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10 Essential Strength Books Part 7: Strength Training Anatomy

You have to know this stuff

You have to know this stuff

One of the worst things you can do is go through life not knowing how your body works.  You can’t get away from this fleshy vehicle that lugs your brain around everywhere, so why not become more familiar with it?  I can name a few reasons, the main one being that anatomy textbooks are not fun to leaf through.  The words are big and smart-sounding, and the nude people in the pictures are all skinned.

However, I should say that from what I’ve experienced, reading 1248 pages of Gray’s Anatomy is far superior to watching 10 seconds of Grey’s Anatomy. There is less angst and fewer overwrought voiceovers.  My experience is limited with the show, so maybe one day I’ll learn that I’m wrong and give it a chance.  I’ll be happy to do so…at gunpoint…if you can catch me.  Good luck with that, by the way.  I’m really fast.



Knowing the names of everything doesn’t necessarily mean that you can visualize what your acromion or glenohumeral joint are doing while you’re bicep-curling 45 lbs.  It’s not enough to memorize the names.  That’s how you pass a test.  It’s not how you get stronger and smarter.

The people in Strength Training Anatomy (2nd Edition) by Frederic Delavier are skinned and the words are big, but this book is a gem and a necessity for anyone wanting to train with weights.

The pictures–and it’s 99% pictures–are large, colorful, and best of all, they’re pictures of skinned people doing the actual exercises you are interested.  No, there are not any kettlebell pictures, but I’m sure that will be forthcoming in later editions, hint to Delavier.

If you want to know what is happening inside your body when you do a deadlift, Strength Training Anatomy shows you exactly what is happening to your muscles and skeletal structure when you’re pulling a big weight.  Ditto with curls, cleans, those little eensy weensy tricep exercises too many people are in love with, and so on.

Knowing what’s happening inside you means you can:

  • Diagnose the source of pain with greater accuracy
  • Learn if you are using the muscles you should be for the movements you’re performing.  If you know that the triceps pull downwards during a biceps curl thanks to the book, but you’re not feeling them during your curls, then you know that you’re doing your version of the movement, not the correct one
  • Understand that the body is one unit and must be strengthened as such.  From head to toe, you’re a big chain.  When one part breaks down, everything suffers.  You’re going to figure out how to locate the breakdowns and slow-learners by learning some anatomy

To summarize

  • 99% pictures
  • Big pictures!
  • Nice colors
  • Information you can’t afford to ignore if you’re serious about training
  • Turn off Grey’s Anatomy, preferably with a sledge hammer.  Go do something more fun, like getting 100 root canals or reading Twilight (Heaven forgive me, I said it…)

Strength Training Anatomy will make you stronger and smarter in 144 pages.  And then you’ll look Mcdreamy like a certain doctor my wife, sisters, and mother would all leave their husbands for.

Maybe I’m just jealous.  You should still read this book.


This is Part 7 in a series.  Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Casey July 27, 2009, 7:46 am

    It amazes me how many people want to maximize their results and minimze their knowledge. People will ask me a question about weight loss and when I try to explain the mechanics behind building muscle their eyes just glaze over… Maybe i should try looking like McDreamy… That might hold their attention!

    But seriously, its like trying to work on a car without any knowledge of how an engine works!

    So Josh, when do we want to go to hell?

    • Josh Hanagarne July 27, 2009, 9:13 am

      Casey, I sent you an email about hell. i have to admit, I’m similar to some of your clients. I learn this stuff, but I don’t love to read about physiology. But if I was paying you to teach me about it, you better believe I’d pay attention.

  • Sarah July 27, 2009, 8:01 am

    Using Delavier’s “Women’s Strength Training Anatomy” really helped me improve some of my basic lifts, as well as gain a better understanding of human anatomy. I consider the book almost a work of art.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 27, 2009, 9:12 am

      Sarah, tell me what I really want to know: do you watch Grey’s Anatomy?

  • David Cain July 27, 2009, 9:39 am

    I have that book and love it. Since I started with kettlebells I haven’t done many of the exercises in it, but the detailed (and a bit gruesome) anatomical pictures are priceless.

  • Liz July 28, 2009, 1:41 pm

    Just wanted to add that I don’t recommend the women’s version. It’s essentially a sub-set of the original, focusing mostly on lower body only.

    The original has more comprehensive information, and still uses pictures of women for the majority of the lower body exercises.

    I suppose my one complaint is that many of the exercises demonstrated were done with machines, whereas I prefer to use free weights and dumbbells. Still, I found the book helpful.

    Good recommendation, Josh!

    • Josh Hanagarne July 28, 2009, 1:53 pm

      @Liz. Interesting! I had no idea there was a women’s version, and I totally support your preference of free weights over machines.