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Thomas Mayfield

Polyglot programmer who loves the weird beautiful chaos of humans building software together. Currently spending most of my time in Ruby and Javascript, while dabbling in Clojure and Elixir.

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Fitness Resources Megapost

Last updated June 24th, 2017: see changelog

I’m a huge fitness nerd, and I’ll talk your ear off about all aspects of physical training given half a chance. I frequently wind up sending reading recommendations to people who’re interested in knowing more after chatting, and figured it was time to put together a big list of the fitness resources I’ve gotten the most out of.

Disclaimer: This is my hobby, not my profession. I don’t train people and I’m not remarkably strong, fast, or flexible. But just as a regular person: this stuff has been lifechanging for me. I hope it helps someone else too.

Strength

Absolute strength is the athletic attribute that has the most carryover into everything else you do, in sports and in life. Everyone should develop a base level of strength, whether your goal getting jacked, running a faster 5k, or just aging gracefully.

General Resources

Some books for building a conceptual framework to understand what fitness is all about and how to define and progress towards your individual goals:

  • The Art & Science of Lifting by Greg Nuckols and Omar Isof — Two relatively short ebooks that are probably the best introduction to the principals of successful strength training. As the titles suggest, they cover both practical techniques as well as the backing scientific research. For further reading, Greg’s Stronger By Science is a goldmine of good information.

  • Fit by Kilgore, Hartman, Laseck — Another good deep guide to the practice and science of fitness. Where Art & Science covers mostly getting strong, Fit goes into conditioning, mobility, and a bit of anatomy as well.

  • Intervention by Dan John — One of those books I keep coming back to. Enough ideas, philosophy and guidelines to keep you busy for a lifetime. I know I’m due for a re-read because I haven’t been doing my loaded carries…

Beginner Barbell Programs

When you’re new to strength training, you can progress in strength very rapidly. Beginner programs are tailored to take advantage of that. The ones below are all slightly different, but they’ll all get you strong. Pick one, read it, understand how it works, then run it ‘til it stops working for you. This usually takes between 3-9 months.

  • The Greyskull LP by John Sheaffer — This is the program I ran when I started training with barbells. It’s a three-day-a-week, reasonably customizable program that’s a touch more hypertrophy oriented than a many of the commonly recommended beginner programs. Phrack’s variant is a good base for those unsure of how to customize the program.

  • GZCLP by Cody Lefever — By the same author of the GZCL Method mentioned below, GZCLP is a version of his training methodology designed for new lifters. I really like how it’s set up and it has some features that in retrospect I could have benefitted from during my beginner days. Namely, it has progression across multiple rep ranges, a ton of extra back work, and actual structure around adding/progressing accessory work. The only downside here I can see is that Cody’s writeup is fairly technical and might be daunting for totally new lifters. You’ll want to read and understand the Tier 1/2/3 system from Cody’s original GZCL method first; then hopefully the GZCLP adaptation for newer lifters will make sense.

Intermediate / Advanced Barbell Programs

After you’ve exhausted the strength gains a beginner’s program can provide, you’ll want to switch to something that progresses slower. Here are some I like:

  • The GZCL Method — This is a powerlifting-focused “method” rather than a “program”: for each lift you want to improve, it gives you guidelines for how many total reps at different intensities you should accumulate over the course of a week. Want to spread your squat work out over three days? Just get the reps in. Want just squat one day a week? Just get the reps in. This makes it super adaptable for whatever life throws at you, and lets you keep your daily schedule a bit more varied from training block to training block (if you want) without program hopping entirely.

    For a starting point, Applications and Adapations has some example GZCL programs written up, along with a longer treatise on different ways to structure and progress work in the various tiers. Fair warning: it’s a higher volume method than most of the LPs above, so you’ll probably want to take some time ramping up the amount of work you’re doing rather than jumping in with both feet.

  • Average to Savage — My take on what a good intermediate park bench program can look like. Bundled in the Training Toolkit from Greg Nuckols, this is a really solid general strength and hypertrophy program. This would be first recommendation if you’re fresh off a beginner program and trying to figure out what’s next; it’ll really help you develop the work capacity you need to make progress as an intermediate. It’s a 4-day-a-week program that runs in 4 week blocks for 16 total weeks, starting with lighter, very high-rep sets and titrating down to heavier, low-rep sets by the end. I’ve found myself returning to this program over and over after experimenting with other approaches.

    Also useful: the bundle comes with a guide to sticking points in the big lifts; as in, if you get stuck at this certain point in your squat, these are the muscles that likely the issue and how to bring them up to speed.

  • Greg Nuckols Specialty Programs — Yup, another Greg Nuckols joint. Instead of a single program, these are a collection of specialty programs that for building an individual lift (squat, bench, deadlift) that you can combine depending on your goals. Greg has recommendations on effective ways to combine them, but it’s pretty flexible. Well thought out, good stuff.

  • 5/3/1 — I feel like I have to mention this program here for the sake of completeness as it’s sort of all over every training discussion on the internet. I ran the basic version of 5/3/1 when I finished my linear progression, and I think that was a mistake. It was lower frequency and volume than my beginner’s program and didn’t help me develop much work capacity. I think it could be workable with the addition of a bunch of different modifications from the followup Beyond 5/3/1 for extra volume and intensity, but you need to have a little experience under your belt to pick the right modifications (I certainly did not when I tried running it). I’ll probably not use this program again unless I need to dial things way down for a weight cut or some kind of unexpected stressful life situation.

Cardiovascular Conditioning

Yes, you should do cardio even if your goal is just getting stronger.

  • Tactical Barbell — Second in a series about fitness for police/military/fighters, focusing on how to combine cardiovascular fitness with strength training. Very well thought out, sustainable programming and a good guide (along with the first volume) on how to productively integrate cardio workout with strength training.

