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, December 14, 2009

Book Review: Basic Weight Training for Men and Women

by Thomas Fahey
5th edition, published 2004
224 pages

Basic Weight Training for Men and Women reads like a short textbook for a personal training exam. But it seems aimed at beginning and would-be lifters hoping to learn the how and whys of lifting right down to sliding-filament theory of muscle contraction. The anatomy and skeletal muscle information is rather brief, but there is enough to get started.

The real basics - what is weight training, what does it do for you, what body changes you can expect, etc. - are covered in the first three chapters. They lay a solid base for the chapters that follow. Boxed-out "Myth" and "Fact" text, in gray, help dispel myths and explain pertinent facts for the new lifter. Highlighted caution text is also similarly helpful, making sure you won't skim past a useful point.

Further chapters address how to get started, including choosing a gym and negotiating fees, Buyer Beware caveats when shopping around, how to assemble a basic routine, and so on.

The basic advice is generally 3 sets of 10 repetitions, although this varies for some situations and examples. But the book's prescription for beginning exercises is the bodypart-defined exercises, head to toe, 3 sets of 10, 8-10 exercises, full body that you'll see as a basic everyroutine in beginning books. Nothing solidly innovative or interesting here. If you've read those recommendations before you won't marvel at these, either.

The section on periodization is quite good, giving a brief overview of the subject. Its big failing, in my mind, is that the example shows someone who almost can't possibly need anything except a linear program - a person who bench presses 3 x 10 x 50 pounds (!) on a "heavy" day probably does not need a heavy/medium/light weekly microcycle, for example. Perhaps in the case of a senior citizen, but the periodization example says nothing about this. It's a case of what I often cringe at - complicating things before they need to be. It's likely anyone with a 1-rep max around 65 pounds could just gain by increasing the weight workout to workout, not varying intensity up weekly. So the example is well-generated but uses a subject inappropriate for such training complexity. What's especially odd is the section starts by saying such cycling is for elite athletes.

Six chapters follow, covering weight training by bodyparts - chest and shoulders, arms, back and arms, abs, and lower body - and power and speed training. These include line drawings of the muscles involved (good) and of the exercise (generally, poor and hard to follow). They cover free weight and machine exercises, equally weighted, in both sections. Some bodyweight exercises are included as well but not in any great weight. The technique descriptions are a little light on specifics, and the pictures just don't help. You will need a separate book covering weight training in more detail if you intend to execute the lifts described.

Some of the exercises included and covered are ones that deserve a big red warning flag - upright rows, behind-the-neck pressing (a good exercise, if you're suited for it), machine lower body flexion exercises, and leg extensions. To be fair, leg extensions come with that red flag, warning about knee issues from weighted extension. But the others do not, and deserve equal warning time.

The diet section is pretty much the USDA food pyramid; if you think the USDA's recommendations are spot-on, you'll love it. If not, you'll probably want to move on soon.

The appendix at the end contains some tables of results for common fitness tests, such as a pushup test, 1-minute bent-knee situp test, and so on. You can use these to see where you rank against sex and age normalized standards.

One oddity to the book is you'll find some very impractical advice that sounds good...but just isn't very. Like, to weight pullups, you can put "sandbags" in your pockets. How to make them? DIY them by putting sand into old socks. Ugh, that's going to be a big mess and create a very tiny weight increase. You're better off using a backpack with books in it hanging from your waist, or a dumbbell hanging from a piece of chain. Another one is the previously discussed cycle for a very weak lifter.

But on the upside, the book is filled end-to-end with great quotations (opening each chapter), advice for beginning lifters (start slow, record your progress, steadily make it all harder), busted myths, and good information. It's a useful resource as long as it's not your only resource.

Content: 4 out of 5. The information is largely valuable and accurate, and it goes a long way to knocking exercise myths.
Presentation: 3 out of 5. The writing is very clear and readable, but the pictures illustrating exercises are often less than clear.

Overall: An excellent basic text if you're just getting started on weight training and need a comprehensive - but short and readable - resource. It's not ideal as a manual to pick up and just use for training. Worth reading for beginners and beginning professionals, but you'll need to move on to other books if you're looking for more specifics on any given subject.

This review is of the 5th edition; this book is already up to a larger and newer 7th edition (published 2009). The newer version might prove to be a much better volume, but I still have reservations about the diet and machine-training advice.

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