8 Best Bodybuilding Books in 2023

Author: Ihor Shymechko (26 years of Oly Lifting & Fitness experience)

Reviewed by: Oleksiy Torokhtiy (Olympian with 21 years of Oly Lifting experience)

Remember when you were told no pain, no gain? It excludes knowledge gains. A few books have a mandatory spot on the shelves of world-class bodybuilders, gymnasts, and trainers.

With TikTok gurus popping off every corner and new publications arriving at a rate faster than McDonald’s openings, finding a read that is worth your time and dime can be challenging. We’ve rounded up the best bodybuilding books so you don't compromise productivity on and off the gym.

 In a hurry? 

In a hurry?

In a hurry and can’t keep reading? How about you check out the The New Encyclopedia Of Modern Bodybuilding.


One sign of the best books on bodybuilding is Arnold flexing his arm on the cover. It appeals to you to pick and read. The 800-page mammoth tome, revered as the bible of fitness geeks, was originally published in 1985. It has been revised and updated several times over the decades.

8 Best Bodybuilding Books

Top 8 Best Bodybuilding Books Reviewed

ProductTotalAuthor’s ExpertiseTraining TransferReadabilityMaterial and BindingValue for Money
Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding49.5101010109.5
Bigger Leaner Stronger48.5109109.510
Thinner Leaner Stronger481099.59.510
Becoming A Supple Leopard47.5109.58.59.510
Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training47.59.5109.599.5
High-intensity Training479.58.510910
Mind Gym: An Athlete Guide468.5910108.5
Weightlifting is a Waste of Time468.59.599.59.5
The New Encyclopedia Of Modern Bodybuilding
  • Author(s): Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Dobbins
  • Themes: Motivation, Learning, Nutrition
  • How it can help: By exposing you to little-known horizons of a bodybuilder’s life, from training and diet to competitions
  • For whom: Beginners to Professionals
  • Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Spiral-bound
  • No. of Pages: 800
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster

One sign of the best books on bodybuilding is Arnold flexing his arm on the cover. It appeals to you to pick and read. The 800-page mammoth tome, revered as the bible of fitness geeks, was originally published in 1985. It has been revised and updated several times over the decades.

You might find it a little intimidating early on due to the sheer length. However, it’s beautifully documented with inspiring tips and photos that you'll finish within a week. Arnold has five Mr. Universe and seven Mr. Olympia titles under his belt, not to mention our favorite childhood action figure status. He welcomes you with a history lesson through the first 90 pages, followed by fundamental training principles and routines. The author recommends different posing and styling techniques to display your physique most finely. The last section wraps up with nutrition hacks and injury risks.

49.5Expert Score

One sign of the best books on bodybuilding is Arnold flexing his arm on the cover. It appeals to you to pick and read.

Author’s Expertise
10
Training Transfer
10
Readability
10
Material and Binding
10
Value for Money
9.5

Positives:

  • The gold standard for muscle building books

  • Includes the importance of a positive mindset along with weight training

  • Available in multiple printed and digital formats

Could be better:

  • Arnold’s six-day weekly pump routines can be excessive for beginner athletes, leaving inadequate recovery time

Bigger, Leaner, Stronger
  • Author(s): Michael Matthews
  • Themes: Myths and Mistakes
  • How it can help: By introducing topics and ideas every athlete must know before embarking on a fitness-focused lifestyle
  • For whom: Beginners
  • Formats: Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook
  • No. of Pages: 437
  • Publisher: Oculus Publishers

Mike’s bodybuilding book series is an international best-seller. Bigger, Leaner, Stronger makes the first of five volumes. Think of it as an introductory window for amateurs in the wrong hands. The author bashes your overconfident gym instructor for a while. Then he creates a fitness glossary covering calories, metabolism, and likewise basic terms.

"Carbs are the enemies, genetics pranked you, or calories are all that matters." BS, we've all heard! From chapter 7, it takes a myth-busting detour. Weight training is better at fat-burning than cardio, it reads. The great part comes in the latter half, giving you tools to design a meal plan yourself. The author explains the science of energy expenditure, macronutrients, and body composition. He talks about midnight cravings. This section is a summary of his blog about cheat meal mistakes. The underlying idea of the book is that you can achieve your dream body shape without sticking to bland food and infinite lifting.

