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 22, 2010

Book Review: Fitness Made Simple

Fitness Made Simple
by John Basedow with Tom McGrath
Published 2008
276 pages

At long last, we get to review a book by self-described "fitness celebrity" John Basedow. You've probably seen his Fitness Made Simple commercials everywhere on late-night and daytime TV. Well, now there is book to go with them.

The book starts with the usual sales pitch, with endorsements from people who'd used the system successfully. It's a little more unusual (and very motivational speaker-y) in that it also traces the rise from out-of-shape-and-unknown to "fitness celebrity" of the author. Interesting for a few minutes, but you'll quickly want to get on to the core of the book.

Fitness Made Simple, like its logo, is based on a triangle - one leg of the triangle is exercise, one diet, and one supplements. The book is basically broken into three sections, one per leg of the triangle.

The diet section is above-average for these books. It's got the usual advice not to dump on any one macronutrient, it emphasizes eating more often and better quality food instead of dieting down, and it doesn't demand total compliance for you to reach any success. In short, the diet plan is fine. It comes with recipes and a basic meal plan to get you started. But it repeats the maddening "good fats" and "bad fats" advice that comes up so often - good fats are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, bad fats are saturated and trans fats. But then it says you need to have 1/3 of your fats from from each poly, mono, and saturated fats, and no trans fats. Okay, so if saturated fats are bad, why do they get equal dietary billing? Why do you need them at all? The fact is, they aren't bad, they just are easy to get in foods . . . so it makes sense to ensure a steady intake and be aware that you don't need to add extra. But lumping something that makes up 1/3 of your fat intake at most in with one that needs to be kept to zero at most makes no sense.

The exercise section covers both warmups and the actual exercises, as well as the overall workout plan, you'll be doing on this program. The warmups are a mix of dynamic and static stretching. Only a few seem problematic (low back stretching, for example) and a number are quite good. It's not a bad warmup, but it misses some of the more recent additions such as foam rolling/soft tissue work.

The workouts are all purely bodybuilding based. You lift weights three times a week, doing chest/back, shoulders/arms, and legs. You do abs four times a week on the days you don't lift, and 4-5 days of cardio (one is marked optional). The weight lifting is all 3 sets of 8-12 reps, with the 10th rep meant to be a challenging weight. You lift slowly, none of this jerky explosive lifting, and lower the weight slowly. For each workout, you get an assortment of lifts you can choose from - you are meant to pick a few (legs says four, for example) and do them for your 3 x 8-12 and change it up next time. Most of the exercises are good ones - pushups, bench pressing, barbell squats, chinups, rows. But a lot of not-so-good-ones are in there as well - leg extensions, smith machine squats, stiff-legged deadlifts done with a rounded back (it says to keep the back straight, but it doesn't show that at all).

It's all aimed at purely cosmetic muscular hypertrophy. If the book mentions getting stronger, aiming for increased power or performance, or increasing your cardiovascular endurance, I'm not seeing it. It's centered on what is going to look good. While there is nothing wrong with looking good, it's not treating as a facet of health but the end-all be-all. All the motivation is how you'll look in the mirror, not any other benefits to training.

The final section is supplements. This might be the oddest section. It's chock full of supplements no one else ever talks about. All, naturally, are aimed at fat loss on a cosmetically significant level (i.e. enough to be noticeable). Some are health-related, such as fish oil and flax, but the ultimate goal is to strip off fat, not so much get a healthy body. This section is pretty weak; it's hard to see how the supplements covered are really going to make a big difference to someone even if the follow the rest of the plan.

Content: 2 out of 5. If you're looking for nothing more than cosmetic changes, this isn't a bad plan. But it's not even the best plan out these for that. More fluff than value.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Easy to read, good illustrations, well-laid out. You won't spend a lot of time page flipping, it's put together well.

Overall: Unless you've got nothing else to try, at all, skip this one. There are much better choices than this one out there. Not recommended.

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