The Neat Book Club: The Encyclopedia of Underground Strength and Conditioning


I decided to do a little experiment. Because I’m such a huge fitness geek, I read a ton of books about strength training and fitness. I thought it might be of value if I shared my thoughts on these books and give you a little bit of inspiration. This will probably be a monthly thing.

This month’s pick is Zach Even-Esh’s Encyclopedia of Underground Strength and Conditioning.


Strength is the foundation upon which you build your speed, stamina, injury prevention. — Zach Even-Esh

The book covers Even-Esh’s training philosophy coupled with a little autobiography displaying his own endeavours in the fitness and coaching world. He talks about his early struggles as a high-school wrestler and his first successes as a junior bodybuilder. He shares his metamorphosis from the misinformed beach muscle kid he formerly was to the strong and indestructible beast that he is today.

Later he describes the rise and success of his own coaching business, called Underground Strength Gym. With his unorthodox methods, basically a hybrid of basic barbell lifts, bodyweight training, odd object training, brutal conditioning and athlete specific programming, Underground Strength Gym initially started out as a garage gym in Even-Esh’s own garage in New Jersey.

Additionally, the book has chapters solely dedicated to detailed manuals about bodyweight exercises, all kinds of odd object training (sandbag, sled, stone, tire, keg) and free weight training.

With his pragmatic approach to coaching, Zach Even-Esh is now one of the most respected strength coaches in the US. He even teaches an Underground Strength Coach Certification, so that more trainers can adopt his successful methods.

Underground Editing?

First off, this was a great and inspiring read. It had a lot of impact on how I look at training and the practice of coaching myself. But before I dive into the praise, here’s what I didn’t enjoy about the book:

The editing is really edgy (I read the Kindle version, I don’t know if it’s the same with the paperback). There are more than a couple of typos, inconsistent hyphenation (is it pushups or push-ups or push ups?) and the book lacks a bit of structure. I belief this is more a shortcoming of the editor than it is the author’s.

I get it, I write a lot and typos happen all the time. I also don’t have a professional background in writing and some people might cringe when they read my stuff (English is not my native language, I don’t have an editor and I’m usually the only person who reads the content before I publish). The thing is, proof-reading your own work sucks and is not nearly as effective as having an editor who knows what he’s doing.

But The Encyclopedia of Underground Strength and Conditioning was published by Dragon Door Publications. I read quite a few books published by Dragon Door. None of them was so carelessly edited. What went wrong?

I also wished the chapters were a bit more structured. The narrative usually starts with an autobiographical story, with some training and coaching philosophy and ramblings sprinkled in here and there. The content itself is still rock-solid, but it’s just hard to tell where the author is going with it and what take-home message he’s aiming at.

Personal Confessions

I was a mad scientist for training wrestlers and loving it. — Zach Even-Esh

I LOVED reading the autobiographic parts. It’s refreshing to see an accomplished strength coach struggle with finding the right training paradigms in his early years. He talks about his teenage obsessions with bodybuilding magazines and buying into the beach muscle hype before discovering the basic barbell lifts. He finally discovered that successful bodybuilding (steroid-free, that is) is all about getting as strong as possible. He confesses that he sucked big time as a wrestler in high-school despite his imposing physique.

Zach Even-Esh is brutally honest with himself, which makes him even more credible when he talks about what really works. This man has a mission: getting people as strong as possible. Not only that, but he also gives real-life case studies of his own students. These were really insightful because he talks a lot about the individual needs of each athlete and adjusting the training regimen as needed (along with sample routines and detailed reasoning about the chosen training regimen). Every time a coach says the word auto-regulation, there is a high probability that what he has to say is very useful.

And for everybody interested in a look behind the scenes of the coaching industry, the author shares his own success story from the garage gym, coaching 2 kids from the neighborhood, to a nation-wide established strength coaching business.

Against the Grain

Training results can be affected by how the athlete feels and thinks about the training. — Zach Even-Esh

Even-Esh is so damn successful because he can “read” an athlete and instinctively knows what he needs. And it’s not black magic what he does. In the book he shares very insightfully how he assesses every new student and how a coach can design an effective, personalized program. The best thing: He doesn’t let sciency approaches to training interfere with his methods. He goes with what works, not with what should work. Very refreshing.

Pushing Your Envelope Further

Getting out of your globo gym comfort zone works your weak areas — areas you likely already know about. — Zach Even-Esh

A reoccurring theme in the book is the incentive to push yourself regularly out of your comfort zone. He describes workouts where the trainees get nauseous from the high intensity of the training. The warm-ups that he describes turns the average Joe’s gym “workout” into a pure joke.

This is where the book should be taken with a grain of salt. If you are not a professional strength coach or a competing athlete (and with competing, I don’t mean the weekly pick-up game of soccer), you don’t need to go as far as the author prescribes. Take it as inspiration and to see what is possible with the right mindset. I like how he emphasizes the importance of mental toughness and how his training can develop athletes into really mean machines.

But if your goal is simply to get stronger and healthier in a sustainable way, this balls-to-the-wall kind of intensity can become counter-productive, especially if you train without the guidance of a professional coach.


I really enjoyed reading The Encyclopedia of Underground Strength and Conditioning. If I sparked your interest, go and grab your copy by clicking here. Let me know in the comments how you liked it and definitely write a comment if you have suggestions for neat books!