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.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Book Review: The New Rules of Lifting

The New Rules of Lifting: Six Basic Moves for Maximum Muscle
by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove
320 pages. Published 2006.

I read a lot of bad workout books, so you don't have to. But I try to read good ones...and this is one of those good ones. The New Rules of Lifting or NROL as it's commonly known on the web, is a very good workout book. I first heard of this book from a friend in Japan who'd been training with it...he'd seen my MMA club's gym and said "straight bar, cage, bench...yeah, all you really need for a workout. You can squat, deadlift, bench, chin..." I immediately asked him what he did, and he mentioned NROL. I didn't get to read it until months later, but I've read it twice since. There is a variation of this book aimed at women lifters, NROL4W, which I reviewed earlier.

Unlike the earlier book, this book doesn't try to sell you on getting stronger and lifting seems to take it as read that a male audience is buying this book to do that. It focuses mostly on What, When, and How rather than Why. Still, it sticks with the central conceit of there being a set of rules for training - about 20 of them, all together, ranging from "Do something" (Rule #1) to "The weight you lift is a tool to reach your goals, it is not a goal by itself" (Rule #6) to "If it's not fun, you're doing something wrong" (Rule #20).

The tone of the book is conversational, but it doesn't stint on technical information. It will simplify to make a point clear, but also goes back and gives you the proper details. Muscular hypertrophy, for example, is defined as increased muscle size - but then the difference between myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is explained, and why it matters to you.

The book spends a good 50 pages on the first section, explaining the Six Movements and the facts behind muscular development. The six movements are the central under pining of the workouts, and are as follows:


They credit this six-move framework to Richard A. Schmidt, but then they take it and run with it.

The exercises are all solid - almost all of them are multi-joint compound exercises, not single-joint isolation exercises. You won't find any machine exercises except for cable work, which as I've posted before aren't machines in the sense I mean. Because of the six movements, every workout will feature squatting, deadlifting, lunges or single-leg squatting, pushing, pulling, and twisting/ab exercises. The exercises range from fairly standard (full squats) to fairly unique (one-arm rows without a bench), but all of them are good. There isn't a "maybe not..." exercise in the bunch. Not a leg press, leg extension, or bosu ball squat in the bunch. No dangerous form in the pictures, either, and they're all good pictures. They make the proper form clear, and act as a clear aid to the exercise descriptions. Each exercise is also labeled with the workout it is used in, so it's very easy to flip from the exercise to the workouts to check the sets and reps you'll be using.

After the techniques, the book discusses Periodization. It's a big concept - basically, how do you vary your workouts so you get the best training effect (more strength, muscle size, fat loss, endurance, whatever)? Basically, as they say, everything works, but nothing works forever. Periodization is a way of organizing your workouts so you change when you need to change in order to keep progressing. Whole books have been written on this subject alone. But they make it simple enough to follow. You won't come out of this section understanding more than the basics, but it's a large subject and they don't dumb it down, just give you the parts you'll need to understand how to use the book. They also go over some possible ways to organize the various workouts, based on age/body type, training background, and goals.

The workouts are broken out into four frameworks.

Break In
Fat Loss I, II, III
Hypertrophy I, II, III
Strength I, II, III

Break In consists of a short series of workouts, split into A and B, aimed at priming you for later exercise. It is centered on 2 sets of 15 reps per exercise, and it introduces the frameworks of the six moves. They recommend beginners train on this program longer than advanced lifters. This gives the beginners more time to adapt and make gains, while advanced lifters will need to cut it short because they're already working hard enough (even in Break In) to need to change up their stimulus sooner than beginners.

Fat Loss I-III are a series of workouts you use for exactly what it says - burning body fat. The workouts are geared towards circuits and limited rest times, trying to create as much metabolic disruption in your system as possible. Your body will burn fat in the process of recovering from the workouts. Exercises are often combination lifts (like a combined Romanian Deadlift and a bent-over row) or short circuits, pairing or grouping completely unrelated exercises to force your body to work in an inefficient (and therefore calorie-burning) way. Workouts II and III are meant to follow in order after I, although they have advice for cutting them short as well. You aren't locked into doing I, then II, then III. You could do Fat Loss I then move on to Hypertrophy or Strength workouts, for example, and one example workout schedule goes from Break In right to Fat Loss II, skipping I entirely.

Hypertrophy I-III are aimed at increasing muscle size. They discuss the many theories of why muscles grow, and different methods of doing so - muscular fatigue, specific rep ranges, time under tension, heavy weights, etc. - and then apply them all in a shotgun approach. Whatever the scientific reason behind the growth, it doesn't matter, it's covered. This features mostly undulating periodization, where you'll change from doing 5 x 5 to 3 x 15 to 4 x 10 and back over the course of the cycle. Other workouts feature 6 x 2, 2 x 25, and other ranges. Rest times vary, weights vary, reps vary. All of these are high volume, meant to elicit more size gains.

Strength I-III are aimed at getting you much, much stronger. These feature lots of "wave loading", where you do a set at one weight, then do a set at a higher weight, then drop back down to a lower weight again, but higher than the first. For example, one workout does 6, 1, 6, 1, 10-12. So you'll squat 6 reps fairly heavy, then 1 very heavy rep, then go back to 6 reps at a slightly heavier weight than the first six reps, back to another heavier single, and then finish lighter. Or 3,2,1,3,2,1 - the second "3,2,1" is heavier than the first "3,2,1", allowing you to build up to heavier weights. The volume is lower than fat loss or hypertrophy, but the rest times are longer, and you'll mix in explosive lifting as well.

Each of the workouts has a template listing the reps, sets, and even lifting tempo (how long up, held at the top, and down). I'm not a big fan of tempo, it's too much to concentrate on for most lifts when you're doing them. But some people swear by them, and for a beginner it's a good guideline. All of the templates also include page references to the exercises, and more than enough guidance to make them clear.

One thing that especially recommends this approach is that the workouts are set up equally well for 2 x week and 3 x week workouts. They aren't built into a 4-day a week interlocking series of workouts. I train MMA, and so do many of my friends. It's nice to have a book that contains workouts they can fit in around their MMA schedule - 2 x week lifting plus 2-3 x week training is more than enough, and it takes exactly zero tweaks to NROL to make it work for this. Excellent!

The book also includes good diet advice. It suggests calorie levels by weight and activity level and goals. It covers breakdowns of macronutrients and rates food from the A list to the C list, and then garbage. So you know when you're eating the good stuff and when you're eating crap. It's relatively simple stuff - no recipes, no food plans. But it's good, solid information on what to eat.

The book is crammed full of good information on eating, lifting, and exercise technique. Even when it gets something a little wrong (for example, EPOC) it's the "why does this work?" that's a little off, but the methods will work.

Content: 5 out of 5. It has all you need to get started and keep going for a long time.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. Well illustrated, good flow to the text, good index, and easy to follow.

Overall: Great workout book, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a friend looking for a program.

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