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10 Essential Strength Books: Part 1…Beyond Brawn

In this series, I’ll be exploring the ten books that have had the most impact on my training, whether dealing with the actual methods I’ve come to use, or the philosophy behind my own training. Hundreds of thousands of valuable pages have been written on these subjects. This series is my love letter to my top ten. With that: here’s Beyond Brawn: The Insider’s Encyclopedia on How to Build Muscle and Might

Beyond Brawn by Stuart McRobert

A hardgainer is a person with a skinny build that has trouble putting on muscle mass. I had followed Stuart McRobert’s hardgainer.com for a while before picking up a copy of Beyond Brawn. I am currently 6’8″ and normally weigh between 240-250. Back when I received my first driver’s license, I was 6’7″ and weighed 150lbs. Much of the progress I’ve been able to make was from following the methods I’d read about in hardgainer.

I’ve always been a fan of McRobert’s writing style and his obvious passion for strength training. He is a strong man who has acquired a profound wealth of knowledge about the Iron Game. Have you ever met someone who was so passionate about something that you couldn’t help but get excited when you heard them talk about it? That’s how I felt when (don’t laugh) the dean of my library school talked about cataloging. He raved about it like a fiery baptist preacher, and it was impossible not to get revved up about it. (This feeling faded immediately after he left the room).

Stuart McRobert’s writing fires you up from page one and sticks with you. Too often, books about training are tired rehashes of what’s already been said a billion times before. Lists of recycled bullet points. Lots of tough talk but not enough humility. When someone who has achieved something I want is also willing to say “Look, I’ve made a ton of mistakes in my training over the years. I wasted a lot of time and I hurt myself badly,” that means something to me. By the end of any of the Die Hard movies, John Mclane has always been beaten within an inch of his life. He does heroic things, but we know he’s going to get a good thrashing by the time he’s sorted everyone out.

McRoberts doesn’t pretend he knows it all and he admits his mistakes. He focuses so much on his mistakes, in fact, that–it sounds a little silly–you get to know him by the end of the book. He doesn’t come off as a guru, but as a normal guy who figured out how to get strong. Larger-than-life figures are hard to identify with, unless you’re in the larger-than-life club. A man’s humanity is never on display as fully as when he admits that he is vulnerable to the same mistakes, injuries, and insecurities as anyone else.

There are two major selling points to this book.

1. McRoberts is a person to admire

He is humble but incredibly knowledgeable. His desire to help others comes through on every page.

And that gives me a chance to deftly segue into point number 2:

The content. You want comprehensive? You got it

Anyone who puts “Encyclopedia” on the cover of any book is either a ballsy poser who prays to make some money before they get exposed, or they are somebody like Stuart McRobert. Encyclopedic knowledge is broad in scope and depth. You only get encyclopedic content in two ways: either a team of smart people work on tons of little articles together to prepare for the next edition, or one person pays their dues, pays attention, and takes their time (years!) synthesizing their knowledge for the teeming masses.

Flip through Beyond Brawnand it is quickly apparent that you’re dealing with an encyclopedia. Maybe you’re not naturally a curious person and you just like to throw heavy things around. If picking up the latest copy of the Brittanica doesn’t get your motor running, let me reassure you that BB is a thrill ride of a book for strength seekers.

A Summary of McRobert’s Philosophy

  • It is a privilege to train hard
  • Most people who work out have no idea what “hard” training is
  • Short attention spans and information overload are preventing most people from the results they want
  • It takes brutally hard work to get those results, but it isn’t complicated
  • Squat, Deadlift, and Bench if your body is healthy enough.
  • Don’t get hurt.
  • When in doubt, train less frequently, not more.
  • Practice Proper Nutrition
  • Get enough rest
  • Sounds like a lot of other books, doesn’t it?

    It isn’t. He is able to say the “same old things” in a way that will resonate with you. He is also adept at illustrating what methods do not work without being condescending to anyone practicing them. More than anything, he is sad and frustrated for people engaged in a noble pursuit, but who are wasting the training prime of their lives spinning their wheels.

    Beyond Brawn has no pictures. Very little formatting. Just block paragraph after block paragraph of smart, applicable information that you can benefit from immediately. I’ve never read a book this thick this fast, and I read a lot of big, fat books. There is not a dud line or paragraph in the entire volume.

    As I said before, most important is the mindset and the passion that McRobert’s has…his respect for the pursuit of strength. If you have any interest in strength, positive thinking, or achieving goals, you need to read this book. It is equal parts self-help, road map to might, reference tool, and pep talk masterpiece for the days when you need the boost to get back on track.

    Read it read it read it, then read it again. “Empower” is not a word I’m able to use very often without rolling my eyes. Too corporate-speak. But Beyond Brawn will make you feel empowered. You’ll be itching to get after it by the second page.

    PS: This is Part 1 in a series:  read Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

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    Comments on this entry are closed.

    • Ben Owens April 17, 2009, 9:32 am

      I couldn’t agree more. Reading this book was an eye-opener for me too. It’s a no-nonsense, back to the basics wakeup call. Before I read it, I was a concentration curling, kick-backing, “Muscle & Fitness” following weiner (not that there is anything wrong with that). I would deadlift maybe four times a year, and could barely pull over 200lbs. I’m no stud at the deadlift now, but after reading this book, my training philosophy changed dramatically and so did the results of my workouts. If you’re looking for a roadmap to getting stronger, I can’t recommend this book enough.

    • Josh Hanagarne April 17, 2009, 9:52 am

      Wrong. You are a hideous stud at the deadlift now. I remember the “muscle & fitness” days all too well. 5×6,8,10,10,12, 6 times a week! Yar! McRobert’s other books are really good as well.

    • Ben Owens April 17, 2009, 11:39 am

      Okay, let’s just say I’m not as big of a sissy as I was a year ago.

      Josh, Anderson Silva vs Thales Leites here in Logan tomorrow. You in?

    • Josh Hanagarne April 17, 2009, 12:14 pm

      Oh man, I don’t know. I want to come. who are you watching it with? I’m predicting that in an unprecedented turn of events, Chris Leiben is going to jump into the ring and pummel Silva, and then Silva will admit in a press conference that Leiben has always been the better man. I’m not sure if I want to watch that or not.

    • Ben Owens April 17, 2009, 12:56 pm

      I’m watching it with a couple of friends. Buzz will be one of them. I’m sure you remember him.

      And yes, Leben jumping into the ring full of roid rage is an ever present possiblity.

    • Carl H. Yerger III February 1, 2010, 4:26 pm

      “10 Essential Strength Books” – What is title of the tenth book?

      • Josh Hanagarne February 1, 2010, 4:29 pm

        Carl, I haven’t reviewed # 10 yet. I’ll do it later this week.