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.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Review: Tina Vindum's Outdoor Fitness

Tina Vindum's Outdoor Fitness

The nutshell summary of this book is outdoor bodyweight and cardiovascular workouts. No weights, no gyms, no treadmills, just your body, "props" you encounter (benches, steps, tree branches, parking meters, rocks...), and the weather, fitted together into workouts.

The bad points: the book has a big sales pitch, and it's "you'll never get results in the gym." Well, maybe not the same ones, but people have. It's packed with testimonials and transformation stories, but they're all hands-on coached clients. The book takes the approach that this, and only this, will work.

Once you get past the "sales pitch," though, the book is solid.

The exercises are often creatively named versions of familiar exercises - the push it-pull it is a pushup with an (unweighted) row, the monkey-bar curl is a hanging knees-to-elbows, the full-body lunge is just a walking lunge with an arm swing. They are generally solid. Some contain odd claims - the "reverse" pullup (a body row) is described as just as good as regular pullups (er, not really, they're a bit different, and pullups are harder but also potentially more productive).

The workouts are a mix of cardio (mostly steady-state, but also sprint intervals and hill sprints), bodyweight exercises, and bodyweight circuits. The work is both rep or distance centric (go this far, do this many repetitions) and time-centric (do as many as you can/go as far as you can for a certain amount of time). The geography of the workouts vary. Some are centered on a small area, others require traveling from location to location (and the travel provides much of the cardio), and others present a hybrid. They're very clever, and work as much as templates as they do as specific workouts. A series of very short workouts, for when you're strapped for time or short on good locations, are also provided. The workouts, more than anything else in the book, are what sells it. It's interesting stuff, and it's a rare book that provides a structured template for what is essentially playing outside.

The HeartMind is also interesting - it suggests the heart can remember, learn, and act independently of the brain. The "proof" though is interesting - she points to language as a clue - we say "from the heart" and so on. But that's culture-specific, not every culture makes heart references for emotion. She also has a test - she asks you to point to yourself. Yeah, you probably pointed to your chest or heart. But that's definitely cultural - Japanese people point to their face. They aren't any more or less emotional that other humans, they just express it differently. It makes for a weak example when her later discussions - that your emotions affect your body and your body affects your emotions - make the case more strongly. Yes, I'm being pedantic here, but college will do that to you.

Another negative in the odd claims department - "toning" and "shaping." These exercises, unlike weights, tone and shape you, avoiding unwanted bulk. This is one of the most persistent myths of training - toning vs. bulking. The only good thing I can say about this is that it's the right advice for the wrong reasons. You won't "shape" your gluteals with stair climbing and one-legged squats, or "tone" your abs and arms with standing crunches and tree-limb pullups, but you will build muscular strength and endurance, which is really what you wanted anyway. The reasons to do them are myths, but the advice is still correct.

The diet advice is also very, very solid. It focuses on a balance of foods, whole foods, avoiding junk, eating well, and skipping calorie counting. You focus on eating good food regularly in portions based on your own hunger. It's refreshing to read a nutrition section that focuses on whole foods and not outdated advice. The diet section alone justifies checking the book out, even if you read nothing else.

The book also contains a section on body composition. It rejects the usual scale, BMI, and other measurements. It gives waist-to-hip ratio as a substitution, and it's a pretty good one - you're worried about a growing waist size, not a particular gain or loss on the scale.

Finally, one very positive aspect to the book is its emphasis on safety and proper preparation. If you're going to exercise outside in the cold winter, driving rain, or on potentially weather-worn equipment, safety must be a big concern. The book doesn't stint on this at all. The only missing point is while it addresses acclimating to colder weather by continuing to workout outside as the weather turns, it doesn't seem to include anything for starting in the winter.

Content: 4 out of 5. The book loses points for "toning" and for its hard, hard pitch. But the content is otherwise solid.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. The book is well written and easy to understand. The pictures are clear and appropriate, and show the form described in the text.

Overall: If your goal is just general fitness, and you're interesting in doing it outside, this is a book worth reading. It's also nice for a possible change of pace. It won't get you ready for much else beyond manipulating your bodyweight and improving your endurance, but it's not focused on anything except that. But if you want to go play outside, it's worth reading this first.

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