Before we go any further, I want to give you a list of books and/or sites that can give you some direction on these different types of resistance exercises I've been talking about over the last week. People get nervous about recommendations anymore; everybody seems to have an ulterior motive to get you to buy. But I figure you're going to spend some money if you're serious about getting fit, so I'd at least like you to have some idea what you're looking for so you don't waste a lot of money. So, be it known that I have no connection to any of these authors and I don't benefit in any way if you buy their stuff; these are just books that I have either bought and liked, or borrowed from the library and liked. I've included links solely to make it easier for you to be sure you're looking at the same books I'm talking about. (In case you didn't know, you can't copyright a title.) Oh yeah, prices are suggested retail, not necessarily what you can get them for online. Ok?
First, I've already mentioned the Charles Atlas mail order course that's been available for about 80 years. It's a classic, and still very useful. You can find it at the Charles Atlas site. It runs about $45 for a download, or $50 for a printed version in a binder.
I'm a big fan of John E. Peterson and Wendie Pett. Peterson got into the Atlas stuff when he was a young kid with polio. You won't believe how he looks at 50+! His book is called Pushing Yourself to Power ($35), and it's a complete 12 week training plan. I like the book because it has so many different kinds of exercises, organized by body parts. Pett has an equivalent book for women called Every Woman's Guide to Personal Power ($30). They also did a book together called The Miracle Seven ($20), that focuses on seven exercise mini-programs of what I called "imaginary resistance." The "Miracle Seven" was devised by the late martial artist John McSweeney. If you just want to test the waters, The Miracle Seven is an inexpensive way to do it.
I have Pushing Yourself to Power and The Miracle Seven, and have given copies to friends. I like these books a lot.
Pilates is new to me, and I'm just starting to experiment with it. I tend to lean toward the mat exercises, since that doesn't cost a fortune! I've been looking over The Everything Pilates Book and Denise Austin's Pilates for Every Body ($19), both borrowed from the library. The first one appears to be out of print, but it looks pretty good if you can find a copy. I know most TV personalities seem a little over-the-top, but Denise Austin has some serious credentials and doesn't go in for the latest fads. I think it says something that her books tend to remain in print while so many others don't. I'm looking to incorporate some Pilates into my workouts, and I'm planning to start with her book.
While I don't believe you need weightlifting to get in shape, and while my own personal guidelines (which I'll post tomorrow) don't put an emphasis on them, I've had too many good results from weights (especially for rehab) to toss them out completely. If you have the time and weights appeal to you, I say go for it! For my money, the best book on weights is the classic Getting Stronger by Bill Pearl ($22). It's an encyclopedia of exercises using both free weights and machines, and I've had it almost since it came out. This is a newer 20th anniversary edition, but it's probably still great! I would also recommend Scrawny to Brawny by Michael Mejia and John Berardi ($20). Power Eating by Dr. Susan Kleiner ($17) especially helped with the nutritional aspects, which I believe is what finally enabled me to successfully gain some weight.
Last week I also mentioned that you can check out the Sandow and the Golden Age of Iron Men site, where you can learn about some of the early legends and download PDFs of some of their training manuals. I can't speak for all the material there, but you might want to check out Earle Liederman, who was a friend of Charles Atlas and considered by some to be the father of the mail order fitness program. (I believe Joe Weider tapped him to be the first editor of one of his weightlifting magazines.) At any rate, the material is free so it doesn't hurt to look.
Beyond this, you might want to look at books and sites that feature bodyweight exercises. Obviously, you can Google "bodyweight exercises" and start your searches from there. There are a number of other authors who focus on bodyweight exercises, but I have no firsthand knowledge of them so I won't mention them here.
One person I do want to mention is former wrestler Matt Furey. Peterson likes him (at least, he did at the time his book was published), and his book Combat Conditioning was something of a legend for a while. There is considerable talk going around that Furey may be a fraud. I don't know the answer to that. I can say that I have a copy of the book and think most of the exercises are too advanced for someone who isn't already in shape. The three exercises which have become his trademarks - the Hindu squat, the Hindu pushup, and the neck bridge - can be found in other books... and most people probably shouldn't neck bridge unless they're in great shape and have a doctor's ok. (Bridging is a wrestling exercise, for those who don't know.)
That's should be enough to get you started. These are books that I feel are worth the price, having paid my own good money to get them. (All except Denise Austin's book. I'm trying out the library copy for now.) Tomorrow I'll give you some of my guidelines for designing a workout program you can stick with.