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 13, 2009

Book Review: Tiki Barber's Pure Hard Workout

by Tiki Barber and Joe Carini with Scott Hays
224 pages. November 2008.

Tiki Barber's Pure Hard Workout is another celebrity workout book. In this case, however, it's actually a pretty good workout book. This is probably because it involves powerlifter and New Jersey gym owner Joe Carini. Thus the workouts, while geared for a general audience, are built around powerlifting.

My football background is non-existent. I don't watch it or play it. So I didn't know who Tiki Barber was prior to reading this book. For me, the background information on his career arc was useful. For a knowledgeable football fan, it might be old hat. What is very interesting is how weight training changed the results of an already successful player.

After the background, there is a discussion of powerlifting. Both the theory and training practice are covered, albeit somewhat superficially. The simplifications are not incorrect, just simple. Then it moves onto cardio - how and why, how much is enough. The main suggestion is steady-state cardio, although strongman work is also discussed. Apparently Tiki didn't do steady-state cardio, but here they recommend it nonetheless. A discussion of muscle groups is next, and it's generally pretty good although it contains some simplifications that are somewhat goofy - the "quad muscle" is discussed singular, even though they say right out it's a group of four muscles. But again, for a lay-person trainee it's sufficient information. No surprise, with powerlifting, the emphasis is on the legs, back, and chest, not the arms.

The diet section is pretty good. It's very carb-friendly, which is normal. It's also very short - only a few pages, some of which are dedicated to discussing glutamine and creatine supplementation. The usual - stay away from saturated fats, get half or more of your calories from carbs, you need protein but not much beyond "0.54 to 0.72 grams per pound of bodyweight." That's a bit low by the high-protein high-fat standards of other diets. But it's certainly workable, and although carbs are relatively high it comes right out and says sugar is bad for you.

The best part of the diet is the high-calorie emphasis. It advocates an intake of 16-18 calories per pound or 35-40 calories per kilo. Eat, eat, eat. "Don't be afraid of calories. [...] If you want to add 10 pounds of muscle to your body, where do you think it's going to come from if you don't take in more food?" Great advice.

The warmups section is also very good. It includes cardio warmup and dynamic stretching.

The exercises are centered on barbell lifts for powerlifting - squatting, deadlifting, and bench pressing. Overhead pressing (the military press) is also emphasized. To a lesser extent, other pulls (chinups, pullups, rows) are also included. So are reverse hypers, back extensions, good mornings, power cleans, and other exercises. A few of them are ones I don't personally like. Leg Extensions don't give much transferable strength and can injure you. A few machine lifts are also included. Round-back deadlifts are discussed without sufficient discussion of their injury risks. It even has some triceps dumbbell kickbacks (a worthless exercise, in my opinion) and concentration curls. But they're all secondary to squats, conventional deadlifts, bench presses.

Each exercise gets a Setup, and Step One, Step Two, etc. approach. The muscle group primarily affected is listed. Pictures accompany the descriptions and are generally clear and easy to follow. Plus they're exclusively of Tiki Barber and Joe Carini. Each also has a "Tiki Tip" with some additional information - sometimes useful, sometimes just color commentary for the pictures. Ab exercises get their own whole section.

The routines section is broken up into beginner, intermediate, and advanced. There is a discussion of rest times - not too much, not too little - and the importance of progressive resistance. It also makes it clear that no matter how much work you're doing, if your weights aren't going up on the big lifts (deadlift, squat, bench press, military press) then you are working hard but accomplishing nothing.

Oddly for a powerlifting and athletic workout, they are broken into legs/chest, shoulders/arms, and back/abs. The beginner routine starts with a warmup, then moves on to a routine centered on 9-10 exercises done for usually 3 sets of 10 reps, with 3 sets of 6 reps for the powerlifts and difficult accessories (like dips). There is a lot of volume, here, but much of it is light. Still, you're going to do leg presses, calf raises, and then squat on legs day, then move on to six exercises for the chest (bench press, incline bench press, decline bench press, dip, fly, pullover). That's a lot of bench pressing. The arm/shoulders and back/abs days are similar, with slightly lower reps on the powerlifts but lots and lots of exercises.

The intermediate program has less muscle split emphasis, and it has more exercises (10-15) and more sets of heavier work. The advanced program is even heavier and higher volume. The book comes right out and says this is the idea - you work harder and harder as you get more advanced. Although it does make it pretty clear the important of working harder and lifting more weight, it does seem to clash with programming suggestions of other trainers. Usually, the beginner can benefit from harder, linear, progressive work, but the more advanced you get the more you have to mix appropriate volume with lots of rest and lighter work for recovery. Instead the advanced programs just linear increases in work.

The routines section also contains an abbreviated 3-day workout program. It specifically advises trainees on how to further cut down the workout. If you're only going to be able to get in one lift on legs day, make sure it's a squat not leg extensions. If you can only get into the gym on upper body day, do bench presses not dumbbell flys. That's very useful.

Next the book contains a section on strongman training. Flipping tires, sledgehammer swings, pushing cars, standing with heavy bags, sleds, and yoke training. For an experienced trainee, this isn't new, but it's nice to see it introduced as an option for new trainees. Especially sled dragging, which can be adapted to any strength level and is very low-stress and not risky - you can't get caught under a sled like you can a barbell!

Next there is a woman's weight training section. It's got some variations of the exercises, now with a woman in the pictures instead of a NFL player or powerlifter. But the information is perfunctory at best, like someone said "Without a chapter on women's training the book won't sell." It doesn't really contain anything useful.

Finally there is a short chapter on motivation. One thing the book doesn't stint on is motivational tidbits throughout. This is just bonus motivation. Again, the emphasis is on hard work and accepting the challenge. You have to respect a book that says if you want to achieve something hard, you'll have to work hard.

Substance: 4 out of 5. The routines are a bit much for a beginner, even an athletic young beginner. But the information is remarkably complete.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Good pictures, slick paper, generally easy to read, but the red-and-black boxed text is really difficult to read.

Overall: A good book, worth reading, and possibly worth using for training. It beats most other celebrity workout books with a stick. Plus it doesn't shy from telling you that it'll be hard work and require a lot of eating. Bonus points!

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