If you’ve ever cheered for a pal running a marathon or witnessed a friend bang out 100 push-ups at the gym, you know that sometimes just watching athletic feats can motivate you to reignite your own workout routine. Well, we’d argue that a great fitness book could have the exact same effect.
Appealing to anyone from the lifelong marathoner to the “I do it for the selfies” exerciser, these nine new books cover the gamut of exercise obsessions, from cycling and CrossFit, to mud runs. Add these to your Amazon queue, pronto — they might just help you look at fitness in a whole new way.
9 Great Books to Read for Serious Fitness Inspiration
1. Unbreakable Runner: Unleash the Power of Strength & Conditioning for a Lifetime of Running Strong
Could you run a faster marathon — by training less? That’s the premise behind this book, co-written by CrossFit Endurance™ founder Brian MacKenzie and T.J. Murphy, the former editor-in-chief of Triathlete magazine. Murphy, a runner who previously swore by logging tons of miles, and MacKenzie, explore the benefits of becoming a faster, stronger and healthier runner by strength training more. Though some have labeled CFE controversial, this book might just convince you to give it a try (Murphy was a former skeptic, now converted). You’ll find illustrated demos of how to do various drills involving CrossFit staples like hollow rocks or double-unders and training plans for everything from a 5K to an ultramarathon. ($12; on sale now)
2. Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing
The opening line of this book introduces readers to author Erin Beresini — as she lies facedown in the mud. Over the next 239 pages, you’ll join Beresini in the trenches as she trains for an endurance athlete’s worst (or best?) nightmare: The Spartan Ultra Beast Race. The 26.2-mile obstacle course designed by Royal Marines is replete with physical and mental hurdles (think: being forced to choose between solving a Rubix cube or hitting a target with a spear before you’re allowed to cross the finish line).
Beresini, an ultrarunner and IronWoman, immerses herself in the wacky world of extreme obstacle racing, exploring the history of the events in the U.S., as she trains to reach her most challenging goal yet. The writer’s witty, self-deprecating tone, and the do-or-die subculture of mud racing will have readers hooked from the start. ($18.63; on sale now)
RELATED: The 13 Most Epic Mud Runs
3. The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distance
You’re not alone in your love-hate relationship with logging miles. Perfect for an aspiring marathoner who simply lacks motivation, this book uses pithy cartoons to explain how and why author Matthew Inman is hopelessly hooked on running. The writer behind the hilarious blog The Oatmeal, Inman is a self-described former “fat kid.” His primary incentive to run: Escaping the Blerch, aka “the fat little cherub who follows me when I run,” he says. “The Blerch represents all forms of gluttony, apathy and indifference that plague my life,” Inman writes. Follow along as Inman illustrates the dos and don’ts of running a marathon, fighting inner laziness, and avoiding a diet composed entirely of bacon, bear claws and cheese. Prepare to laugh out loud and get motivated to sign up for your next race by the end. ($16.99; on sale now)
4. High-Intensity 300
If you’re easily bored at the gym, this book will be your new favorite training tool. Strength coach Dan Trink, C.S.C.S., owner of Trink Fitness, promises 300 workouts that will make you leaner and stronger — and they can all be done in 30 minutes or less. Want to burn fat or build muscle? Whatever your goal, you’ll find a high-intensity workout to help you achieve it, using everything from kettlebells to TRX suspension trainers to Olympic lifts. Each session includes a dynamic warm-up to prevent injury — and true beginners will appreciate the chapter on how to pull off basic movements. Meanwhile, thrill seekers will love pushing themselves to their limits with Trink’s crazy-hard 40 Toughest Workouts. ($16.72; on sale now)
5. Believe Training Journal
Hooked on tracking tools? Folks who love monitoring every last detail of their workouts will dig this training-focused journal from pro runners Lauren Fleshman (founder of Picky Bars) and Roisin McGettigan-Dumas. The duo came together to produce a guidebook focused on helping female athletes get their bodies and minds on the same page when it comes to setting running goals.
Whether you want to run a 5K or complete your first marathon, this journal will help you figure out your blind spots (skipping cross-training!) and avoid race day anxiety. Each week, you’ll be prompted to tackle different goals, such as improving your nutrition, or answer tough questions like “What holds you back?” Get a sneak peek into Fleshman’s training regimen with tips she’s scattered throughout, including her goals (qualifying for the World Championships in the 5K) and eating habits. ($12; available now)
6. Embrace the Suck: What I Learned About Hard Work, (Very) Sore Muscles and Burpees Before Sunrise
If your gym routine leaves a lot to be desired, you’ll relate to writer Stephen Madden in his quest to stop slacking — and start going hard during every workout. The former editor-in-chief of Cycling magazine is staring down middle age when he finally decides it’s time to “embrace the suck” — and really get fit. Madden finds CrossFit, and commits to leaving it all on the court (er, box) for an entire year. Follow along as he sucks it up through endless WODs — and learns a few lessons about himself throughout his journey. ($19.25; available Dec 9, 2014)
7. Faster: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World’s Fastest Cyclists
It’s safe to say the world of cycling has changed a lot since doping scandals threatened to nearly bring down the sport. Here, British cycling champ Michael Hutchinson explores the science behind how to bike fast (without performance-enhancing drugs). Hutchinson’s tried practically everything but PEDs in the name of speed, from sleeping in an oxygen-deprivation tent to cycling around Manchester Velodrome’s track — naked. Based on his relationships with other top cyclists, exercise physiologists and researchers — and his own willingness to be a guinea pig — Hutchinson dives deep into the science of speed. ($16.77; available now)
8. The 30-Second Body: Eat Clean. Train Dirty. Live Hard.
“No crap, no pomp, just the essentials.” That’s what trainer Adam Rosante promises in his first book “The 30-Second Body.” Because we can all do anything for 30 seconds, Rosante devised a series of workouts meant to be done in half-minute intervals. Expect photo-illustrated moves accompanied by advice on eating clean, plus doses of the famous pep talks that Rosante’s long-time clients know and love. You can’t get your hands on this book until March, but pre-order now and you’ll get three free workouts from the trainer’s popular WaveShape program to get you fired up for the big book release. ($9.99; on sale March 10, 2015)
RELATED: The Beginner’s Guide to Eating Clean
9. Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally
Raise your hand if you agree that few things in life are more frustrating than a running injury. Ready to say goodbye to tendonitis and nagging knee pains? In his latest book, author Kelly Starrett, physiotherapist and founder of San Francisco CrossFit, introduces 12 key objectives runners should strive for to avoid injury. It might sound like a long checklist to cross off, but fear not. Starrett will get you there with a combination of dynamic and isolated stretches, mobility training and techniques designed to improve your hip flexion, ankle motion, hydration tactics and more. Because race prep involves way more than just buying the right pair of shoes, right? ($18.62; available now)
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