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, May 18, 2009

Book Review: Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding

Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding: The Complete A-Z Book on Muscle Building
by Robert Kennedy
792 pages, published 2008

Generally I review books on athletic training and general fitness, not bodybuilding. Programs for performance more than appearance. But if you're interested in bodybuilding, this is the book for you. The book is huge - it's a full-sized glossy 792 pages, full of pictures, tables, and little cartoon illustrations around the boxed-out text. It's an easy read, though, and full of information. It doesn't shy away from imparting technical information about physiology and nutrition, either. Although it's clearly aimed at beginning would-be bodybuilders, it doesn't just gloss over difficult topics. It's also attempting to be comprehensive. At that, it does a pretty good job.

It's all covered, from what lifts to do to how to behave in the gym, from what tanning method to use to where to buy posing trunks and what to pack. Want to know what to eat and what supplements to look into? It's here. History of bodybuilding? Also here. Winners lists and off-season bodypart workouts of the current and past favorites? Got it. How about what to look for in a gym membership? Covered. If you're going to bodybuild, this book pretty much hits every subject you might care to look into.

The exercise sections are pretty good. The workouts start out as full-body but quickly transition to body part splits. Not surprising, this is a book on bodybuilding and that's a standard bodybuilding approach. How well your arms and shoulders and chest work together for a bench press is secondary to having a full chest with proportionate shoulders and developed arms. Despite this, there is a very heavy emphasis on compound exercises and basic exercises - squats, deadlifts, rows, chinups, bench pressing - over isolation exercises. Build it before you isolate it. There is a nice section on each of the major lifts, but I think it really needs more in-depth advice on performing them. Anyone using this book for their bodybuilding should also check out a good book on exercise technique to supplement it. The workouts are also fairly high volume - usually 3 sets of 8-12 reps for 8-10 exercises. Some of them go up from there, and although the book stresses the need to moderate your volume compared to pre-contest routines of steroid-using pros, the volume is still generally pretty high. Lots and lots of reps. At least, though, it keeps beginners away from 30 sets for arms and 0 sets for legs.

There is a large section on bodybuilding shows. It covers the various poses, pre-contest prep, oil application, tanning, the sequence of events in shows, and more. It discusses lighting and sound systems, putting on a show or a seminar, and a lot of similar topics from the point of view of a show producer. I'm sure there are good online guides to this as well, but as a solid primer for what to expect and what to do, it's good stuff. It's pretty entertaining even if you've never seen any bodybuilding beyond Pumping Iron. It even has a discussion of running your own gym vs. franchising and personal training, for those who want to turn their hobby into their livelihood.

The book really deserves extra credit for its section on steroids. Many bodybuilding books sweep that under the carpet - they don't want to discuss "gearing" and its consequences. This book gives you a basic, 101-level, look at steroids and their ups and downs. It also gives you a hard look at the legalities of drugs and the consequences of possession.

The main downside to the book is that it feels somewhat disorganized. Each chapter flows into the other well, but the various workout routines, exercise descriptions, and discussions of warmups and advanced techniques, all seem scattered about. It reads well end-to-end but you'll need that table of contents as you use it.

Content: 5 out of 5. Everything you want to know about bodybuilding is in here. A few less plugs of the author's magazines would have been nice, though.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Lots of bite-sized chapters are good, illustrations are fine, but it really needed more exercise photos and more labels on the famous bodybuilders...we don't all recognize all of them on sight.

Overall: If you're a bodybuilder and want to compete as one, this book is an extremely useful addition to your bookshelf. I neither bodybuild nor follow it, but I still found a lot worth reading in the book.

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