Beyond Bodybuilding – Book Review

One of the biggest problems with strength training for mountain biking is the confusion between “bodybuilding” and “performance training”. A lot of riders don’t realize that big muscles don’t always equal an increase in trail strength and performance on the trail. This confusion has a lot of riders following the wrong advice and getting the wrong results.

However, what if you do need to add some size? Sometimes you can simply be undersized and need to pack on a few pounds in order to stop getting knocked around by the trail. Muscle is also the best armor you can have and will make it easier to “bounce” when you crash. If you’re looking to add muscle, does that mean that you can’t increase your performance as well?

Not necessarily. Old time strongmen had impressive physiques that could perform and it has only been in the last 60+ years that the idea of building muscle simply for the sake of muscle became the norm. In his book Beyond Bodybuilding, Pavel Tsatsouline looks into the methods and techniques used to build strength, power and size all at once.

The name of the book is actually a bit misleading – while Beyond Bodybuilding is aimed at those who are looking to add muscle in a more “manly” way than the pump and primp programs so common in gyms today, the book really focuses on techniques to build and develop strength at a very high level. It’s the “sell them what they want, give them what they need” trick at work – get ‘em in the door with the promise of big muscles and then teach them how to build strength.

Pavel shows his disdain for the modern sport of bodybuilding and the idea of adding size simply for the sake of size throughout the book, although he does give several great tips for adding size through the application of the strength principles. The book contains sample programs, a bunch of exercises as well as some “tricks of the trade” for instantly gaining more strength.

The book covers not only the common “body parts” but also gives some great exercises for the neck and grip, two areas that mountain bikers can greatly benefit from strengthening. It also has a chapter on bodyweight training for those who love to take the minimalist approach. Since Pavel is also one of the leading kettle bell experts in the world he also ties them into the book as well, showing how you can use them to enhance your program.

While I loved all the exercises and techniques, one of the things I really enjoyed was how he went into programming. To paraphrase an old saying – Give a man a workout, train him for a day; teach him how to write programs, train him for a lifetime. The more you know about “why” you want to use certain lifts and loading parameters the better decisions you can make about your own training.

The book is written in several distinct sections and acts almost like a Q&A with Pavel, making it easy to read a bit here and there and not forget what you were reading about in the first place. While it has some solid science behind it and some of it is bought up, it is not full of heavy scientific theory and terms that can make your brain sad. It does a great job of keeping things user-friendly while also forcing you to think and learn some new things.

If you’re into your training program beyond “just tell me what to do” then I highly recommend picking up Beyond Bodybuilding. Even if you’re like me and have no desire to add some size there is more than enough great info to warrant reading it through. It made a big impact on my training programs and if you like to write your own program then it is a “must read”.

-James Wilson-

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  1. scott says:


    Thanks for the insight on the bodybuilding vs performance training perspective. Unfortunately I spent all of my college years following a “meathead” type of approach in the gym. I am curious. On the bodybuilding – performance training continuum, how would you characterize the stereotypical nfl player? I am thinking of the type of the guy that has a completely ripped physique like you might see on a bodybuilder yet is certainly powerful, explosive, and capable of performing at the highest level.

    Reply • August 22 at 7:39 pm
    • bikejames says:

      The book covers ways to build a pretty massive physique without resorting to “bodybuilding” tactics of building useless muscle. Those guys are freaks of nature as well, although the training they do certainly helps.

      Reply • August 23 at 11:43 am
  2. Phil says:

    I watched the “American Ninja” competition thing last night and thought about what you wrote. Those guys were terribly fit but not bulky. I like that. Even back in the ’70’s in the martial arts we (the people I worked out with) never wanted bulk because we felt it would slow us down and also there was the idea that with too much bulk a fighter would tire out faster. I rode behind a guy in a race this past weekend that looked like a body builder and eventually left him behind. He was so big he looked uncomfortable on the bike.

    Reply • August 23 at 9:23 am
  3. shane says:

    Hi James. A quick question about strength for mountain biking. What’s your opinion on good old fashioned squats for our sport? I don’t think there’s any argument that the squat is a great exercise to build strength and when done properly perfectly safe. I do squats three times a week warming up with the empty bar and low weights and then 3 sets of 5 at about 80% of my max. What would you recommend for mountain biking in terms of the squat. Heavier weights – lower reps? Lighter weights – higher reps? Or is body weight enough?

    Reply • August 23 at 11:09 am
    • bikejames says:

      I like front squats as they carry a lower risk of injury than the back squat but overall the squat is a great exercise. Everyone in my facility “squats”, it just ranges from a TRX assisted squat to a heavy front squat, with a lot of goblet squats in between. You need to use them for all set and rep ranges, although I’d probably not do a lot of high rep front squats and would save them for the lower rep, higher weight work. Pick the loading parameters based on your goals and then pick the exercise that best fits that loading parameter.

      Reply • August 23 at 11:41 am

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