48.5Expert Score

Mike’s bodybuilding book series is an international best-seller. Bigger, Leaner, Stronger makes the first of five volumes. Think of it as an introductory window for amateurs in the wrong hands.

Author’s Expertise
10
Training Transfer
9
Readability
10
Material and Binding
9.5
Value for Money
10

Positives:

  • Provides foundational concepts about bodybuilding

  • A flexible diet plan that you can customize and adjust accordingly
  • Science-backed claims; 300+ peer-reviewed research studies

Could be better:

  • Preface of the book series; the ‘way forward’ or blueprint to resistance training doesn't exist.

Thinner, Leaner, Stronger
  • Author(s): Michael Matthews
  • Themes: Myths and Mistakes
  • How it can help: By introducing topics and ideas female athletes must know before embarking on a fitness-centric lifestyle
  • For whom: Beginners
  • Formats: Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook
  • No. of Pages: 433
  • Publisher: Oculus Publishers

Michael Matthews didn't have to tweak much for switching from bigger to thinner and Hollywood-hunk to beach-ready body. He is a renowned personal trainer who has coached many women for Olympia and Rising Phoenix. The common misconception is that lifting is to bulk up, whereas the author believes cardio, diet, and weight training are also key elements to weight loss and smoky muscle definition. Therefore, this version extends the 'inner game' chapter, delving into mindfulness and willpower.

The flow of both books is the same. They start by debunking other programs and explaining the science before getting into the flexible diet and workout plan. These are more bodybuilding nutrition books because exercises aren’t comprehensively detailed. Each chapter lists major takeaways and to-do tasks. On Kindle, they drop helpful external links to the calorie calculator, further readings, etc. Mike has recently completed the next book for women, named one year challenge.

48Expert Score

Michael Matthews didn't have to tweak much for switching from bigger to thinner and Hollywood-hunk to beach-ready body. He is a renowned personal trainer who has coached many women for Olympia and Rising Phoenix.

Author’s Expertise
10
Training Transfer
9
Readability
9.5
Material and Binding
9.5
Value for Money
10

Positives:

  • The best bodybuilding book for women

  • Encourages lifting for weight loss and lean mass

  • The action plan presented in the book is flexible and can be realistically followed by most people

Could be better:

  • Advertised as a gospel truth sometimes, it wholly disregards endurance training and a diabetic diet

Becoming A Supple Leopard
  • Author(s): Dr. Kelly Starrett, Glen Cordoza
  • Themes: Mobility, Injury Prevention
  • How it can help: By teaching you about the human body, proper exercise forms, and movement patterns
  • For whom: Beginners To Professionals
  • Formats: Hardcover, Kindle, Spiral-bound
  • No. of Pages: 480
  • Publisher: Victory Belt Publishing

Dr. Kelly is a DPT and fitness athlete. His mission is to let everyone know the secrets of the human body. How it moves and rehabilitates. After all, we’re made to maneuver like jungle cats, predicting and resolving dangers. Not to hit a therapist or chiro every time a teeny-weeny injury halts our fitness trajectory!

Be warned: this muscle building book is full of technical and textbook jargon. You have to read it front-to-back to absorb it fully. Skip a page, and it'll haunt you for several chapters. However, it’s necessary because the author is a physiotherapist in a blindfold, uncertain of your special circumstances. So, he takes you from concept to theory to practice. The book comments on 26 exercises, including squats, push-ups, and deadlifts. It splits the body into 14 distinct segments. By the end, you'll figure out the restrictions and recoupment to your range of motion.

47.5Expert Score

Be warned: this muscle building book is full of technical and textbook jargon. You have to read it front-to-back to absorb it fully. Skip a page, and it'll haunt you for several chapters.

