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, January 4, 2010

Book Review: Fitness and Strength Training for All Sports

by J. Hartmann and H. Tunnemann
Published 1995
345 pages

Fitness and Strength Training for All Sports is a translation of an Eastern Bloc strength training manual into English. I first heard about this from watching a video of Joe DeFranco going through his bookshelf with Zach Evan-Esch, and so I went ahead and tracked it down. It's aimed at strength coaches rather than novices. Simply put, this book has just about everything. From power generation to hypertrophy, recovery techniques to stretching and warmups, periodization and basic anatomy - everything is covered.

The book starts with the biology and anatomy of strength training before it moves on to the practical aspects of improving sports performance. The anatomy section is well written and easy to follow, but it's essentially theoretical information - useful for coaches and would-be personal trainers, but not for trainees looking just for a guide to what to do.

The book has a program section, with sample workouts ranging from beginner's bodyweight circuits to advanced barbell workouts aimed at experienced strength athletes. The workouts are well varied, but if you want to use them it will require quite a lot of flipping back and forth to the exercise chapter, figuring percentages of your 1RM on all of the exercises, and so forth. They aren't grab and go, although they give a good idea of how the authors intend for exercises to be organized and what percentages and rep counts are considered appropriate.

The exercise chapter has 116 different exercises of all kinds, organized by body parts. They range from partner calisthenics to the big basics (squats, deadlifts, chinups, etc.). Many of them feature kettlebells, too, often in some odd positions - I've done pullups with a kettlebell hanging from a belt, but never with one hanging around the neck on a strap! The partner exercises are quite creative, but are probably familiar to anyone in a martial arts class - partner pickups, partner squats, etc.

Perhaps the best sections are the ones that address the core goal of the book - improving sports performance, and improving power output. Since power generation - the ability to exert strength quickly - is critical to sports performance, and sports performance is the name of the game (got to win those gold medals . . . ), both sections are well done. The basics of power generation are covered, as are methods to train it - compensatory acceleration (lift a light weight as fast as possible), the contrast method (lift heavy, then lift light and fast), and plyometrics (direct power training) are all covered.

It's hard to cover this book section by section, as it has quite a number of them and it covers sports strength training so thoroughly. Suffice it to say that it's all in here, albeit a bit dated thanks to the advancing knowledge of strength training.

My only real reservation about this book is one that it shares with other Eastern Bloc training manuals: Yes, these methods produced gold medalists and an impressive body of athletes. But did they work because the methods are the best available, or because they selected out the ones for whom those methods worked best for, out of a large pool of athletes?

Content: 4 out of 5. Everything is covered quite thoroughly - if you're programming for athletes, it is in here. The only negative is that the (original) book is over 20 years old, and strength training technique has advanced.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. The line drawings could be more attractive, but that's the only quibble. Everything else is presented well, and the drawings are very clear and easy to follow.

Overall: This book is a must-read if you are coaching athletes. It is a dense read sometimes, but it's very valuable material and well-presented. If you aren't training athletes, or you're a beginner yourself, this could be more than a little overwhelming.

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