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, March 12, 2009

Book Review: The Abs Diet

The Abs Diet
by David Zinczenko with Ted Spiker
288 pages, published 2005

The Abs Diet is a best-selling diet and exercise plan. The basic diet is pretty simple. Instead of counting calories, you're basically just replacing bad foods with good ones. You eat 6 times a day, 7 days a week, and eat as much as you need of the "ABS DIET POWER 12" foods - mostly vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, and other healthy stuff. Once a week, for one meal, you eat whatever you want - your cheat meal. The diet looks out six weeks from the start, but ultimately you're expected to keep eating this way forever. The good news is that's its not a very restrictive diet, you just can't eat much junk food.

The book is acronym happy. Everything becomes an acronym, often forced. Need to remember the foods? They are the ABS DIET POWER foods. A is "Almonds and other nuts" - No "N" but still not so forced, but E in Power is "Extra-protein (whey) powder." No "W" for "whey" and they used "P" for "peanut butter" instead of "protein powder." It doesn't seem like such a helpful mnemonic, really, but at least they're trying. What's more useful is their shopping plan pages and handy and copy-ready pages that list things you need to stock up on for the diet.

The book has the usual "why all other diets make you fat" section, as well - this time, low carb diets. It oddly mixes up low-fat and low-carb diets in its criticism, simplifies the Atkins diet brutally (it claims a limit of 20 carbs per day, which is only true during its initial few weeks), and lumps low-carb foods together with the infamous Snackwells (low-fat but high-sugar snacks). It's almost a required chapter in a diet book, but it's thankfully short here.

It's also filled with many, many "testimonial" boxed-out text sections. These are people who've done the diet explaining their results after six weeks.

The book includes an extensive workout sets. Really, it contains two - the basic workouts and exercises for those workouts, and then your ab exercises.

The basic workouts are full-body circuits. You start with a single pass through an ab circuit, followed by a full-body workout circuit done two times. The exercises are a mix of compound exercises (squats, bench presses, pulldowns) and isolation exercises (leg extensions, biceps curls, tricep pushdowns). You're expected to do these with a barbell or dumbbell (the book heavily espouses dumbbells), although you obviously need a leg extension or cable unit for pulldowns, pushdowns, leg extensions, etc. Alternatives with free weights are provided, although a few of them are somewhat hard to load behind a very low level. Some of the variations are interesting - the leg extension "home version" is bodyweight squats against a wall, which is probably more useful than the leg extension! A few exercises are ones with little transfer to actual strength (leg extensions) or potential injury issues (barbell upright rows), but mostly they are solid, utilitarian exercises.

While the exercise selection in good, the technique section is pretty spartan. Each exercise is gone over with one a couple sentences related to form, and while both dumbbell and barbell variations are provided very little form detail is included. This isn't a big problem for, say, cable pulldowns, but for barbell squats and bench presses, it's important.

One the basic exercises are done, the book dedicates no less than 62 pages to the abs, including 56 exercises aimed at your abs and spinal errectors. They're meant to be swapped around in your workouts for the existing ab training. Most of them are fine, with only a few that require more equipment than your body - you'll want a 45 degree back extension apparatus, chinup bar, and swiss ball to do all of them.

Content: 4 out of 5. There is enough here to do the diet, and do the exercises.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Attractive and easy to read, with lots of boxed-out text, but the technique pictures that don't match always the text.

Overall, the diet is pretty simple and easy to follow. The workout routines should be effective but are fairly simple and uninspired, and little guidance is giving to weight and progression. It seems like it will work, but it's not much more guidance than you'd get from reading the tops food list at and doing any full-body circuit training. But it's workable and the food and exercise choices are much better than most diet and workout books.

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