14 Books to Train Your Athletic Mind This Summer

I’m all about habits to drive positive momentum, so why not designate that last 30-60 minutes of your evening to some great books.

It’s a safe assumption that any regular consumer of this site has no aversions to reading. Mark Twain is credited with saying, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” Summer is the perfect time to redouble your efforts to consume a few great books. Many of you have the kids home and would provide a wonderful model by reading in front of them. In my experience, finding kids who read is more and more rare, but few habits come with such great upside. I’m all about habits to drive positive momentum, so why not designate that last 30-60 minutes of your evening to some great books. You’ll broaden your perspective and stoke your motivational fire.

I’ve had the great fortune to interview some of the best in the fitness industry over the last few months. Each of them offered up books that were most meaningful and influential in their own journey. Interestingly, most chose books that were not directly related to the fitness industry, but those that contain lessons to permeate all areas of life. I’ve selected some of my favorites along with many of theirs to create a reading list that has something for everyone in the fitness industry. I have no doubt that these selections will entertain, fascinate, and spur your work and life towards greater depth and passion.

First, Some Fitness Favorites

Never Let Go: A Philosophy of Lifting, Living, and Learning, By Dan John

If you enjoy Breaking Muscle but aren’t a book reader, this might be the easiest transition. It’s a compilation of articles by Dan John that will excite you for new training possibilities while entertaining you with the constant wit and hilarity of this strength legend. He’s written plenty more equally amusing and of greater impact, but this is a great introduction.

Kettlebell Simple & Sinister, By Pavel Tsatsouline

Interested in getting into kettlebells? Start here. Advanced kettlebeller? Come back to this awesome book. Regardless of your training experience, there is a lot to learn here from this brilliant king of the kettlebell.

Ultimate Athleticism: Zero to Hero Guide to Strength, Health, and Flexibility, By Max Shank

Max brilliantly sees know walls as he melds multiple disciplines into an exciting, effective program. This creative training guide might change the way you look at exercise and programming. As most great coaches, Max combines a phenomenal life philosophy with a training philosophy sure to bring endless fun, challenge, and growth.

Mindset and Personal Development

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumphs, By Ryan Holiday

A phenomenal book on mindset for overcoming challenges and perceiving the world better. This one got my butt in gear and helped me take some big personal strides. I’m a bit of a history nerd, so I loved the stories and examples constantly referenced to help teach each lesson. Ryan Hurst, founder of GMB, recommends this book above all others. It helped him through a challenging injury last year. It’s required reading within the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks organizations.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, By Chip and Dan Heath

Anyone looking to make personal improvements or to motivate groups should start here. Tons of research has gone in to this absolutely fascinating read on creating successful change initiatives. You’ll learn what factors influence change (with an awesome metaphor) and be given tons of interesting examples and suggestions for how to best succeed in your pursuits.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, By Greg McKeown

I started a whole interview series based on this concept, which applies very well to fitness and programming. It’s an essential read for our time. In our overwhelmingly busy world we often are pushed to add evermore and fall victim to overwhelm, stress, and working away our life. If you are a type A personality this one might save your life and it will certainly offer you a path to deep happiness and control. It’s a book that reminds me of the Annie Dillard quote: “How you spend your days is, of course, how you spend your life.” A seemingly obvious sentiment that can lead to some startling introspection.

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

I hesitated to add this, because the irreverent title, but it really is a fantastic book if you can get past the language and sometimes more mature, blunt content. Manson is hilarious and does a great job of weaving historical examples, real psychological research, and his own interesting experience. He very accurately explains some the common pitfalls of our culture and bluntly prescribes solutions. In the end, you may be shocked to find, this book is really about values and being a better person.

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self Help That Actually Works, By Dan Harris

Yes, this title is long. You may know Dan Harris from his work on ABC’s news team. Here he gives a very honest candid account of his drug use and the consequent panic attack that eventually led to his meditation practice. This is an awesome story from a very normal, funny man. So many of the themes and thought processes will feel familiar if you have any Type A tendencies. Harris does a great job of demystifiying meditation through an amusing, skeptical approach.

On Coaching and Teams

Conscious Coaching: The Art and Science of Building Buy In, By Brett Bartholomew Brett

An unbelievably intelligent and experienced coach in his own right, addresses the need for more emphasis in coaching skill and connecting with athletes. Too many fall back on knowledge of scientific principle, but cannot communicate, motivate, and create buy-in.

Brett is an expert in these subjects. He writes with the backing of rich scientific and psychological research, but in a very easy to understand manner that clearly communicates the necessity of creating trust and connection. This is a must read for anyone looking to take their coaching to the next level. At heart it emphasizes that athletes are people first and we must meet them there. This theme is reinforced in the next book.

What Drives Winning: Building Character Gets Results. Here’s How., By Brett Ledbetter

Perhaps being a better leader and coach is as simple as changing your name to Brett. Here is another phenomenal coaching book that truly understands what youth athletes are dealing with today. Ledbetter convincingly shows how to use character to drive performance, but more importantly how to create better people who enjoy and benefit more from their athletic experience.

Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life, By James Kerr

Admittedly, I’ve not read this. Its been suggested by so many that I felt I should just mention it and let you do the rest. For me, it’s in the mail.

For the Socially Conscious Athlete or Coach

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, By Sebastian Junger

Just an absolutely unreal book. It was suggested to me by my friend Justin Lind, who considered it the one book he’d read if he could only read one. Since, we’ve had many conversations about the concepts. It will change how you look at the world and our place within it. It will help you understand humanity more and thus allow you to create projects that fill our deepest needs of community and contribution. Every gym, school, company, and national organization should read this, if only for the greater understanding of PTSD. I also recommend his podcast with Tim Ferriss and his more recent podcast with Joe Rogan, where they discuss this book.

The Lost Art of Drawing the Line: How Fairness Went Too Far, By Philip K. Howard

Sometimes it seems the book finds you. This one felt that way. After finishing reading Tribe, and beginning to really look at the splintering and isolation of our communities, I stumbled across this book on a half price rack. Having a background in political science, the discussion on law did not bother me. The author does a phenomenal job explaining what legal forces have promoted a very isolated, self-interested population that throws out common sense in favor of perception and the dogma of “neutrality.” If you work in the public sector this will strike a chord with you and help shine some light on how best to Stand Up for What’s Right, even against odds.

The Must Read: Fun, Inspiring, Educational, Fitness Gold

Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance, By Christopher McDougall

If you can read only one book, this is it. You may not agree with every theory, but you will have a blast reading this true story of the Cretan resistance to Nazi occupation. It somehow weaves this story into wonderfully interesting theories on human movement, training, and nutrition. It’s a must read to anyone interested in history, mythology, fitness, human development, movement, or creating heroic people.