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, October 1, 2009

Book Review: Men's Health: The Body You Want in the Time You Have

Men's Health: The Body You Want in the Time You Have
Published 2005
352 pages

This book is another in the long series of Men's Health health-and-fitness books. They seem to crank them out, libraries seem to eat them up, and thus I borrow and read them to review here. This book has a very solid and admirable goal - to give you a set of templates ranging from "I can work out once a week for 10 minutes" up to "I can work out every day for as long as I need to." You pick the template, do the exercises as show, and viola, you're on the road to fitness.

It's a great idea, but it's poorly executed here. Mainly, it falls down on some of the details, organizes well but lays out poorly, and tries to be all things to all people.

The book includes a lot of general weight training information, but it's not always very good information.
It's also self-contradictory without explanations as to why. For example, on page 7 it discuses one set vs. three, and why one set done hard is enough training. Then on page 8 it says you should do 3 sets of 8-12 reps. No mention of that single set again, no explanation of why the contradiction. For what it's worth, the single set study is valid but there are a lot of reasons to do more sets. In the future I'll blog about that. But for now, it's enough to note that contradictions like this come up a lot in the book.

The workouts aren't bad, but again, it's an all-thing-to-all-people approach. You can choose to be lean - lose fat, be big - a bodybuilder/hypertrophy approach, be strong - a powerlifter-like strength approach, or be all three at once. The first one emphasizes higher reps, generally (12-15) and lots of cardio of varying intensities. The next higher sets and reps in the 8-12 range. The third does reps in the 6-8 range. The last mixes them up by days - you'll do, say, 2 days like a bodybuilder and one like a powerlifter, or 1 and 2. All of them simply ramp up the volume and intensity as you add more days. That'll work for a while with a beginner, but it won't work forever even if you change up the exercises - the only real advice it has for progression besides changing to a different approach (picking a new type). They quickly go from full-body to bodypart splits, too, which only makes a lot of sense for bodybuilders.

There are 48 "anytime" exercises. Why "anytime"? Because they're the only ones you need. You can't do them anytime, you just pick from this list. They are a mix of isolation and compound (including the power clean, nicely), machine and free weights. Each comes with a picture of how to do it and some text, plus an option for a more equipment-specific version if you've got it, and a low-equipment workout.

Some of the alternatives are mind-boggling. Leg presses are an alternative to squats if you've got access to the machine? That's a step down, not a step up. If you don't have a leg extension unit, do Bulgarian split-squats - yes, please do, they're superior in every way to leg extensions.

It's got a mash of some of the usual bad information, too. Such as - the efficacy of super-slow reps, above-parallel squats (and leg presses touted as a squat alternative), negative reps for when you're ready (but it's not clear when that is), avoiding locking out your limbs when lifting (because it puts weight on the tendons and bone - yes, that's why you do that). It's rather annoying.

The only real good sections are the 4-minute diets (One minute at a time, things you can do at each meal to improve the quality of your meals) and the stretching/self-massage section. Those are quite good, and had they comprised the whole book, it would be a great little book to have. But they don't, and they're weighed down by the rest.

Content: 3 out of 5. Some good information mixed with some bad.
Presentation: 2 out of 5. Strong efforts are made to box-off text, make flipping to your week easy, and so on, but the book is cluttered and feels disorganized.

Overall: The plans in the book are not that bad for beginners, but the "all things to all people" approach makes it reach for less-than-beginners too. That confuses the issue, muddles up the routines, and makes it hard to use. Not recommended.

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