One of the most important steps in becoming a better coach is to build a library of books to read. Here are 6 books that I have found valuable for coaches that I have found to be good books for improving your coaching style.

The best way to become a great coach is to learn from the best coaches. In this article I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned from the best coaches and authors.

As the next group prepares to begin certification (the pre-sale list is open for the program that begins on Wednesday, September 22, 2021), I have been exploring some of the questions I have received from students over the past few months.

Today I decided to answer a question I am often asked:

What sources do you recommend for learning how to become a better coach?

That’s a very, very good question. My library is littered with texts from a wide variety of fields and subjects; my web browser contains bookmarks for probably hundreds of different pages.

But rather than publish a huge list, today I’ll share with you half a dozen books that I heartily recommend to any serious coach or trainer. In a future blog post, I will list some recommended websites.

[Comment: This is a list of books about coaching and influencing what your clients do outside the gym, during the 165 hours you don’t spend with them – because to me, that skill is the hallmark of a true coach. Maybe one day I’ll publish my recommendations for practice texts, but that’s another topic].

Let’s get started.

The power of the least

1. The power of less, Leo Babauta

A truly remarkable little book that describes the author’s analysis of his own growth and change. If you want to understand how change happens and how new habits are formed in the real world, you won’t find a better book than this. A quick read full of simple, practical – and often counterintuitive – insights into the transformation process. We recommend this book to all of our Lean Eating clients, and if you want to learn how to coach people who are struggling to change, you will benefit from reading it as well.

Motivational interview

2. Motivational Interviewing, William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick

Most coaches and trainers are completely lost when it comes to talking to clients or understanding how to help them change. If you hear a conversation between a trainer and a client in a commercial gym, chances are you’ll either a) hear the trainer trying to impress the client by telling the client in one long sentence everything he or she has learned about fitness, or b) hear the client talking about what he or she did last weekend.

It’s a shame and a missed opportunity. Because few people know how important the dialogue between the coach and the client is and what a key role it plays in the transformation process. Motivational interviewing is a very specific interviewing style designed to give clients a safe place to think about change – and all coaching, whether with elite athletes or beginners, is about facilitating change. The truth is that in general, the way you talk to your clients encourages change or increases resistance, and if you haven’t read MI, you’ll be surprised to learn that much of what you do actually makes change less likely. Read this book and start using its excerpts in your work with your clients today; if you don’t, you are doing your clients a great disservice.

The most important calls

3. Essential Conversations, Kerry Patterson et al.

A constant attitude is a sign of a weak coach. But that’s also insulting or totally insensitive to their needs. A good coach should be able to keep the client engaged, which inevitably means tackling difficult topics (eating habits, behavior patterns, spouse issues, compliance problems, etc.).

But how do you learn to call a spade a spade without hurting someone’s feelings, or how can you deepen a relationship with someone by talking openly about something they’d rather not hear about?

Crucial Conversations is the best book on the subject I’ve found, and I’ve read quite a few. The authors describe a step-by-step process, from recognizing when a discussion becomes critical (i.e., acknowledging that emotions are involved), to being honest without rancor, to resolving the issue and moving forward in agreement. Practicing even just one or two of these techniques with your clients will make you a much better coach.

The blackmail regime

4. Blackmail, by John Bear

This book is very hard to find because it has been out of print for a long time. I came across it in a used bookstore a few years ago and bought it for $2 just because of the title. What a title!

The book itself does not disappoint. The author, a University of Michigan graduate who struggled with obesity and dieting for most of his adult life, had an epiphany: Obesity is a problem best dealt with psychologically.

(Note: I don’t agree with this assessment, and I certainly oversimplify his position, but it is absolutely true that coaches and people in general pay too little attention to the non-physiological factors involved in body transformation).

So he has a plan: He signs a contract with a lawyer and puts $5,000 in an escrow account (i.e. at the mercy of the lawyer and beyond his control). The contract states that the lawyer is legally obligated to give all the money to the American Nazi Party if he does not lose 70 pounds within a year. This is of course a totally unacceptable result for most reasonable people, and of course he lost the 70 pounds after one year.

He then goes on to describe all sorts of weight loss experiments that revolve around the same concept: People make a legally binding promise to lose weight or suffer unpleasant consequences. I’m not suggesting that you should put that into your practice. But it’s a fascinating read from which a coach can draw two very important lessons: 1) when people have enough influence, anything is possible; and 2) clients need to make highly motivating decisions and commitments that will have a lasting impact when motivation wanes – which it inevitably will.


5. Effect, Robert Cialdini

A classic collection of psychological experiments and anecdotes about how influence really works. Cialdini made a compelling argument that people tend to look for very specific clues before they are convinced of something. Your customers will find out all about you and your business, even if you haven’t planned to.

For example, people look for social proof before accepting a new idea; in short, they ask: Has it worked for anyone else? I am always shocked by how few coaches are able to demonstrate the value of their work: with concrete examples, before and after photos, or, better yet, by directly introducing a new client to an old one who has already gone through the process. I highly recommend you buy this book, if only to understand the thought process of your customers when they evaluate your services. And one more thing: If you’re not documenting your clients’ work, start doing so now. And if you’re already doing it, but want even more impressive results to brag about, I have a book for you:

The fundamentals of nutrition in sport and exercise

6. Fundamentals of nutrition in sport and exercise, John Berardi and Ryan Andrews

As an author, I’m certainly biased, but if I may say so, this is the only nutrition book you’ll ever need. A brand new 500-page college book that Ryan Andrews and I wrote from scratch because, frankly, there was nothing like it. I have spent most of my academic and professional career gathering evidence in a dozen different research areas related to body transformation, from molecular biology to nutritional science to behavioral psychology, just to name a few. And that’s the kind of writing I wish I’d had when I started my career.

To become an effective fitness professional – and by that I mean the ability to help someone build an ideal body through training, nutrition and supplements – you don’t need to be knowledgeable in all of these areas. In fact, if you get too involved with one of them by isolating it from the others, you’ll face the hammer and nail problem (if you only have one hammer, everything looks like a nail). But you must master the part of each of these areas that is relevant to body transformation.

This is the purpose of the certification: Trainers and fitness coaches transform into true fitness professionals – elite experts in body transformation. In the 3 to 5 hours you spend with a client each week (if you’re lucky), you can teach them how to workout or guide them to a body they didn’t know they had. Those are two very different things.

If you are a trainer or want to become one….

Learning how to educate clients, patients, friends or family members about healthy eating and lifestyle changes that fit their bodies, preferences and circumstances is both an art and a science.

If you want to learn more about both, consider Level 1 certification.

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