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, February 15, 2010

Book Review: Getting Stronger

By Bill Pearl
Published 1986
432 pages

Bill Pearl's Getting Stronger is arguably a classic of weight training and bodybuilding books. The book is complete, but almost too complete. It can provide a beginner so much information it's overwhelming, even with the routines and guidance provided. So let's dig into what it gives you.

The first section of the book, up to about page 80, is a combined general conditioning and basic background on lifting section. The book spends a good bit of time on the mental aspects of training, but doesn't waste much time on telling you why you should lift. I personally approve. You don't buy a 400+ page book called "Getting Stronger" to see if you should, in fact, get stronger. You buy it to learn how.

What follows is a bodybuilding routine list and cardio/stretching training section. It all sort of flows from one into the other. This section is a little basic for people already into bodybuilding, but it's excellent for beginners. Nicely, the beginner routines are very machine-light. You're expected to progress through a mix of bodyweight, dumbbell, and barbell lifts before you hit the exercise machines. Nice!

The next big section of the book are the routines for sports training. This fills pages 80 to 183. The routines are well mapped out, with a picture to give you a visual reminder of what the exercise entails. The sets, reps, and exercise order are clear and easy to remember. You could easily pull out a routine, photocopy the page, and tack it up in your workout area so you can follow along.

That said, the sports routines generally call for a fair amount of machines. Leg Press, lat pulldown unit, calf raise unit, leg extension, etc. - they all see a lot of use in these routines. This is somewhat unfortunate for both athletes - for whom most machines are likely to be contra-indicated - and for home lifters - for whom most machines aren't available. But the book redeems itself by having both a dumbbell and a barbell home workout routine. All you need are appropriate weights and a bench (and an incline situp board, if your bench doesn't incline). They are both quite long routines, though - 16 (!) exercises each, 10+ reps per exercise, 1-3 sets per exercise. Even the minimal reps and minimal sets will be pretty long, unless you've got a wide selection of dumbbells and can keep every set up to grab-and-go. You're better off sticking to the much shorter 10 exercise routine for general conditioning in the front of the book. It is similarly dumbbell-and-barbell oriented, but you don't spend as much time pounding every body part one by one.

The book has a nearly exhaustive section of exercises. In this edition, it stretches from page 185 to page 310 - over 120 pages of exercises. Generally they fit 3 to a page, although a few get 2. Each has a pair of illustrations showing the motion, in the form of simple but accurate line drawings. A bullet list of technique cues accompanies the art.
Naturally, since Bill Pearl's background is bodybuilding, they are organized by body part. Abs, Triceps, Neck, Shoulders. and so on. It is generally pretty clear where to look for a given exercise, but a few - like dumbbell swings - get lumped in with Abs despite being listed as affecting "Most Large Muscle Groups." A "full body" section for such lifts might have obviated the need for compromise sorting like this.

The book also includes a diet section - unusual in its advocacy of vegetarianism even for lifters. The basic information is good, but it's USDA food pyramid all the way. It even includes an illustration of the pyramid.

The section on drugs, dealing mostly with steroids and growth hormone, is good but it's a little outdated and sparse. It summarizes down to they have side effects, they may or may not work well, they may be fake, and you don't need them. Which is fine, but it makes the section seem a bit perfunctory. Like they needed to address the subject but didn't want to spent a lot of page count on it. It's a basic introduction, that's all.

The injury section is similarly short, but probably more useful. You get enough information to know where to start for when you are hurt. You also get some information on acute injuries - the ow-my-arm-broke kind - versus chronic injuries - the my-joints-ache-every-day kind.

The book finishes out with its most entertaining section - a history of physical culture. You can read about olde tyme strongmen and strongwomen, which is always fun. But it quickly diverges into useful modern information, such as dispelling the muscle-bound myth and discussing the future of lifting.

Content: 5 out of 5. What is here is quite good, but even the sports-specific lifting routines are heavily bodybuilding based. Consider it a general fitness and bodybuilding book, and you're fine. It's not a competetive athlete training manual.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. It's attractive and well organized, but you'll do a lot of flipping around from page to page to use the information.

Overall: It's a good resource for just about anyone. The more of a beginner you are, the more useful this will be. But you'll need to stay focused on the beginner routines and work from there, and not get distracted by the sports-specific and advanced lifting routines. A very good book for a beginner just looking to get into shape, and who needs more options than just a cookie cutter one-program manual.

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