kettlebell swings, as well as the most common faults associated with each movement. Becoming a Supple Leopard is the ultimate book when it comes to preventing injury.
Rickson Gracie, Peter Maquire—2021
Breathe: A Life in Flow is a NY Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestseller. Written by legendary Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA fighter Rickson Gracie, the memoir tells the story of Gracie’s stunning career.
Rickson takes the reader into the history of the Gracie family dynasty and the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championship company. He ties everything to the mind-body connection and its importance inside and outside the ring.
In Breath, for the first time, Rickson reveals the story of how his father and uncles developed Jiu-Jitsu, and what it was like to grow up among multiple generations of world-renowned fighters. Readers learn the principles and skills that allowed Rickson to have an undefeated career record.
Strength Training Anatomy has sold nearly one million copies making it one of the best-selling strength training books ever published.
The book features more than 400,000 full-color illustrations. The detailed artwork highlights specific muscles used during exercise and how they interact with surrounding joints and skeletal structures. It’s like having an X-ray for each exercise, giving the reader a multilateral view of strength training not seen in any other book.
The best-selling exercise book covers common strength training injuries and preventive measures for safe exercise. Each of the major muscle groups gets a dedicated chapter with a total of 115 exercises for arms, shoulders, chest, back, legs, and more.
The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance is the debut book by 7-time Super Bowl champion and all-time great NFL quarterback Tom Brady.
The book reveals all of Brady’s health and exercise secrets that have allowed him to operate at peak performance in the NFL past age 40. Brady explains and details his revolutionary training, conditioning, and wellness systems that kept him atop the NFL at an age most players are already retired.
The TB12 Method gives step-by-step guidance on how to develop and maintain your own peak performance while at the same time decreasing risks for injury. The illustrated book also offers advice on proper hydration, supplementation, cognitive fitness, sleep, and provides some easy-to-make recipes for optimal recovery.
The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage is the follow-up book to bestselling author Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct.
The Joy of Movement doesn’t just tell us the benefits of exercise, but rather it makes a compelling argument about why we should fall in love with movement. We all know exercise enhances our health and extends life, but for many, it feels like a chore.
McGonigal brings a blend of science and storytelling and draws on insights from neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, and evolutionary biology. She also borrows from memoirs, ethnographies, and even philosophers. She skillfully shows how movement is intertwined with some of the most basic human joys, including self-expression, social connection, and mastery.
Mark Lauren, Joshua Clark—2011
You are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises is the ultimate bodyweight exercise book. Written by an elite Special Operations physical trainer, it’s a simple, rapid-results, do-anywhere program for anyone looking to get fit with only using their bodyweight.
Author Mark Lauren has prepared over a thousand soldiers for Special Operations in the military. Now he’s sharing his methods with the average everyday Joes and Janes. He introduces simple exercises that require nothing more than the resistance of your own body weight.
Readers can see fast results by performing calisthenics exercises only working out thirty minutes a day, four times per week. The beauty of bodyweight work is you can work out in your living room, yard, garage, hotel room—anywhere.
The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding is a classic exercise book written by one the most famous figures in bodybuilding history. This is a book that only Arnold Schwarzenegger could write, and it’s earned its rightful reputation as “the bible of bodybuilding.”
In this new edition, Arnold covers the latest advances in both weight training and bodybuilding competition. He’s added new sections on diet and nutrition, sports psychology, treating and preventing injuries, and training methods.
Every new section comes illustrated with detailed photos that include some of bodybuilding’s newest stars. The same sections that made the book so famous still remain like Arnold’s tried-and-true tips for sculpting, strengthening, and breaking down every muscle to create the ultimate physique.
Fast Track to Aging Backwards: 6 Ways and 30 Days to Look and Feel Younger provides readers with six ways to rejuvenate body and mind, paired with 30 days of stretching and strengthening workouts that effectively reverse the aging process.
Miranda put her name on the exercise map after publishing her groundbreaking New York Times bestseller Aging Backwards, Miranda put her name on the exercise map. This follow-up book is her master class on incorporating all of the principles she laid out into a program that anyone can follow.
First, she outlines, step by step, six ways to change your attitude about aging to reverse its effects. She describes how small changes to your daily routine will help you form new and lasting habits and how to find the balance between exercise and other hobbies.
Teaching Yoga: Essential Foundations and Techniques is a foundational resource for new and experienced teachers as well as a guide for aspiring and advanced yoga students.
