Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Book Review: Built for Show
I read lots of workout books, hoping to glean something useful for myself, or to find a gem to recommend to someone. Today I read the book Built for Show: Four Body-Changing Workouts for Building Muscle, Losing Fat, andLooking Good Enough to Hook Up
by Nate Green. I both gleaned something for myself and found a gem.
Built for Show is a workout book aimed at probably the best demographic possible - men looking to lift weights to look better. Who doesn't that include? Nate Green shows you how to go about building a body that looks good, by making a body that's stronger, healthier, and more athletic. It's not about building a showy, competitive bodybuilder's body but an athletic looking, solid-framed body.
The book lays out the workouts in four seasons - the 14-week Winter plan, plus 12-week plans for Spring, Summer, and Fall. The approach is to build what looks the best at that time of year; you don't waste a lot of time trying to make your biceps and triceps look good in long-sleeved weather. The goal is to look good, but the exercises are balanced across the entire body. Most of them emphasize the muscles you can't see in the mirror - your back, your glutes, the back of your thighs - but that other people do see.
The workouts center on compound exercises - deadlifts, chinups and pullups, squats (front and back), bench presses, shoulder presses, etc. and save the isolation exercises - curls, ab exercises, etc. for accessory exercises. The focus is squarely on getting stronger in a balanced fashion. Often workout books will include some suspect exercises, or push machine work or just "dumb it down" a bit for publication. This book doesn't. It's clearly written and yet focuses on solid, reliable exercises that work. Nothing in there seems tossed in just because; it's all included with a clear purpose.
Workouts are laid out as Workout A and and Workout B, so you do ABA one week and BAB the next. The programming is based on undulating periodization - so you mix up 5 x 5, 4 x 8, and 3 x 12 (to quote one example from the book). You'll take at least two weeks to get through all three rep ranges for a given workout, so by the time you get back to doing 5 x 5 bench presses a second time you've done all three rep ranges. If this sounds familiar, you may have seen it before in articles like Alwyn Cosgrove's "The Holiday Program." There is a dynamic warmup before each workout, but it's short and sweet - you'll do only a handful of exercises to get ready but they'll be sufficient to cover the bases.
The attention to detail is excellent - rest times are clear, single-leg and single-arm exercises are marked with *s that led to "do this many reps per side" explanations, etc. Even the more complicated rep schemes he uses - such as wave loading 5-4-2/5-4-2 with increasing weight, are so clearly explained it should be easy for someone to follow. Many exercise forums have questions that show these are necessary - people do need to ask if 3 sets of 12 step-ups is one leg for 2 sets and another for 1, or if you do 6 per leg. For the record, it's 3 sets, 12 reps per leg, so you do 36 reps per leg per workout in that example.
The exercises have concise and clear instructions on how to execute them, excellent pictures, and two great sections, if appropriate - the "Garage Option" and the "Don't Be That Guy" section. The first explains what to use if you don't have an incline bench, or a pulldown station, or a low cable to do woodchops. The second covers bad form (such as partial squats), why lunges aren't just for girls, not crashing the weight stack down after each cable row rep, etc. - he hits some potential gym obnoxiousness head on.
There is also diet advice, layed out with recommendations ranging from bad to great and everything in between. It's also useful for a less nutrion-savvy lifter to learn to eat right and make the most of those lifts.
The book also has a section most workout books don't include: one on meeting and talking to women. It folds nicely into the section on walking, dressing, and having the confidence to act like you've built a body worth showing off. It is pretty specific stuff - how to talk to women, what not to talk about, why to avoid pickup lines, and even how to tip bartenders and divide up a tab without seeming desperate or cheap. It was actually refreshing to read because so many books just kind of wink at the idea you'd like to work out, look good, and use it to meet someone.
Substance: 5 out of 5. It's all there.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. It looks good, the pictures are clear, the text readable, the charts and tables clear and well laid out.
Overall, I think this book is excellent. It's inexpensive and it would be a great book for a skinny guy trying to get bigger or a big guy trying to lean out. It leans a bit towards a beginner, but one who knows at least the basics at the gym. If you're a beginning lifter or one who is kind of stuck for what to do, I'd check it out.