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, May 3, 2010

Book Review: The Female Body Breakthrough

The Female Body Breakthrough
by Rachel Cosgrove

This book is aimed at women looking to get started in losing weight and building a fit, healthy body. It's focused on this like a laser, not wasting time on anything that isn't on this topic. But it manages to hit everything you need, too, if you're one of the target audience.

The book opens with a number of chapters - a whole section of 52 pages - on why to workout, myths about working out, motivation, excuse-busting, and more. These are interspersed with client testimonials from the gym the author runs with her husband (Alwyn Cosgrove, who wrote the workouts for The New Rules of Lifting for Women). The next section, up to page 81, builds on this with some goal setting. It seems obviously aimed at woman who have the desire to change, but have a number of reservations, concerns, and false ideas that need to be addressed before they can move on. For me, a man and an athlete and thus far from the target audience, it seemed almost a bit heavy-handed. But I'll admit right here and now that I can't rightly judge that. Nothing in it seemed superfluous, it's just that there is a lot of it. All the information is spot-on, and thank you to the authors for mentioning how hard it is for men to bulk up when they try, nevermind woman who are trying to avoid it.

This book rates bonus points for discussing the menstrual cycle and PMS, and how to incorporate those hormone fluctuations into a workout cycle. Even substitutions for those with sore breasts during their cycle - really, I've never seen this before in a workout book, and I'm impressed that it is covered so thoroughly. I'm definitely going to think about that with the female clients I train.

The diet section is very, very solid. It's based on eating whole foods in sensible amounts, and swapping out refined foods and sugars for better choices. It's not a difficult diet with lots of forbidden foods and strict calorie control. In fact, in most cases women are going eat more. They recommend 9 x bodyweight in calories for 3 days followed by 15 x bodyweight in calories for the 4th day, with a strict admonition not to try to "speed up" the process by undereating on the higher calorie day - and why and how that will backfire. The diet section looks and feels a lot like Dr. John Berardi's Precision Nutrition system and its guidelines. That doesn't seem to be by mistake - Dr. Berardi is cited at least once in the book.

The exercise section is good, but there are a few pictures (such as the inverted row) that don't match the description. The pictures in an exercise book must match what is described. The mismatch between them hurts the book's message, makes it look sloppy, and potentially confuses the reader - those with a more visual memory will remember the form from the picture, which is bad if it's incorrect.

The exercises themselves are heavy on the compound exercises, full-body lifts, unilateral (one arm or one leg) lifts and bilateral (two arms or two legs) lifts, and so on. If you do this program, expect to do deadlifts, Bulgarian split-squats, barbell complexes, bodyweight circuits, and more. It's nothing but good stuff, and the only machines used are cable-based units.

The workouts are broken up into phases spread across 16 weeks. Each of them uses what's called undulating periodization. This means the workout varies the sets and reps workout to workout before changing up the exercises. So you'll do Workout A in three different variations (low, high, and medium reps) and Workout B in three different variations (low, high, medium reps), and then start over. This allows you a lot of practice with the given exercise, but the changing sets and reps means your body doesn't get to fully adapt to the rep ranges you use.

Content: 5 out of 5. The whys and hows, diet, exercise, and instruction - it's all covered well.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Well written and well laid out, with attractive pictures...but some don't match the exercise descriptions.

Overall: I'd recommend this without hesitation to any woman I knew who wanted to get into shape. It's good.

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