The starting list to my learning list

Posted on May 28, 2014


I’ve received some emails asking for advice, congealing around:

  • “There’s so much information out there, where do I start?”
  • “How did you go about attaining your knowledge base?”
  • “There’s a lot on your Recommended Learning page, what should I start with?”

All the above deal with learning, but this post will be geared toward the last remark. My own list of learning resources has grown pretty big; I can understand the intimidation. Considering how massive the internet is, you can really understand people being at a loss for what they should pay attention to.

I’m going to give a list of one or two sources I recommend for a bunch of specific areas. This is what I would start with. We’ll label in alphabetical order for the various categories.


Illustrated Essentials of Musculoskeletal Anatomy by Kay W. Sieg. and Sandra P. Adams

I randomly found this book cruising through Barnes and Noble one day. It’s a comprehensive, yet basic, anatomy text. They throw in enough functional anatomy comments where you can take some practical application away, which is what you need in an introductory anatomy text.

Other anatomy texts are too basic. To the point you have to relearn things as you advance. I went through this with certain muscles, which you can read about in Rethinking how and why you’re training your glutesThis book isn’t great on that front, that’s more where Sahrmann’s work comes in, but it provides a stepping stone. Even with being able to google any muscle, nerve, bone, I refer back to this book constantly. 


Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

If I have a man crush, it’s Jason Fried of 37 Signals. This is, by far, the best business book I’ve read. You go through this book and breathe a sigh of relief knowing business is not as convoluted and hard as it’s often made to be.

I’ve seen many in the fitness field say you need to read just as much business material as you do training / movement / anatomy material. Nonsense. If you think business is as complicated as the human body, you’re doing something wrong.

My favorite aspect of Rework, 37 Signals, and Fried, is their marketing philosophy. Rather than employ some form of yelling at people to buy your stuff, teach something revolving around your industry. Do a seminar, have a blog, hold a workshop, podcast, whatever. It’s so much better to teach someone something than it is to chase them down offering free trials, berating them with emails, or using those INSANELY annoying opt in screens.

Fried has a great talk about this in the following video, where he compares his marketing philosophy to chefs:

Movement / Exercise

Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes
/ Movement System Impairment Syndromes of the Extremities, Cervical and Thoracic Spines by Shirley Sahrmann and Associates

I wrote this a while back on my learning page, and it still applies:

This is THE book. I can’t put into words how influential this book has been on me. I feel as if anyone who deals with people in any type of physical setting (athletic training, physical therapists, personal trainers, physicians, etc.) should know this book. And yet barely anyone does.

This book took me probably three months to fully digest, and I still refer back to it often. Three months to read a single book. It was not an easy read. In fact, I often see other people cite this book as having influence on them but I can easily tell by their blog posts, or whatever they’re writing and saying, they never fully grasped it. Probably indicative of how long and hard it is to get through. Especially when you’re reading it “for fun.”

However, I can’t tell you how much money the knowledge I’ve gained from this book has made me (it’s expensive, but you make your money back many times over), how many people I’ve gotten out of pain because of this book, how many people I’ve prevented from ever getting into pain, etc. If I ever get to the point where I’m hiring someone, this book will be a prerequisite.

Reading, and KNOWING, this book will easily put you in the top 1-5% in your field. (Granted, that’s not always saying much in physical therapy or personal training.) Not only that, but you’ll realize how clueless the people who haven’t read this book are when it comes to exercising people.

Someone recently emailed me saying they tried to read this, but felt they weren’t ready for it yet. If you know basic anatomy, you’re ready for it. It’s just that hard to get through. You can’t read this like you’re reading a novel. I would read a few pages, go train a couple of people, think about what I read, come back, read a few pages, and repeat. I did this for months. It was akin to taking a course in college. A course I’m always rethinking and revisiting.

Relevant posts:

  • Practically everything on this site revolving around anatomy, exercise, or pain.


A Flexible Guide to Dieting by Lyle McDonald

Lyle has said this is his least popular book, but I think it should be his most. Most nutrition writing is extreme. It’s always some new diet, cut this macronutrient, only juice, all you need is this supplement. This book brings it back to the middle. In order to lose weight, yes, you of course need to change how you eat. That doesn’t mean you need to be a lunatic though.

While this book is more basic nutrition, for everyday people that’s pretty much all that’s needed. For most, if they do some basic things, they lose weight. It’s great to know the fancier stuff, but you barely ever apply it.

Furthermore, this book talks about some critical psychological viewpoints on eating, which can be way more important than knowing how many grams of carbs someone should be ingesting.

Relevant posts from me:


Explain Pain The Graded Motor Imagery Handbook by David Butler, Lorimer Moseley, and others.

