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, March 15, 2010

Book Review: The 90-Second Fitness Solution

The 90-second Fitness Solution is a book aimed at women interested in fitness. It is written mostly for beginners and women frustrated by a lack of results or other general dissatisfaction with the gym.

The central idea is pretty interesting. Super-slow training - taking tens of seconds for a single rep - for hypertrophy showed promise but ultimately didn't result in bigger muscles. Most women don't want bigger muscles. Isometric exercising strengthens the muscles only in a short range of motion, but lifting fast and hard across a full range of motion takes more technique and exposed you to acute injuries if the weight is lifted incorrectly. So the author decided to use such super-slow techniques in combination with isometrics. The result? A series of isometric holds designed to increase strength, done slowly enough to avoid hypertrophy and make the technique easier to do.

The author gets around the inherent limitation in isometrics (they only strengthen a limited range-of-motion) by a series of paused isometric holds. You'll start with just a pushup top position (a straight-arm plank), but as you go on, you begin lowering yourself 2 inches at a time, holding for 10 seconds, and then another 2, etc. until you reach near-bottom, and then start back up. The goal is 90 seconds per exercise - not 90 seconds total, although the attention-grabbing title implies just that. Each of the exercises is presented in a series of levels, so you know exactly what you have to do for each workout and how to do it.

The book, of course, has a "challenge" in it - the idea that men might think doing 25 pushups is great, but they can't do even one of his. I knocked out a 90-second pushup as described after a pushup/row/lunge circuit recently. It's not hard to do if you're used to long efforts. It's an annoying and typical sales line for fitness books - the brawny bodybuilder gasping in amazement at the sheer strength of someone doing the exercises they proscribe. Sadly, it's true for some people (who are more show than go) but for athletes, it's not much of a challenge.

Within its limitations - this book isn't going to turn you into an athlete - it's got some good stuff. The emphasis on compound exercises, perfect form, and isometric holds to develop postural and supporting muscle endurance is excellent. It's a solid basis for an exercise plan for a woman's home-workout. It certainly seems like it would work - it's hard to say that gaining the ability to do a 90-second straight-arm hang, 90 second wall sit, 90 second semi-isometric pushup and squat, etc. is going to be bad for anyone. It's certainly convinced me to try some of these with more fragile or weak clients who need a basis of static strength before they can move with strength.

But there are limitations - you aren't going to develop a lot of power with a workout like this, which means it's not especially going to help you jump higher, deal with sudden movements (like recovering from a fall), or get you stronger at anything requiring speed. It also emphasizes machine work once you progress to the in-gym phase. It's sad to see someone moving backward from full-body self-supporting exercise to machine-based semi-isometric super-slow lifting.

Perhaps the best section is the diet section. It wholly abandons the food pyramid and goes right to eat real food, and stop worrying about calories. As long as you are eating whole, healthy foods, the authors aren't worried about your diet. They do a good job of showing what you can eat, and providing recipes using their principles.

Content: 3 out of 5. It's very thorough in its lifting and eating suggestions, so you really get everything you need. It doesn't miss much of its central topic, but it includes some hyperbolic exaggerations of how well it compares to other ways of exercising. Points off for implying fast lifting is bad.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. Well-written, well organized, pitched well to its audience. Physically attractive and the exercise examples are very well explained and pictured.

Overall: If a non-athletic person asked me if this book was a good one to follow and try, I'd be fine with that. The "progress" to the gym workout seems more iffy to me. But the basic workout is an excellent start, and the author certainly does address the concerns of female trainees (don't want to get big) while getting them stronger overall. If that sounds like you, read it. Otherwise, the information isn't really aimed at you.

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