Sports-minded physical therapists and clinical students interested in movement often ask us to recommend resources to complement their formal education. Clinical programs generally do a commendable job teaching anatomy, biomechanics, medical screening, and rehabilitation protocols. Consequently, these subjects aren’t the focus of the resource list below.
However, entry-level rehabilitation and sports medicine programs often lack performance-oriented content. In sport, regaining “normal” function after an injury generally doesn’t constitute sufficient preparation, especially as normative standards for physical capacity continue to decline. The line between rehabilitation and performance is an arbitrary one determined mainly by political and financial incentives and educational limitations, not best practice.
Bringing Logic and Reasoning into an Evidence-Based World
Ultimately, rehabilitation is about loading joints under various degrees of speed, fatigue, and tactical complexity— in other words, performance—yet clinical programs underemphasize this end. Additionally, entry-level programs don’t typically cover leadership development and organizational dynamics. Effectively managing performance and rehabilitation teams is just as important as exercise selection, training volumes, and intensities. Clinical, social, and emotional competence do not exist independent of one another.
The evolution of specialized medicine has unquestionably changed many lives for the better. It has come at a cost, though—to the point that it can be difficult to find a generalist to manage complex cases and coordinate care among specialized providers. Moreover, multi-system, chronic medical conditions, not rare and unique disease processes or acute emergencies, are the greatest burden on health care for consumers and payers. Different professions lobby against one another to determine who should have the legal right to perform particular interventions that often yield very little therapeutic benefit in isolation. The result is a lower-quality product for the end user: the patient or athlete.
Again, the following resource list is not sufficiently comprehensive for the sports clinician. Instead, it seeks to provide insight into preparatory means that licensure exams and regulatory bodies don’t typically prioritize. We will update the list as needed to reflect more suitable and informative references. We include Amazon hyperlinks for your convenience but, to be clear, we do not participate in affiliate programs or receive any compensation for these products.
Cultivating critical thinking ability is not much different than athletic development. Even highly specialized athletes need a base of general movement ability and fitness. Overspecialization renders athletes less adaptable to general stressors, thereby potentially compromising their capacity to perform specific tasks. In any complex system, there is a fine line between adaptation and pathology because every adaptation comes at the expense of something else.Expertise in a particular subject is insufficient to make connections among different disciplines. Click To Tweet
This section is effectively GPP for the sports medicine provider. It’s the bullshit filter. Becoming a proficient craftsman requires specialized training, education, and expertise, but expertise in a particular subject is insufficient to make connections among different disciplines. These connections are often the sources of meaningful insight and professional growth, particularly in primary care. The world of sport is too broad in scope to warrant a reductionist approach.
The Sports Gene by David Epstein. The title here is a misnomer. Genetics matter, but this is really a book about complexity and the timeless discussion between nature and nurture. Epstein does a marvelous job navigating the biological, environmental, and cultural contributors to performance. He also demonstrates that you can ask difficult questions without drawing culturally insensitive and intellectually dishonest conclusions from highly contextualized data.
“What Do Economists Actually Know.” This article transcends economics, but uses it as a lens for the evaluation of the predictive limitations of data and mathematical modeling. It’s a call for intellectual humility, and a refreshing one at that. Russ Roberts’ podcast, “EconTalk,” analyzes the most pertinent political, social, and ethical questions of our time without presuming to know the answers.
“Why Selection Bias Is The Most Powerful Force In Education.” The importance of intellectual humility notwithstanding, we still need to quantify things. Numbers don’t tell their own story, though—the story is a product of human interpretation and bias. Fredrik deBoer explains why selection bias is perhaps the most powerful way to ensure that data conforms to a predetermined narrative. While every medical provider and organization should collect objective data, the point of collecting data is not to know the story’s ending before opening the book, which is effectively what selection bias ensures.
Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed. Syed discusses how complex systems can effectively learn from failure, and the crucial distinction between accountability and blame. In particular, this book reviews how fields like medicine and aviation effectively audit themselves after catastrophic safety violations. Intrinsically risky professions must continually modify their procedures to reduce preventable harm. Calamitous consequences necessitate the need for adaptability.
