Whether you're a committed exerciser or just contemplating a move off the couch, fitness books can provide inspiration, instruction and insight on getting the most from your activity. Here's a sampling of some recent books, plus a recommended reading list from my library of fitness favorites:
* "Working Out, Working Within: The Tao of Inner Fitness Through Sports and Exercise," by Jerry Lynch and Chungliang Al Huang (Jeremy P. Tarcher / Putnam, 1998). Pursuing an athletic goal can provide much more than just physical benefits, notes this thought-provoking book, which explores how physical activity can be a tool for personal transformation. The authors use teachings from Eastern philosophy and Western psychology to probe the mental and spiritual aspects of sport, focusing on how athletic experiences can provide an opportunity for growth. They also present breathing and visualization exercises designed to help readers take what they call a "physio-spiritual journey" to "inner and outer fitness." Lynch holds a doctorate in psychology and is a national-class athlete and coach. Huang is an expert in Chinese Tao philosophy and a master of the martial art Tai Ji (more commonly spelled tai chi).
* "The American Physical Therapy Assn.'s Book of Body Maintenance and Repair," by Marilyn Moffat and Steve Vickery (Owl Books, 1999). If they issued an owner's manual for your musculoskeletal system, it would probably look something like this authoritative guide. Most everything you need to know about bones, muscles and joints is presented in this comprehensive volume: Part I explains the workings of nine distinct body parts (the elbow and the back, for example), Part II presents essentials of injury prevention, and Part III features nearly 200 illustrated exercises to promote strength and flexibility. An excellent reference book for any active person's library, it also features an appendix devoted to first aid.
* "Yoga for Dummies," by Georg Feuerstein and Larry Payne (IDG Books, 1999). OK, I hate the title, but the publishers of this popular series are obviously not idiots. They've tapped two of America's most respected yoga authorities to write this readable, informative guide to one of the country's fastest-growing forms of physical, mental and spiritual fitness. The authors cover everything from getting in shape for yoga to proper breathing techniques and present detailed instructions for numerous yoga poses, complete with photos and illustrations.
* "Flow in Sports," by Susan A. Jackson and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Human Kinetics, 1999). There are many terms for the pleasurable sensation of being completely absorbed in a physical activity. Some call it "playing in the zone"; others describe it as "an exercise high." In this enlightening book about achieving this desirable state, these two prominent psychologists use the term "flow in sports." Csikszentmihalyi coined the term "flow" in the mid-'70s and has published numerous books about this elusive, ecstatic phenomenon. This latest book examines how athletes describe the flow state and offers guidance on using sports to transcend normal awareness and achieve optimal experiences and performance.
* "Relax & Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times," by Judith Lasater (Rodmell Press, 1995). If your life seems like a blur of fast-forward activity followed by a too-short period of exhausted collapse, pick up this wise and well-written guide to restorative yoga. Simple enough for beginners, yet profound enough to challenge advanced practitioners, it features a variety of poses designed to provide relief from chronic stress and counter numerous specific ailments, such as back pain, insomnia, breathing problems, menstrual discomfort and headaches.
* "Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook," by Nancy Clark (Human Kinetics, 1997). In bookstores crammed with faddish, foolish and outright ridiculous eating guides, Nancy Clark's work stands out as credible, readable and scientifically sound. One of the most respected sports nutritionists in America, Clark presents an encyclopedic update of her 1990 guide to eating for activity that is practical, informative and reader-friendly.
* "Getting in Shape: Workout Programs for Men & Women," by Bob Anderson, Ed Burke and Bill Pearl (Shelter Publications, 1994). This simply written, yet comprehensive book contains all you'll need to know to get fit. The top-notch trio of authors includes exercise physiologist and former Olympic coach Burke, former Mr. America and four-time Mr. Universe Pearl and stretching guru Anderson. Attractive illustrations and easy-to-follow instructions are given for 32 exercise programs , plus special programs for body parts.
* "The Sports Medicine Bible," by Lyle J. Micheli with Mark Jenkins (HarperPerennial, 1995). This excellent guide to preventing and treating common sports injuries is written by a past president of the American College of Sports Medicine who is one of the country's leading authorities on both acute and overuse injuries. Practical, informative and easy to understand, this encyclopedic volume includes home rehabilitation techniques, clear illustrations and advice on a wide range of subjects plus sections for special populations such as the elderly.
* "Your Child's Fitness," by Susan Kalish (Human Kinetics, 1996). As American kids get fatter--and schools increasingly cut back on physical education programs--parents play a critical role in helping their kids get fit. Kalish is an expert on the topic, as both the mother of two and the executive director of the American Running and Fitness Assn.
* "The Bodywise Woman," by Judy Mahle Lutter & Lynn Jaffee (Human Kinetics, 1996). Written by and for physically active women, this guide is based on research done at the Melpomene Institute in Minnesota, the nation's only organization devoted solely to women's health and physical activity. With a refreshing focus on fitness for health--rather than simply for appearance--the authors examine everything a woman needs to know about being active during adolescence, through pregnancy, motherhood, menopause and beyond.
Carol Krucoff writes a column on health and fitness issues for the Washington Post.