Three (Non-Lifting) Books That Will Make You a Better Lifter

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Most writers love to read, and I’m no exception. I read a lot of different genres, but I can never turn off that “lifter” switch, so I’m always trying to apply what I read to my training. Usually, that doesn’t work out so hot – Ready Player One is a great book, but I can’t say reading it helped me hit any PRs.

Sometimes, though, I do find some insights from non-lifting related books that can make a big difference. Here are three of my recent favorites.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, by Mark Manson

The title gives it away a little bit here, but Manson’s not saying you should just stop caring. He’s saying you should be very deliberate in what you choose to care about. In fact, I really love the exact way he phrases this: “How do you choose to suffer?” Sounds a bit strange, but, Manson argues, life is always going to involve suffering – sorry, but there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and no happily-ever-after. That’s okay, though, because research shows that happiness is actually very closely related to suffering – as long as that suffering is in pursuit of something you care about.

Buy this book HERE.

How Does It Apply to Lifting?

Well, for one, it’s extremely helpful if you’re having trouble trying to decide on a goal. For example, many people decide to do meets or shows because they’re supposed to be fun, or supposed to make you a better athlete, or because of peer pressure – and then quickly realize that the training alone isn’t all that fun or different. They go in focused on the outcome and find they don’t enjoy the process.

If you go in with the idea that the whole point is to go through the suffering of preparation, it makes it very easy to determine ahead of time whether it’s really worthwhile to you or not. The same can be applied to goals like squatting a particular weight or losing a certain amount of fat, and it can be helpful if you’re recovering from an injury or illness, too.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck

So many strength athletes and bodybuilders are virtually obsessed with their genetic potential. Some of them will go to ridiculously extreme lengths to justify why they haven’t progressed past the level of a barely-competent beginner. Whether it’s the fact they’re ecto- or endomorphic rather than mesomorphic, their leverages, or even their height, it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, it’s not their fault – it’s their parents’.

Buy this book HERE.

In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t think much of those who get hung up on genetics, or on any other excuse for why they can’t succeed. It’s a defeatist attitude, and it’s straight-up stupid. In Mindset, Psychologist Carol Dweck goes a step further. She argues that putting any value on your genetic potential can have negative consequences. That holds true regardless of your actual genetic potential!

How Does It Apply to Lifting?

Let’s say you’ve got great genetics, and you’re constantly congratulating yourself on your advantageous leverages and full muscle bellies. Well, as it turns out, it’s very easy to get caught up in the idea that, because you do have great genetics, you don’t have to work hard. And genetics or not, hard work is always essential to success, so getting stuck in that mindset is a surefire way to derail progress and waste whatever genetic potential you might have. The flip side, of course, is no better. Constantly bemoaning your short biceps and frail joints can easily discourage you from trying to get big and strong in the first place.

Mindset goes into much more detail about the mental characteristics that distinguish high performers in any field, and there’s plenty of other useful takeaways for your training and for your life outside of the gym, so I highly recommend it.

Antifragile: Things that Gain From Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Fair warning up front: Taleb is an absolutely brilliant statistician. As is often the case with absolutely brilliant scholars, his writing can be a little dense and hard to follow. This isn’t light bedtime reading. His thesis is, basically, that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s really unfair to the book and the author to distill a thoroughly-researched, 500-page book down to a cliché, but hey – I only have one column to tackle three books.

Buy this book HERE.

If we go a little more in-depth, Taleb argues that many things benefit from random stress. At this point, you’re probably thinking of terms like “muscle confusion” and “CrossFit,” and honestly, I think the “antifragile” argument might be used in favor of those programming methods. That’s not where I’m headed, though. I think that (some kind of) order and structured progression is a key component of good programming.

How Does It Apply to Lifting?

The thing is, many people who enjoy the routine of a structured training program enjoy routine outside of the gym, too. In fact, in my experience, many people enjoy it so much that they start to get a bit stressed out when a routine is changed. For example, you might start to worry that if your car breaks down suddenly and you have to push it a mile to the nearest gas station, that your squat session later that night might not go so well.

Well, yeah, it probably won’t go well, and you should absolutely adjust your plan to account for the fact that you just did my equivalent of a full year’s worth of cardio in an afternoon. But you shouldn’t stress about it. The “antifragile” mentality can help to reframe these kinds of obstacles as opportunities for growth – both personal and physical growth. That reframing alone will reduce stress, improve performance, and increase happiness, so it’s worth considering – and Antifragile is worth reading.

What books have helped you become a better lifter?

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Feature image from @phdeadlift & @markmansonnet Instagram page. 

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