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.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Book Review: Men's Health Better Body Blueprint

Men's Health Better Body Blueprint: The Start-Right, Stick-to-It Strength Training Plan

By Michael Mejia
432 pages, published July 2006

The Men's Health Better Body Blueprint is a training book aimed at beginners. Male beginners, to be precise - there isn't a word in there about female trainees. Although there isn't much difference in how they train, it's unlikely a book aimed at men will find a wide audience amongst beginning female trainees. But it hits its target audience well. All of its information is aimed at beginners.

Special credit goes to this book for breaking out beginners by type. Younger guy (under 35) versus older guy (35 and up), ex-jock versus seasonal exerciser, and so on.

Unlike most beginner's weight training books, including some excellent ones, this one starts with an assessment process. It's based on the Neanderthal No More series of articles of Mike Robertson and Eric Cressey. The assessment checks not only your strength (chinup, pushup, and single-leg squat tests) and endurance (step test), but also your flexibility and posture! The book then guides you through developing a "starter program" aimed at fixing any flaws - externally rotated feet, poor strength, forward head posture, lordosis or kyphosis, whatever you've got. It's a really interesting way to start a workout program. It's the ideal way for a beginner to start, assuming they'll put in the effort and stick out the process. That sentence gives you an idea of the possible problems - the assessment isn't simple and it requires some work.

The book includes a solid guide to equipment purchases, with a rough idea of prices. Pros and cons of various cardio machines (a treadmill, a C2 rower, stair climbers, etc.) are covered. Various squat racks/power rack and barbell options as covered as well. If you're building a home gym, this information is very useful. It's also helpful as a guide to what you want to see in a commercial gym.

The exercises seem well-chosen. Some of the are somewhat unusual variations of more familiar exercises, such as dumbbell rows with elbows out (instead of in), side lunges instead of lunges, and so on. A few machine variations are allowed for (sled leg presses instead of squats, if you've got an injury) but it's solidly free weights and bodyweight exercises.

The routines are split into routines for strength, mass gain, and fat loss. Routines are provided for the under-35 and over-35 groups, complete with recommended rep ranges, exercises, days of the week, and rest times. The emphasis is on a balanced routine, erring on the side of more legs, more single-leg exercises, and more pulling than pushing exercises. They are all very solid routines. Several of them call for circuit training or supersets, but advise is provided on how to do them broken up - on the assumption that your home gym or public gym won't let you smoothly change exercises every set for several times through.

Nutrition is covered. It's pretty simple - balanced diet, low GI carbs, small caloric surplus for gains and small caloric deficit for losses. It also suggests ways to vary it up for better gains. While the book points out you need to eat to gain muscle, it does somewhat falsely claim you can avoid unwanted mass by eating less...that'll just gain the strength. Not really true - you won't gain as much strength as you will if you eat to support muscular hypertrophy. But it's more of a simplification than a error.

Aerobic exercise is covered as well, mostly centered on interval training. The author also takes pains to note that lots of cardio is better for fat loss than muscle building. So if you're training for increased size and strength you may need to cut back on the cardio. This isn't always covered explicitly in beginner's books. Sample cardio routines are included.

All in all, the author clearly knows his stuff, and there is very little to find fault with. It's complete. Very complete. It will require a good read through, beginning to end, and some invested time before you can get going with this book. But you won't pick up misinformation, back technique, or a false idea of how hard the going is. It's a great reality check and a solid tome for beginning training.

Content: 4 out of 5. The book has almost too much information, it's so packed. It's all good, but it's so dense that it's a bit hard to sort out...
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Well-written and illustrated, but the layout results in a lot of skipping back and forth, boxes that break up the flow of the reading process, and workouts buried in the middle of text blocks. It's got good stuff but it's work to pull some of it out.

Overall: If you're an intellectual beginner, and you want to be sure you're doing 100% exactly the program for you, after you understand all of the pieces and options, this is your book. If you're impatient to get going, this is going to be a bit much for you. It's serious a blueprint, you have to go build the building yourself.

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