    This is tailored for professionals who need to be strong and in shape, but can’t be walking around sore all the time. Probably not the first stop for someone who’s looking to increase their powerlifting numbers, get bigger, or lose weight—this is all about pure performance. It’s also not for the absolute couch potato or someone who’s strong but way out of cardio shape. Apparently the author has a new book coming out this year for raw beginners.

  • Never Gymless and Infinite Intensity — Ross Enamait is a boxing coach and his guides heavily focus on high-intensity conditioning. Never Gymless got me back into fitness after a 3-year layoff after college, and I owe him a huge debt for that. Both are great resources if you don’t have a gym nearby and need to get some low-tech work done. Fair warning: if you aren’t already in exceptional shape, you’ll almost certainly have to scale down Ross’s workouts at first.

  • Simple & Sinister and Enter the Kettlebell — Pavel Tsatsouline is credited with intoducing the kettlebell to America. Kettlebell are a tremendous high-intensity conditioning tool and both these books are a great intro to using them. Just ignore the macho Russian shtick and do some swings, comrade.

Mobility / Fixing Pain and Injuries

I’m a notoriously unlimber person and my 20s were full of the kind of problems you hear people complain about in their 40s: RSI in my wrists, constant low back “tweaks”, and intermittent shooting sciatic nerve pain. Two things helped me fix and keep the these problems at bay:

  1. Getting stronger (see above).
  2. Mobility work (see below).

As it turns out, the tools you need to move well through the full range of motion while lifting have huge overlap with the tools you can use to fix an awful wide variety of chronic musculur pain.

  • MobilityWOD videos — Kelly Starrett is a mad scientist of mobility, and the amount of content he has out there is pretty overwhelming. He also has a book out that’s a little more organized, called (sigh) Becoming A Supple Leopard, but I’d honestly just recommend hitting up that YouTube channel, doing one video a day and see what you learn about how your body reacts to each session.

  • The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook — Picked up an earlier edition of this one to help me with an RSI scare almost a decade ago, and it’s been helping me debug my aches and pains ever since. Incredibly valuable just for the referred pain maps.

  • ROMWOD — Pretty much Yin Yoga marketed at Crossfitters, but I’ve been finding it valuable enough to stay a subscriber. Lots of long holds and has been doing wonders for my hip mobility. Hardly a one-stop solution: everyone’s mobility is messed up in different ways (my ankles need a ton more work than they program). That said, it’s a good 80/20 routine, and has been helping me free up the rest of mobilizing time to focus on my own worst issues.

  • Yoga for Weightlifters — For a little more active stretching, I really love this particular Vinyasa video. Half an hour, targeted at lifters, and always makes me feel like a million bucks.

Nutrition

Getting my diet on point and actually being accountable for what I’m eating has made a huge difference in my energy levels and how much control I feel I have over how I look. Wish I’d taken it more seriously earlier.

  • Andy Morgan’s Diet Guide — An amazingly thorough, evidence-backed guide to setting up, tracking and adjusting your nutrition depending on your goals. Andy Morgan has put an absolute practical ton of information out on his site for free. Start here.

  • The Renessiance Diet — Very much a scientific do-this, eat-that guide to diet, focusing on maximum athletic performance.

  • Fat Loss Starts On Monday — A Dan John collaboration with Josh Hillis; where the above two resources focus mainly on what do to, this book has a lot of useful ideas on the psychological side. Good stuff on building the kind of habits to you need to adhere to a good nutrition plan and still have a loving, healthy relationship with food.

  • Well Fed and Well Fed 2 — A pair of cookbooks that have been instrumental in how my household cooks these days. You can ignore the Paleo ideology stuff (personally, I empirically don’t react to wheat or dairy one way or another), but pay attention to the Weekly Cookup. Doing the bulk of my cooking in advance has been a HUGE part of turning my nutrition around, and Melissa Joulwan has great ideas around how to do that and keep things fresh and interesting at the same time.

Specific Exercises: Form Guides, Cues, and Tips

Squat

  • Stronger By Science: How To Squat Greg Nuckols’ novel-length guide on the squat. If you have a question about squatting, it’s probably answered here.

  • How to Squat, With Chris Duffin The tips from this video on how to brace and set up correctly really helped me. The trunk bracing cues are applicable to the deadlift as well.

  • How to Squat Max Aita Style Some cues about how to stay upright in a squat that really clicked for me.

  • Hip Structure and the Squat Everyone has to squat a little differently due to the structure of their hips. If you’re struggling to figure out a squat stance that works for you, check out some of these assessments.

Bench

Deadlift

Overhead Press

Pullups

  • Make Pullups 10x Easier and More Effective Max Shank talks about scapular retration and shoulder position in the chinup. I’ve seen this help people who couldn’t do a single pullup to being able to do one, just by fixing their starting position.

Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell Snatch

Kettlebell Clean

  • Fix Your Kettlebell Clean Another Light Dawns on Marblehead moment for yours truly—I never quite got how to clean without landing the bell heavily on my arm until I tried out Jen’s cues.

Changelog

2017-06-24:

  • Fixed link to Phrack’s Greyskull variant
  • Used better link to Cody’s GZCLP reddit post
  • Removed Starting Strength
  • Clarified thoughts on 5/3/1 and Greyskull

2017-03-12:

  • Added Jen Sinkler’s “Fix Your Kettlebell Clean”

2017-02-05:

  • Added Greg Nuckols’ bench and deadlift guides
  • Added Brian Alsruhe’s bench weakpoints guide
  • Added Quinn Henoch’s squat stance assessments.

2016-05-28:

  • Original Post