Author’s Expertise
10
Training Transfer
9.5
Readability
8.5
Material and Binding
9.5
Value for Money
10

Positives:

  • Lays out theoretical and practical underpinnings to prevent, diagnose, and treat mobility issues

  • Suitable for all levels of athletes and professional physiotherapists

  • An information-dense and concise handbook

Could be better:

  • Terminology is unique to the context of the book, warranting a thorough and attentive reading

Starting Strength
  • Author(s): Mark Rippetoe
  • Themes: Strength Training, Conditioning, Hypertrophy
  • How it can help: By explaining the correct technique, functions, and routines of core barbell exercises
  • For whom: Beginners
  • Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook
  • No. of Pages: 347
  • Publisher: The Aasgaard Company

As Dr. Kelly believes our primal habitat requires us to be supple, Rippetoe brings strength to the forefront. “Exercise is a substitute cave-man activity,” as he puts it. A powerlifter himself – the author defines deadlifts, squats, and bench presses in detail, from exercise-specific warm-ups to grip, swing, and motion. A lot of illustrations and occasional humor make the reading pleasant.

Olympic lifts, ancillary exercises, and a few functional training movements round out Starting Strength books for bodybuilding. It’s an all-time classic program, occupying college weight rooms. The third edition was released in 2017, expanding the nutrition section. Lean novices are advised GOMAD (the gallon of milk a day) through the early years of weightlifting. In the end, Rip shares a home gym setup. He isn't fond of machines or curl exercises, it seems. The program is excellent for an average person starting the 'get-bigger' journey. Your particulars may spare enough room to make changes here and there.

47.5Expert Score

Olympic lifts, ancillary exercises, and a few functional training movements round out Starting Strength books for bodybuilding. It’s an all-time classic program, occupying college weight rooms.

Author’s Expertise
9.5
Training Transfer
10
Readability
9.5
Material and Binding
9
Value for Money
9.5

Positives:

  • A must-read barbell training guide to building muscles and power

  • A comprehensive, easy-to-follow explanation of proper form and load progression

  • Treats the human body as a whole instead of the sum of parts

Could be better:

  • 3 sets/muscle – 3 times/week program can be inefficient, leaving out significant potential for gains in most cases

High-Intensity Training
  • Author(s): Mike Mentzer, John Little
  • Themes: HIT, Motivation, Hypertrophy
  • How it can help: By informing you of Mike Mentzer's legendary Heavy Duty Formula of muscle growth
  • For whom: Beginners to Professionals
  • Formats: Paperback, Kindle
  • No. of Pages: 288
  • Publisher: McGraw Hill

Mike was a bodybuilding phenomenon in the 70s. He was admired for his physique and philosophy. The philosophy that stressed going all-out in the contraction phase of each rep of one set. It’s argued that multiple sets elicit no greater gain than a single set. He didn't get to incorporate recent scientific theories into the work. Mike’s 40-minute weekly training formula is an antichrist to conventional high-volume lifting. Came 1980, and he failed to defend the Mr. Olympia title, lost to the king of the old guard, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and retired.

High-intensity Training was the last project before his death at 49, emulating the total understanding of mass growth in a short duration. The basics: hit failure in 6-9 reps; do force and negative reps; use rest-pause training method; divide workouts into the lower and upper body. It's his only work still in print and as remarkable as Arnold's Bible of Bodybuilding concerning the history and impact. A huge chunk of the book presents the biographical and pictorial milestones of Mike Mentzer. 

47Expert Score

High-intensity Training was the last project before his death at 49, emulating the total understanding of mass growth in a short duration. The basics: hit failure in 6-9 reps; use rest-pause training method; divide workouts into the lower and upper body.

Author’s Expertise
9.5
Training Transfer
8.5
Readability
10
Material and Binding
9
Value for Money
10

Positives:

  • Extremely time-efficient and highly-effective muscle growth formula

  • Mike Mentzer’s Way spares five rest and recovery days

  • Inspirational photos and words by John Little

Could be better:

  • Not a foolproof program – having no mention of nutrition, progressive overload, and endurance training

Mind Gym
  • Author(s): Gary Mack, David Casstevens
  • Themes: Motivation, Mind Control
  • How it can help: By cultivating a mindset that allows your body to excel and your performance to exceed
  • For whom: Beginners
  • Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook
  • No. of Pages: 240
  • Publisher: McGraw Hill

The single-edition manual effectively summarizes the power of a tough mind, where most books about bodybuilding struggle. Mind Gym, written by a sports psychology consultant, explains the interlink of physical and mental training. New studies have confirmed that planning, purpose, and physiology originate from the same structure in the brain.

