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.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Book Review: The Backsmart Fitness Plan

The Backsmart Fitness Plan
by Adam Weiss, D.C.
256 pages, published 2005

The BacksmartFitness Plan is a workout guide that aims to teach you how to exercise to avoid back pain, and to fix an already injured lower back. It's written by a chiropractor and former amateur athlete.

The background story behind the book is that the author, a young martial artist training intensely every day, pushed himself too far with bad form in the bench press and hurt himself. Sadly, the book seems to take that to its logical extreme - going heavy with bad form hurt me, so you shouldn't exercise like that at all. It does provide a wide-ranging plan for weight training, bodyweight exercises, stretching, and improving balance.

The book is heavy on toning, sculpting, and lengthening - all those buzzwords used to make exercise something that won't get you "big and bulky." Getting big and bulky is something that never happens by accident. It takes dedicated training with that goal in mind, enormous amounts of food, long-range planning, and great intensity. Toning, sculpting, and lengthening, in the way they're used here, aren't even physiologically possible. You can only make a muscle bigger or smaller, stronger or weaker, you can't change its shape, length, or anything else. Yet at the same time, the routines includes are high-volume workouts - 2-5 sets of 10-15 reps. As I've discussed before, 10-15 reps is the in the range that leads mostly to hypertrophy and endurance, not pure strength. So the book is essentially passing on bad information, and even if it was good, it's giving you an inefficient way to accomplish the goal set out.

The book includes a wide range of exercises, some of them very good. It includes an array of daily stretches, most of them dynamic mobility drills coupled with static stretches. Some modifications of existing exercises are clever and useful as well. The emphasis on proper posture and proper form over heavier weights are good. But generally, the book emphasizes isolation exercises, seated exercises instead of standing, machine exercises, and a body-part split. Oddly, it claims to put emphasis on leg exercises, but it really doesn't - you don't do nearly enough leg work, and although some are multi-joint (one-legged squats with a cable for balance) most are single-joint and not particularly useful - like leg extensions.

The workouts provided are broken into 8 components - Stretching, "BackSmark Pilates," Weights, Cable, Aerobics, Abs, [Swiss] Ball, and Balance Drills. You are expected to do some of these every day (Stretching), others as few as twice a week (Cable, Ball, Balance Drills). There is a matrix you are supposed to use to track it all, for those days like Friday when you do 7 of the 8 sections. Each of these sections contains a handful of exercises - a dozen stretches, 2-3 exercises per body part for weights, 2-4 ab exercises, etc. - you're intended to do. Each of these exercises is well explained and adequately illustrated (one picture per, not multiple shots to demonstrate how to do them). One good thing is that you're supposed to work each set a little heavier than the last, and each workout you are encouraged to strive for heavier weights.

Although the book has a lot in it, it places so much emphasis on stretching, light weight workouts, and avoiding compound exercises that it's hard to get much out of it.

Content: 2 out of 5. Not all bad stuff, but it doesn't contain much of value. What is there is buried in .
Presentation: 3 out of 5. Fairly easy to read, but you'll jump around all over trying to follow the exercise programs.

Overall: If you've got back problems and want a dedicated plan to fix it, this might help. But its emphasis on stretches and high-volume hypertrophy-range reps in isolation exercises isn't the only - or likely even the best - way to fix an injured back. Not recommended.

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