“How to Live in a World We Don’t Understand.” This presentation talks about what to do when we don’t know what’s going on, which in a complex system is most of the time. Nassim Nicholas Taleb warns us about the cost of intervention for the sake of intervention, and about the risk of empowering people who don’t have skin in the game. Antifragility is the ability to withstand stressors and disturbances we can’t predict. This distinction is important because sports science seems fixated on predicting things, like when an injury will occur, instead of developing people and organizations that are less susceptible to damage from unforeseeable forces and events.
“On Stability.” The concepts of variability, stability, and instability are the foundation of physical medicine. Adaptation and antifragility are much easier to grasp when understood within a stability framework. Bill Hartman reminds us that everything has a biological cost and that we should avoid extremes in order to optimize health. Performance can be a different story…
Robert Sapolsky’s “Human Behavioral Biology Course.” Thanks to YouTube, you can essentially take Sapolsky’s Stanford course for free. It is a truly multidisciplinary and integrated educational experience. Sapolsky cautions us on the limitations of thinking in “buckets.” Why Don’t Zebras Get Ulcers could just as easily be on this list, but this course is even more encompassing and relevant to clinicians. It provides a comprehensive explanation about what it means to be human.
Physical Preparation Books
The emphasis in formal sports medicine curricula is necessarily on pathology and clinical considerations. No definitive boundary exists between performance and pathology, however. Moreover, performance is still the end goal in a sports medicine setting.
Not all sports medicine providers are fortunate enough to work in a multidisciplinary setting, and even in this setting, something is lost when nobody understands their colleagues’ professional framework. Additionally, as suggested in the last section, staying in your theoretical lane keeps you from observing the powerful interactions that occur between professional walls. These are really books about clinical biomechanics and long-term planning, despite the fact that they’re not explicitly medical.
Science and Practice of Strength Training by Vladimiar Zatsiorsky and William Kraemer. This thoroughly covers physiological adaptations to strength training and parameters for targeting specific qualities. Zatsiorsky’s writing is generally more concrete and digestible than that of other Soviet sports science legends.
Science of Sports Training by Thomas Kurz. A global discourse on training theory that covers all the major principles that guide sound programs. This book is a lot like Supertraining, but won’t leave you with as much of a brain hangover.
Applied Sprint Training by James Smith. The ability to accelerate, decelerate, and outrun the competition is more important in most sports than maximal strength. Smith reviews acceleration and top speed mechanics and progressions, highly informative sample programs, and game-specific conditioning. He also explains why many commonly accepted practices and testing protocols actually hinder speed development. In other words, what not to do.This explains why many commonly accepted practices and testing protocols hinder speed development. Click To Tweet
The Science of Running by Steve Magness. Yes, running is important enough that it warrants two books on this list. This one focuses more on endurance running, but it’s really an applied exercise physiology text that delicately navigates the tightrope between the art and the science of coaching. It is replete with science, but you’ll complete it with a much greater appreciation for the art. It also reminds us that the goal of training is to improve performance, not necessarily to maximize physiological metrics like VO2 and lactate threshold.
“Complete Speed Training.” The best resource I’ve encountered on change of direction and non-linear speed training. Lee Taft’s gift is that he doesn’t do much verbal cueing to reinforce his message. Instead, he manipulates the athlete’s surrounding environment so that the drill itself necessitates the right solutions.
Ultimate MMA Conditioning by Joel Jamieson. This is another deceiving title. Remember all the chemical reactions from the Kreb’s Cycle? Yeah, neither do I, because they don’t dictate what we actually do with athletes. Jamieson deftly describes bioenergetic principles without boring you with unnecessary details. More importantly, he demonstrates when and how various aspects of the bioenergetic continuum should be targeted during a training program.
The High Performance Handbook by Eric Cressey. It’s one thing to read about training theory; it’s another to write programs and determine how to sequence exercises, and manage volume and intensity in the short and long term. A review of Cressey’s programs is highly informative because theory is useless without application. Time permitting, I’d recommend that every sports clinician spend time interning in a performance setting. I was fortunate enough to do so with Eric prior to physical therapy school. Of all Eric’s material, this book is the one that best encapsulates his internship experience.
