Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Review: The Abs Diet Get Fit Stay Fit Plan

The Abs Diet Get Fit Stay Fit Plan
by David Zinczenko and Ted Spiker
256 pages, Published December 2005

You have to give this book credit - it's about getting a six-pack, and that's it's main concern. To get there, it'll have you doing interval training, compound exercises, circuit training, and muscle-building lifts. But it's laser-perfect focus is on the abs. Getting them to hypertrophy so they're easier to see, and burning off the fat that covers them so you can see them. It doesn't concern itself with extraneous details, and it's got more ab exercises than any other book I've seen.

This book is meant as a companion for the Abs Diet book. It scarcely spends any time and pages on nutrition, calorie requirements, or recipes. It rips out a short, handy list of the 12 "power foods" you need to eat and moves on. It spends almost the entire text of the book on exercises and exercise plans. This is fine, but it didn't make this very clear...I finished the book before I realized there must be a diet-and-recipe book out there somewhere. There is. There is the original Abs Diet, the The Abs Diet for Women, the The Abs Diet Ultimate Nutrition Handbook, the The Abs Diet Eat Right Every Time Guide, the ever-handy The Abs Diet 6-Minute Meals for 6-Pack Abs, the The Abs Diet Workout DVD, and almost certainly others I'm overlooking. No wonder it's a best-seller, you can just keep reading and reading...

The workouts and the workout plan in general gets a snazzy acronym: ABS3. This stands for:

Abdominals (that 6-pack and the "core")
Big muscle groups (big lifts to speed up the metabolism and build muscle)
Speed training (sprinting and fast cardio to burn fat)
3 days a week (the goal is 3 days a week, at least, of training, but it has plans for 4, 5, and 6 days too)

The exercises - the cover claims 245 exercises and 1,003 strategies for building firm, flat abs. It's certainly got a lot of exercises, including scores of ab exercises. One real upside is very few of them are machine exercises, and most of the non-ab exercises are compound exercises. There is a strong emphasis on barbells, but they also feature dumbbells and weight plates for variety and specific focus. One annoying, and all-too-common, failing is that the pictures and text don't match. The text is fine - squats are to parallel or below, lunges brush the knee to the floor, your bench presses elbows-in. But the pictures are of partial squats, half-depth lunges, and wide-elbow bunch presses. They just don't match, and trainees who don't know better might not see that the text says one thing but the picture isn't quite right. That's never a good recommendation for a book of exercises. "Ignore the pictures!" isn't something you want to say. Here, you have to.

The workouts are largely circuit based; they center on 30 seconds rest between exercises and 1 minute between circuits, usually 10 or 12-15 reps for each exercise. That's a good range for endurance and hypertrophy, not so much for strength and power. But again, the laser-like focus is abs, not getting stronger or faster. There are a lot of workouts in here. Every kind of cardio has a different interval suggestion, there are specific weight training workouts, bodyweight-only workouts (featuring long jumps, an often-overlooked favorite of mine), a workout template for customizing your own workout, and more. The emphasis is on full-body and legs. No "arms and shoulders" day here. You're going to work your abs and legs a lot if you follow this book's suggestions.

The book also contains an interesting point system. Your goal is to get 40 points worth of workouts a week. Not more - you need to rest, too, so the goal is 40, no more, no less. The workouts count the most, but everything from cycling to adventure racing to sports are listed, with a time-to-points ratio. Miss your workout but you were canoeing with friends for 1 1/2 hours? You're fine, the workout was 10 points and canoeing is 3 points per 30 minutes...just need 1 more point to even up. I think, differently applied, this is a potentially excellent way to organize any workout plan for busy folks. Get in, get your points for the day or week, and get out...

The diet is simple, at least as presented in this volume. You eat the 12 power foods (which include stuff like "dairy" and "nuts and legumes" and "green vegetables"), substituting them for foods not on the list. You eat 6 meals a day - 3 meals and 3 snacks. Once a week you get to cheat and eat whatever you want, which lets you relax your vigilance and kicks your metabolism into higher gear by giving it a surprise influx of calories. One cheat meal is pretty strict - that's better than a 97.5% compliance goal, since you will eat 6 x 7 = 42 meals a week, and 1/42 of them can be a cheat.

One real turn-off for me was the endless parade of before-and-after shots of real-life Abs Diet participants. I don't doubt their results, but the pictures have all the classic supplement-ad before-and-after tricks. Better lighting, color instead of black and white, better posture, more smiles, men almost universally shaved their body hair and are often oiled up, more flex to the muscles. I felt this detracted from the book rather than added to it. Plus, it was all six-week results. That's nice they got good results in six weeks, but if the goal is to change your eating and activity habits for life, your six weeks results aren't as important as the people who kept in good for for years using this method.

One real oddity is a table that lists a real-world activity and the gym training that best helps get you ready for it. Some of them seem reasonable (best way to push a car out of the snow is to train on a blocking dummy) and some are quite possibly insane (best way to get ready to wrestle a croc is to ride the stationary bike...what?) The muscles section is similar - it's got good information mixed with some really strange stuff - such as the improved sex men can have from stronger hamstrings. Fair enough, I suppose, it just seemed a little bit of a stretch to justify stronger legs.

Substance: 4 out of 5. Good stuff, and good workouts, but so much is crammed in you'll need to sit down and work out what you want to do. No real guideance on warmups and weights, either.
Presentation: 3 out of 5. Easy to read, but it suffers from too many before-and-after sections and pictures that show poor form (or incomplete reps) that don't agree with the actual description text.

Overall: If you're doing the Abs diet, or any diet that comes without a workout plan, this can be a good one. You just need to do your homework, and realize it can't work forever.

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