The book is full of motivational anecdotes. For example, Michael Jordan was dropped from his high school basketball team. One rejection could and couldn’t define your career, depending on your will. It starts with 7 C’s: competitiveness, courage, confidence, control, composure, consistency, and commitment. The author subjects success to love, labor, and learning. In order to prime an activity – you must like it, understand it, and work for it really hard. If you love what you do in the present, there is no need to fear failure lingering in the future. The rule goes for every person in any field of work. A young athlete must read Mark Gary’s forty chapters of inner excellence.
46Expert Score

The single-edition manual effectively summarizes the power of a tough mind, where most books about bodybuilding struggle. Mind Gym, written by a sports psychology consultant, explains the interlink of physical and mental training.

Author’s Expertise
8.5
Training Transfer
9
Readability
10
Material and Binding
9.5
Value for Money
8.5

Positives:

  • A concise, life-changing, enjoyable, and easy-to-read book

  • It brings focus on mental aspects of sports performance

  • Prepares readers to imagine situations and challenges they might face on the field in advance

Could be better:

  • Hardcover costs a lot for a 240-page book

  • No appendix or references to explore given ideas in depth

Weight Lifting Is A Waste Of Time
  • Author(s): Dr. John Jaquish, Henry Alkire
  • Themes: Strength Training, Myths and Mistakes
  • How it can help: By introducing a revolutionary fitness device that is confident of beating free-weights
  • For whom: Beginners
  • Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook
  • No. of Pages: 266
  • Publisher: Lioncrest Publishing

As little as the title can stir controversy. And that's something Dr. Jaquish is good at. The self-proclaimed Tony Stark of the Fitness Industry is the inventor of the X3 Bar. Consider this book as its sales pitch.

The author states that resistance bands are better than free weights. They adapt to tension, hit the weakest links, and bypass injuries. Once weightlifting has been established as a waste of time in comparison, he brings forth the X3 guardian angel. It fuses Olympic bars' longevity with the bands' security and portability. The system creates 600 lb max force. On to the cardio! Strength training is sufficient, according to Dr. Jaquish. You don't have to sprint or bike endlessly. Furthermore, not only is cardio a 'waste of time,' it's a swallowing pit for your muscles. In short, you'll have once-in-a-lifetime fun reading this weirdly charming take on bodybuilding.

46Expert Score

As little as the title can stir controversy. And that's something Dr. Jaquish is good at. The self-proclaimed Tony Stark of the Fitness Industry is the inventor of the X3 Bar.

Author’s Expertise
8.5
Training Transfer
9.5
Readability
9
Material and Binding
9.5
Value for Money
9.5

Positives:

  • Advocates for a portable, safe, and quick workout backed by science

  • A lesson on differences between hypertrophy and hyperplasia

  • 12-week exercise and nutrition plan; see real-life testimonies in X3 Bars Facebook Group

Could be better:

  • Basically, a product description for X3 bar

  • Occasional downplaying and cherry-picking of scientific research to make a point

Importance of Bodybuilding books

Books about bodybuilding are crafted by people who have made it to the other side of the tunnel. They’re the roadmap to settle challenges and questions still unknown to you. In a way, reading takes out the trial-and-error approach, allowing you to stick to effective methods only. It also resonates with your struggles and provides a sense of community. Fitness ambitions need a consistent character and demeanor to uphold, which books can certainly help you with, much like a round-the-clock personal trainer.

Bodybulding on Rowing Machine

Benefits of Bodybuilding Books

Besides crossing mental blocks and the abyss of uncertainty, you’ll also replicate many training benefits.

1. Understand the Theory

Writings of storied bodybuilders connect scattering dots and flesh out the pattern. What doesn't breed results in theory will never be effective in the practical.

2. Guide and Track the Path

Throughout the journey, you have a predetermined path. Not only do books carve the proven foolproof area, but they also contain tools and tips to measure your progress.

3. Helps Periodization

Periodization is the intelligent manipulation of training variables, such as reps and volume, that only a gym instructor or the best bodybuilding book can tailor for you.

4. Avoid Injuries and Accidents

Periodization has two purposes: maximize gains and rule out mishaps. The highlighted path ensures you don’t suffer from overtraining syndrome or nutritional deficiency.

Bodybuilder Doing Deadlift

Benefits of Bodybuilding Books

A book can be judged in two dimensions: through its content or construction.