Stephens addresses all of the teacher training curriculum standards set by Yoga Alliance, the world’s leading registry and accreditation source for yoga teachers and schools. Teaching Yoga is so thorough it can be used as a core textbook in yoga teacher training programs.
The book features more than 150 photographs and illustrations and covers yoga philosophy, history, and includes a historical presentation of classical yoga literature. Each of the eleven major styles of contemporary yoga are covered and include their own history.
Jim Stoppani, James Stoppani—2014
Jim Stoppanie’s Encyclopedia of Muscle & Strength is a research-based exercise book that covers all the areas of optimizing the development of muscle and strength.
Jim’s thoroughness cannot be missed in this nearly 600-page encyclopedia. He breaks down key terms and concepts, evaluates equipment options, explains the role of each muscle group, and covers the latest nutritional information for losing fat and increasing muscle mass.
The book is very encyclopedic by nature. Readers can choose from 381 exercises presented for 13 different muscle groups. Proper techniques for each exercise are tailored to the type of resistance used, whether it be free weights, weight machines, or body weight.
You’ll also get 116 training programs rated by workout duration, projected time frame for achieving measurable results, level of difficulty, and overall effectiveness.
The book is not “easy” or “accessible” for everyone, as the information can be overwhelming. But for serious fitness people, it’s a great reference book to keep on the shelf.
The Oxygen Advantage: Simple, Scientifically Proven Breathing Techniques to Help You Become Healthier, Slimmer, Faster, and Fitter, is a revolutionary approach to improving your body’s oxygen use, increasing your health, weight loss, and more.
This book takes a very unique look at the breathing of all things. McKeown argues that we take more breaths than we need without realizing it which contributes to poor health and fitness, including a host of disorders.
In the Oxygen Advantage, McKeown teaches reduced breathing exercises, the same ones he taught to over 5,000 people, including Olympic and professional athletes. You’ll learn the fundamental relationship between oxygen and the body.
The first thing you’ll do is take a Body Oxygen Level Test (BOLT) to determine how efficiently your body uses oxygen. He then shows you how to increase your BOLT score by using light breathing exercises and learning how to simulate high altitude training—a technique used by Navy SEALs and pro athletes to help increase endurance, weight loss, and red blood cells.
Muscle for Life: Get Lean, Strong, and Healthy at Any Age! is the latest from Bigger Leaner Stronger author Michael Matthews.
This time Matthews reveals a science-based blueprint for eating and exercising that anyone can follow at any age or fitness level. The book was based on decades of hands-on experience and thousands of hours of scientific research compiled and condensed in a digestible way.
The promises are bold in the book. Whether you’re a beginner looking for a lifestyle change, a lifelong athlete looking to level up, or anywhere in between, Muscle for Life has something for everyone.
John Jaquish, Henry Alkire 2020
The Wall Street Journal Bestseller Weight Lifting is a Waste of Time So is Cardio, and There’s a Better Way to Have the Body You Want is a must-read book for anyone trying to improve their physical fitness and overall health.
This is a book about weight lifting; however, it takes a different angle on exercise and provides the reader with an alternative approach to success with exercise. This is an exercise book for weightlifters, cardio lovers, and anyone that wants to gain lean muscle and lose fat without damaging joints or paying for a gym membership.
Author John Jaquish, PhD, is known for inventing OsteoStrong, the most effective bone density medical technology on the market. His first invention led Dr. Jaquish to create the X3 Bar Elite—the world’s most effective muscle-building device based on variable resistance.
X3 develops muscle faster than conventional weight lifting, with the benefit of dramatically lowering injury risk. X3 incorporates functional training, high-intensity training, and resistance band training into one affordable and portable home gym system.
In Weight Lifting is a Waste of Time Dr. Jaquish and co-author Henry Alkire serve readers a powerful combination of science and utility.
This groundbreaking exercise book turns traditional weightlifting upside down and manages to extract what’s great about weightlifting while exposing its flaws. Readers learn why variable resistance training is the safer and more effective way to build muscle and burn fat.
The book covers nutrition, diet fads, and breaks down how your body’s hormones influence muscle growth and fat loss, and how to optimize both.
Weight Lifting is a Waste of Time So is Cardio, and There’s a Better Way to Have the Body You Want is everything you need to understand about diet and exercise to get the body you’ve always dreamed of — without a gym membership and in as little time as possible.