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.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Book Review: The U.S. Navy SEAL Guide to Fitness and Nutrition

The book is big (496 pages!), it's thorough, it's cheap (about $15), and it's directly targeted at active SEALs, although it does have some information for would-be SEALs getting ready for BUD/S training. All of its training information assumes the reader is a combat swimmer. Thus swimming with fins is recommended as cardio, distance walking with load-bearing equipment is recommended to acclimate to marching, rope climbs are recommended to increase ability to deal with open-grip pulling and climbing in the field. The authors are all SEALs or subject matter experts or both, and the advice is aimed squarely at its audience. There is nothing here for weekend warriors seeking "SEAL-style" training, and plenty for SEALs looking to stay in shape mission to mission.

It is full of direct, specific advice you won't find in a normal training manual - injury treatment, dealing with hypothermia and heatstroke, stowage of gear on load-bearing harnesses, etc.

The book is broken up into two sections - the first is the training section, the second is nutrition.

The training section is educational for any SEAL or would-be SEAL. It covers weight training, calisthenics, stretching (dynamic and static), injury prevention and recovery, warmup, and how to peak for a mission.

The weight training information is pretty basic, following the usual guidelines you'll find from professional associations. 6-12 reps for strength, lift slowly, etc. Five sets per exercise, less reps and more weight as you go, a classic pyramid. Free weights are recommended over machines generally, but quarter squats, leg presses, leg extensions, and other similar exercises are recommended.
Weight training is also broken out from calisthenics. This makes sense on some levels, but leads to oddities like recommending lat pulldowns to SEALs instead of, say, weighted pullups. Exercise technique is explained, mostly correctly - although it defines a parallel back squat as ending when the upper thigh is parallel to the ground, instead of the hip joint and knee joint coming into parallel alignment. That will leave even their full squats a little high.

There is a nice section on plyometric training, centered on various jumps. Team calisthenics and individual calisthenics are covered. Training to failure versus training until a sufficient training effect has been achieved is also discussed. There is even a section on training in heat vs. cold, and winter and high-heat acclimation. Where old standard exercises are no longer recommended, they are specifically discussed and reasons are given for avoiding them.

Endurance, strength-endurance, and strength training are all covered with equal weight. The advice is direct and straightforward, able to be used immediately by an operator reading the book.

The nutrition advice makes up the second half of the book. Most of it is fairly standard - 0.6-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight, 55-60% of calories from carbohydrates, no more than 30% of calories from fats. It maintains the outdated "simple vs. complex carbs" split and some low-fat eating advice. It also makes the often-refuted claim that protein in excess of 0.8 grams per pound of body weight will result in kidney damage. It also "proves" excess is useless with some spurious logic - that 100g excess protein per day would result in a 1 pound gain of lean muscle mass per day, which doesn't happen, therefore the excess protein is useless. The book justifies this by saying muscle is 20% protein, so 100g of excess protein per day would result in the generation of 500g of muscle mass. That doesn't happen, so therefore excess protein isn't used. But this is spurious - the fact that muscle is 20% protein doesn't therefore mean that every gram of protein you eat is converted to 0.2g of muscle and if not is 100% wasted. A few similar statements are made.

Aside from this, the information seems workable. There is a nice section (repeated twice in the book, once in each section) on micronutrient needs (vitamins and minerals) and how to select and use vitamin supplements. There are details on what supplements to avoid, and a large section on anabolic steroids and harmful substances such as chewing tobacco, alchohol, and antihistamines. There is a large amount of specific detail on food macronutrient breakdowns (protein, fat, carbs) as well, plus food substitutions and how to carb-load for missions. Another very useful touch are a list of specific foods and specific snacks for different mission lengths. That's not information a SEAL is likely to find in another off-the-shelf training book.

Substance: 4 of 5. If you are a SEAL, this book is for you. If not, it's probably only a 2 or 3.
Presentation: 2 of 5. It looks like a military field manual - blocky, photocopied pictures, hand-drawn exercise illustrations, and typos and duplicated lines.

Bottom line: If you're getting ready for BUD/S, I'd read this book. I would still recommend a different approach to weight training, but its other material is sound and it contains a lot you will want to know.

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