1. Content Quality

  • The author's credentials and expertise play a vital part in the efficacy of the program. Research the background a bit.
  • Transferability is the ratio of the implementable part of the book. Don't mind anatomy and history, but most of it should talk about exercises.
  • Select a book according to your fitness goals and level. What do you aspire to see in the mirror? Zac Efron or the Rock?

2. Build Quality

  • Top-quality materials and binding increases the lifespan. Design layout, structure, and writing style affect readability.
  • Bodybuilding ebooks are now popular. They always stay with you and don’t pose the problem of fading or withering away.
  • Lastly, determine your budget. You have to save some to buy equipment or a gym membership. Generally, hardcover costs more than paperback.

FAQ

What is the best age for bodybuilding?

Teens and early twenties are considered the perfect age to start pumping iron. It coincides with testosterone-induced muscle growth after puberty. That was the best time, and the second best is now! There is no upper age limit. Check out Arnold and Robby Robinson at 75.

With age, you naturally lose muscle strength and bone density. The remedy – bodybuilding! Apart from 1RM, the 18-40 age group (male and female) shows no significant change in muscle growth in response to the training.

What is the golden rule in bodybuilding?

“Bodybuilding is like any other sport. To be successful, you must dedicate yourself 100% to your training, diet, and mental approach.” Arnold Schwarzenegger sums it all up in this legendary golden rule.

It creates three focal points of bodybuilding. How you conduct yourself in the gym, on the dining table, and 24/7 in your mind. Arnold advocates feeling the rush of blood, the pump. The foremost sign of overtraining is also the lack of that feeling.

Conclusion

Book reading can potentially change people, their perspectives, and their paths. Bodybuilding is no exception. Thousands of accomplished muscle men have taken up the pen to teach you to lift weights and crush records. As far as the best bodybuilding books are concerned, none comes close to Arnold’s timeless Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.

What's the most influential read of your life? Would you mind sharing your experience and lessons in the comment section?

Also read:

References:

  • EPOC Comparison Between Isocaloric Bouts of Steady-State Aerobic, Intermittent Aerobic, and Resistance Training // Taylor&Francis Online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02701367.2014.999190
  • Do You Make These 5 Cheat Meal Mistakes? // Legion: https://legionathletics.com/cheat-meal/
  • Strength training. Single versus multiple sets // NCBI: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9777681/
  • Mind-body connection is built into brain, study suggests // WUSTL: https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/mind-body-connection-is-built-into-brain-study-suggests/
  • Effects of training with elastic resistance versus conventional resistance on muscular strength // NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6383082/
  • X3 Bar Customers Only Group // Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/X3bar/
  • CURRENT CONCEPTS IN PERIODIZATION OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING FOR THE SPORTS PHYSICAL THERAPIST // NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4637911/
  • Overtraining Syndrome/Burnout // RCHSD: https://www.rchsd.org/programs-services/sports-medicine/conditions-treated/overtraining-syndromeburnout/
  • Association of Age with Muscle Size and Strength Before and After Short-Term Resistance Training in Young Adults // NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103410/

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Coach, PRO Olympic Weightlifter

Experience: 26 years

Best Results: Snatch - 208 kg,

C&J - 240 kg

My name is Ihor and I have been a professional weightlifter since 1996. With over 20 years of competition experience, my resume includes European Champion in 2009 and the silver medalist at 2011's Senior World Championships – 105kg division.

I competed at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics.

After hanging up my own competitive lifting shoes, I decided to share my huge background as a coach. I am currently coaching multiple athletes who are competing at national and international competitions.


Reviewed by: Oleksiy Torokhtiy

Olympic Weightlifting Champion

Experience: 21 years

Best Results: Snatch – 200 kg,

C&J - 240 kg

My name is Oleksiy Torokhtiy. I am a professional athlete with 20 years of experience in Olympic weightlifting. I have won multiple European, and World titles and have taken part in two Olympic Games (Beijing 2008, London 2012).

After finishing my career, I have committed myself to coach, and as of 2022, I’ve hosted 200+ weightlifting seminars all over the globe. I’m the founder of an international sportswear and accessories brand, Warm Body Cold Mind (my motto), author, and creator of a series of training programs and eBooks.


If you have any questions/suggestions/any other inquiry, you can reach out to us via email - reviews@torokhtiy.com

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