Facts and Fallacies of Fitness by Mel C. Siff. There’s nothing really novel in the fitness industry; just different packaging. Various trends resurface cyclically over time. Siff shows us how to evaluate what’s inside the package instead of letting the wrapping paper distract us.
“Plyometric Training for Sports Performance.” Like sprinting and running, jump and reactive training are often under-prioritized relative to strength training. Sports clinicians can learn a great deal from track and field coaches, and Boo Schexnayder is one of the best. This DVD includes a comprehensive database with plyometric progressions for any stage of preparation.
Children and Sports Training by Józef Drabik. Dr. Drabik’s book provides an extensive blueprint for long-term athletic development, including sensitive periods for maximizing particular physical qualities. The book should be the basis for the design of physical education curricula. Even at the highest levels of sport, much of the training resembles what should be occurring at the youth level in schools because specialization has priority over general development too early in athletes’ careers.This book should be the basis for the design of physical education curricula. Click To Tweet
“Periodization Paradigms in the 21st Century.” You have to know the rules to break the rules. In this research review, John Kiely suggests that tradition drives conventional training theory more than efficacy does. He challenges much of the content contained in the other books above in a constructive and thought-provoking manner.
Resilient Performance YouTube Channel. We created this channel as a resource for athletes, patients, and coaches to help them better execute elements of their program independently. The words on the paper only reveal so much about a program—technique is just as important, if not more so, than the exercises, sets, and reps themselves. These videos demonstrate how to maximize reward and minimize risk when executing various exercises.
Pain education in most formalized medical curricula is completely antiquated. The manner in which medical professions frame their diagnoses can have a profound effect on a patient or athlete’s confidence, outlook, and overall biology. Often, the way that they deliver news is disproportionally alarmist relative to the clinical presentation. In other words, medical people can make things worse than they really are. Rule No. 1 is always do no harm.
Pain Science Workbooks by Greg Lehman. This is a great resource for patients and clinicians. Pain science texts and discussion forums are often too esoteric, but Lehman demystifies pain education and effectively reconciles psychosocial considerations with biomechanics.
The Patient’s Brain by Fabrizio Benedetti. Bendetti describes the neurophysiology of doctor/patient interactions. The patient’s experience cannot be separated from the practice of medicine. While the placebo effect is often depicted in a derogatory manner, it is actually an essential and unavoidable aspect of patient care that we must understand to harness it ethically and effectively.
Medicine involves dealing with and managing people. Luckily, anybody can cultivate leadership and communication skills. Even the best craftsmen will achieve inferior outcomes if they don’t appreciate how to manage people’s expectations, communicate clearly, and practice with intent. Integrity and an ethical framework help guide any sustainable mission. Each of these books contains important moral commentary.
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. An outstanding account of personal and organizational accountability, standard operating procedures, systems development, humility, and transparency. This represents a rare case in which the lessons from military special operations are articulated in a generalizable manner.
Legacy by James Kerr. This book recounts many of the same lessons as Extreme Ownership, but uses the All Blacks as a proxy while providing unique insight into the world of sport. No. 6 is my favorite “lesson.”
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. Pressfield’s novel is about the Spartan warrior culture and the Battle of Thermopylae. This is not explicitly a leadership book, but it reinforces the concepts from the previous two resources using a different emotional experience. It’s not a book that calls for bravado and chest-pounding, but instead emphasizes things like integrity, emotional control, professionalism, and family support.
Conscious Coaching by Brett Bartholomew. Coaches are leaders by virtue of their position. Bartholomew effectively captures the human side of coaching by detailing how to optimize communication to help make meaningful connections.
Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado. One of the greatest survival stories ever told that demonstrates the power of the human spirit and our amazing capacity to collectively solve problems in dire situations. There’s no greater source of empowerment than learning about what we are capable of when we have no choice but to be adaptable.