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 8, 2010

Book Review: The Rough Guide to Men's Health

This is a partial review - I am only reviewing the workout-related advice contained in this much broader book. It is designed to be a one-stop guide to men's physical and mental health. I'm picking and choosing the workout advice and reviewing it in isolation. Please keep that in mind as you read this blog post.

This book is about men's mental and physical health, by the same Rough Guide folks who bring you those travel books. It's a head to toe guide, but we're focusing on the "In the Gym" chapter that takes up pages 158-181. It's also a British (okay, UK) guide, so expect a lot of discussions of pounds, cycling to the pub, popping down to the chemists, and doing press-ups.

The section starts with the nuts-and-bolts of why you need to exercise. In fact, it makes the case that you are probably unfit now, and getting even to "normal" fitness levels will restore a lot of health.

This section leads right up to my favorite box: "Find the Time" - page 162. " . . . there is no reason at all why you can't make time to work out." Yes, exactly. As Jason Nunn said recently, get started today.

Next up, it tackles the normal objections to training one by one. Expenses. I tried it and didn't like it. I don't have time. It didn't make any difference. And so on. Each is basically a paragraph or two saying, essentially, be patient, get working, find the time.

After this comes the details of working out and its positive (more strength! less fat!) and negative (sweat! injuries!) consequences. This is a good section. A boxed page shows how muscles work. Individual sections discuss your options, choosing a program, and the importance and utility of getting a trainer to show you how to do it all. It also explains how to warm up, proceed to dynamic warmup movements, and skill rehearsal (practice the movements you'll use to train). Then it's the workout, then cooling down. The cooldown involves tapering off (which isn't as useful for weight training as aerobics, but it doesn't mention that) and static stretching to finish it off.

The chapter contains a number of attractive charts, but they might be of somewhat dubious utility. Calories burned per hour of activities (mostly aerobic) - who cares, really? It's not like you'll choose rowing over skiing if you like to ski and hate to row, and "circuit training" and "martial arts" represent some of the extremely broad categories. Which activity is right for you? Got another chart for that, with pros, cons, and expenses. Heart rate, diet, percentage of fluid loss from sweat, etc. There are a number of them. They're attractive and interesting at the very least.

The "hotel room workout" (pg. 245) is an example of the short-and-sweet boxed advice it features. Press ups (also known as pushups to us Colonials), lunges, donkey kicks, and crunches. And that's it. The upside is that they do tell you how to do them. The downside is isn't clear how to program them - no mention of reps, sets, rounds, whatever. 10 of each okay? 100? Should I do 5s and keep going until I drop? Who knows? That's what I mean by the advice. It's good but very general. It's not enough to go on even for a total beginner. That's really the only downside to the book. You get enough to say "Gee, I better learn more!" but not much more than that. One can only hope they proceed next to Starting Strength . . . but it seems that they'd be just as likely to head to the nautilus machines or just grab some expensive running shoes.

Overall: 3 out of 5. The content is good, but limited, and it does repeat some of the same pedantic "weights for strength, aerboics for fat loss" advice.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Short attention spans are required here - not a page goes by without boxed-out text, bold print, pictures, etc. That makes it attractive and helpful but it can mean a lot of flipping to get everything, as a box interrupts your train of thought! Some odd spelling errors (biigist?) creep in too, odd in a well-edited large-publisher book like this.

Overall: As a workout guidebook, it doesn't make the grade. But, considering it for what it is - a health guide - it does give you enough to get started, outlines your options pretty well, and gets you pointed in the right direction.

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