This is where the “central sensitization,” “pain is in your brain” phenomenon has been coming from. When people first started talking either to me, or on the web, about this stuff, I really didn’t understand what they were trying to say. Much of what they were saying didn’t make sense. Eventually, I decided screw it, I’m really going to delve into this and see for myself what these guys are saying.

Looking back, I realize it wasn’t what Moseley and Butler were saying that didn’t make sense, it was people’s interpretations of their work that didn’t.

Too many think these guys are saying you can just will your way out of pain. That it’s “all in your head” in the sense of, “Oh, ok. I just don’t think about it then.” As if the pain is a mirage. That’s not what’s going on, nor is that what they’re purporting. People are glossing over the fact that exercise in some form is always part of these guys’ solution. They just do it in a different manner. They don’t only tell patients to “Hey, stop thinking about that pain.”

Next, people are getting way too ambitious translating this work to the everyday population. The overwhelming majority of these guys’ research has been done on Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome and Phantom Limb Pain patients. For some reason, it seems hard for many to understand those missing an entire limb are going to be different than those not.

That said, this work is immensely valuable. You gain more of an appreciation for other, less talked about, factors contributing to people’s symptoms. Things like the weather, one’s beliefs, stress, sickness, fear, and so on.

I needed to read Graded Motor Imagery before I really understood what these guys were getting at in Explain Pain. All of Explain Pain I was saying to myself, “Yes, yes, that makes sense. Yes, I understand. But what is your solution???” Graded Motor Imagery elucidates the solution very well. Which then, I think, makes you understand the science better. How much of their solution applies to everyday people? I’m not sure. I’ve definitely taken things, but I still have questions.

One prominent thing I’ve taken from their work is you don’t always need to physically make someone do a movement in order to get their brain to do that movement, and how to use this in an exercise / rehabilitative setting.

Relevant posts from me:


Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning by Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle

This is a nice complement to the corrective exercise / physical therapy texts mentioned. While the exercise suggestions are off at times -especially in terms of training everyday people (granted, it’s more for athletes)- it’s good to know what stimulus different rep ranges give, some basic physics and biomechanics of exercise, muscle physiology, etc. Where you then apply this through a “I’m training everyday people” lens.

In certain circles, like the university and NSCA, this book is the bible. It is by no means something you need to know front to back (Sahrmann’s work is), but through the years I’ve surprised myself how often I’ll open this up.

Relevant posts from me:


Khan Academy physics section by Salman Khan

As mentioned, the Essentials book above is huge in the college setting. One area I found that book lacked was a friendly teaching of physics. I saw many, many of my classmates struggle understanding the math behind what was being implemented. Because I was a math major for a while, and took a bunch of physics in high school, I was ok. In other words, the physics discussed in Essentials is helpful if you already have a background in physics, which most do not.

Hence, Khan Academy.

If you don’t know, Khan’s stuff is all video. Something I think makes understanding this stuff easier. Physics can be enjoyable when it’s visible and well presented. I took physics in high school and briefly in college. I loved physics in high school, but loathed it in college. A direct relation to the teachers I had for each.

Salman Khan does a great job teaching a plethora of subjects, physics being one of them. In terms of practical application, a solid look through the classical mechanics section is ideal. Things such as Newton’s Laws, torque, moment arms, free body diagrams. Not like you need to go into general relativity or anything.

Relevant post from me:


The Last Psychiatrist by The Last Psychiatrist

For pretty much every section I knew immediately what resource I’d recommend. For psychology, I wavered a bit. The thing you want with a psychology resource is something that will help you better understand the people you’re working with. Many psychological resources talk about the research around the human mind. How humans aren’t rationale, how easily we’re tricked, how we’re not as smart as we think. This stuff is all good to know. But when I was thinking of this section I started thinking how I use psychology with my clients, and I really don’t use the above often.

What I use is an understanding of what identity means to people. How to get someone to change you don’t focus on their attitude, but their behavior. An understanding of how powerful the media is. While much psychological research revolves around the basics of the human mind, the things I just mentioned are more contemporary.

The Last Psychiatrist (TLP) is an anonymous author who talks about all these things. One of his big themes is understanding narcissism. If you’re unaware, narcissism has been on the rise the last four decades or so. TLP doesn’t talk about the why of this, it’s more of the implication. [1]

For example, part of narcissism is declaring you have an identity, and holding on to that identity for dear life. Rather than engage in behavior, you engage in identity. Rather than play sports, you talk about how much of a fan you are. Rather than do the work necessary to accomplish your goals, you fantasize about the goal.

