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, June 19, 2009

Book Review: Fitness Training for Girls

Fitness Training for Girls
by Katrina Gaede, Alan Lachica, and Doug Werner
192 pages, published 2001

The vast majority of training books out there seem to be aimed at either men trying to get big, or men and women trying to lose weight (without "bulking up.") The number of books aimed at teens, especially teen girls, is pretty small. Although this book is somewhat old now (published in 2001) it's in such a small niche it's worth reviewing for that reason alone.

The introduction and first chapters sell the idea of training - why to do it, how to get started, what to look for in a gym. It's all very female-friendly, and aimed squarely at teen girls. It's all good advice in general, though, and well presented.

The book also includes several routines and advice on making your own schedule. The routines presented are "body part" emphasis full-body routines. The good point is that they frequently recommend compound exercises for these "body parts" - like pushups for chest and triceps, chinups for biceps as well as lats. The bad point is that isolation exercises are includes, and the emphasis is more on hitting the body piece by piece and not improving movements. At least three different exercises for each body part are included - one bodyweight, one free weight (dumbbell or barbell or both), one machine. Again, there is an upside and a downside. The upside is the emphasis on the benefits of bodyweight and free weight exercising...the downside is the way it makes leg extensions or machine flys an equivalent to dumbbell squats or pushups. They just don't equate.

Cardio is covered as well, with an emphasis on staying in a range of 60-80% of your maximum heart rate. This is fine, since the goal is general fitness and endurance. But the book falls down where it says to avoid increasing intensity (by using a steeper slope, running/pedaling faster, etc.) in favor of increasing duration. That's only going to get you so far, where increasing intensity will reap all of the same benefits as increased duration and more.

Stretching is recommended pre-workout and a solid array of stretches are described and pictured. The book also deserves kudos for covering a wide range of med ball exercises, full-body barbell exercises, and even explosive training for sports. It's quite complete despite its small size.

The book also emphasizes increasing resistance on each exercise. Goals like "go up two weight levels in 8 weeks" - moving up two notches on the weight stack, dumbbell rack, or barbell loading - are clear, achievable, and demand a steady increase in weight. The recommended workouts start at 1-2 sets of 12-15 reps (fairly standard recommendations for female trainees) twice a week, but the advice to keep upping the weight pairs well with it. As you progress, it moves to more sets (2-3) and less reps for higher weight (6-10 reps) and more frequency (three times a week.)

The nutrition section is the weakest. It's an important topic, and proper eating is critical, but the information is pure "FDA food pyramid" advice. The diet breakdown is 55-60% carbs, 12-15% protein, and 25-30% from fat. That's a good amount of fat but I think it's way undershooting the amount of protein a fit teen girl is going to need.

Contents: 4 out of 5. The nutrition advice is generic and outdated, and so is some of the programming advice, but the rest of the book is solid.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. Very readable, well-aimed at its target audience.

Overall: I'd rather see a beginning teen girl trainee go with Starting Strength, but this will do pretty well. There is a lot to nitpick, but I'd recommend it to any teen trainee. It's easy enough to say "Read this and just ignore X, Y, and Z" because most of it is fundamentally useful advice. It's also short and makes for a good introduction to fitness.

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