The application this has to the fitness world is innumerable. Look everywhere and you will see people declaring who they are, often through their exercise and diet beliefs. “I’m paleo, what are you?” “I’m a CrossFitter, what do you do?” “I’m a runner.” You see this on Twitter handles when people describe themselves. “Foodie,” “Writer,” “Biking enthusiast.”

(Notice how the above are almost never even professions, which would necessitate behavior. They’re mere declarations of what the person wants others to think of them.)

Instragram, Facebook, what do you constantly see from people? Pictures of how what they’re eating; status updates about their exercise routine.

And what happens when these people see someone disagree with their eating or exercise style? They go bat shit crazy. They go nuclear in the comment sections. They say some of the most horrible things a person could say to someone else. It doesn’t matter if one presents the most well reasoned, factual argument. The other doesn’t hear it, they can’t hear it, it’s incomprehensible.

Why? Because their identity is being attacked. When someone tells them there is something wrong with whatever eating style they have, they don’t hear that as something is wrong with their eating style, they hear something is wrong with them. And when you’re the main character in your own movie, nobody is allowed to tell you something is wrong with you. Everyone is there for you. It’s all about you.

“The narcissist believes he is the main character in his own movie.  Everyone else has a supporting role– everyone around him becomes a “type.”  You know how in every romantic comedy, there’s always the funny friend who helpes the main character figure out her relationship?  In the movie, her whole existence is to be there fore the main character.  But in real life, that funny friend has her own life; she might even be the main character in her own movie, right?  Well the narcissist wouldn’t be able to grasp that.  Her friends are always supporting characters, that can be called at any hour of the night, that will always be interested in what she is wearing, or what she did.  That funny friend isn’t just being kind, she doesn’t just want to help– she’s personally interested in the narcissist’s life.  Of course she is.”

(From this post.)

There is about 10 years worth of writing on TLPs site. I’d start with the narcissism section and go from there. It is not easy reading. A lot of it is long, will make you pause repeatedly, and really bend your mind at times.

Relevant post from me:

Honorable mention:

Relevant post from me:


Revising Prose by Richard A. Lanham

I got this recommendation from Jason Fried. This book details an easy method to clean up your writing. If you write at all, and basically everyone does in some fashion, this book is useful.

The book goes through a specific process anyone can use. I found the full method to be a bit much. I took a couple basic rules and they made a huge difference.

Here is one: Each time you write something examine how many times you use the word “that.” Read the sentence aloud. Next, read the sentence aloud without using “that” and see if the sentence still works. The overwhelming majority of the time you don’t need the word. Do this drill when reading others as well. I do this all the time and you’ll notice how cluttered and sickly the writing looks when “that” is used over and over again, when it doesn’t need to be.

The main idea of the book is to get you to say the same thing with less words, without losing your message.

The other book people always recommend for writing is On Writing Well. I read close to half of that book and stopped. There were just way too many rules for me. Once you start arguing about the intricacies of grammar, something most readers don’t care about, you’ve gone too far in my mind. Where Revising Prose is great is it’s simply saying, “Do you really need that many words to say what you want?” And then provides a method to check the answer to that question.


The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

The thesis of this book is: We live in an unique time in human history, particularly from a medical perspective. It’s only quite recently we’ve hit the point where we actually know enough to help people. Where we can do something beyond give morphine to dull pain.

And this knowledge is growing exponentially. To the point no human brain can handle it all. Invariably, one is going to forget something, one is going to screw up. Our degree of know-how has outstripped our degree of application. How can we better handle this?

Gawande takes you through various stories illustrating how simple mistakes, mistakes not of ignorance, but often forgetfulness, end up killing people. Gawande is a surgeon so he is playing with stakes higher than most. However, he found two industries with comparable stakes: Architecture and Aviation. How do we build massive skyscrapers that don’t fall? How is the rate of plane crashes so low, and progressively getting lower? While not as complex as the human body, these are still incredibly difficult tasks, tasks which are done at far smaller failure rates than medicine. What are these industries doing differently?


This book should have a profound impact on anyone who deals with complex matters. One of the questions that consistently pops up for people who deal with the human body is, “How do I handle all this?” A checklist may very well be your answer.

I have checklists I go through for every client. Hip pain? Have a checklist for that. Knee pain? Checklist for that. New client? Checklist for that. For instance, when a new person with a lower back history comes to see me, I literally pull out my phone, open up the notepad with my “Assessing someone with a lower back history” checklist, check off things and take notes on each section through their assessment.

Gawande goes into details on how to make a good checklist, and how when you get it right, the results can be dramatic.

A talk by him on this topic:

[1] In case “you’re misunderstanding me bro,”

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