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, April 4, 2011

Book Review: Bring It!

Tony Horton, if you don't know already, is the creator of P90X. Bring It! is basically a book form version of a very P90X-like program, mixing dynamic warmups, cardio, circuit weight training, and yoga along with dietary advice into a fat loss program.

The introduction to the book is your standard fare for these types of books - why should you exercise, where are you now, the "I've been there too and now look at me" stories, testimonials, and so on. The writing is fairly light-hearted, and sprinkled with dumb jokes about dodgeball and exercise in general. It's fine, and although I didn't find the jokes that clever it does keep the tone light and make for easy-to-read text. Tony Horton clearly likes to ski, because every chapter (at least it seems like every chapter) there is some skiing story to illustrate his point. This does help keep the tone conversational even as he explains difficult concepts like periodization. The introduction also serves to break up readers into one of three levels - beginners, strivers, and warriors. Basically, new to exercise, not new but not in great shape, and folks already pretty fit.

The next part of the book involves something uncommon in fat loss and workout manuals - assessments. Tests like a resting heart rate test, a step up heart rate test, waist-to-hip ratio, flexibility, and strength tests cover a wide range of fitness assessments. You are expected to do all of them, to both establish a baseline for comparison and to tell you which workout routines to use.

That's pretty much part I, except for the inevitable (but well-written) motivational chapter.

Part II are the workouts - for the Beginners, Strivers, and Warriors. Each starts with a general warmup (walking and jogging and running in place), specific warmups, and then circuit training followed by a cooldown. The circuits are a mix of full-body and isolation moves, usually alternating so you effectively get some rest between, say, shoulder presses and squats by doing some biceps curls and triceps presses. There are generally two circuits, I and II, and you do I twice with a short rest and then II once through. Rep ranges are in the 15-20 range generally, so you're largely aiming at strength-endurance with short rest. It isn't made clear exactly why, but there is little aimed at maximal strength - this is very much a fat loss routine.

The workout schedule is 6 days a week - cardio, resistance training, and yoga spread out across every day except Sunday. Even Sunday is slotted for active rest - playing sports, some extra light yoga, etc.

The advice is pretty good - you maybe a Striver, for example, but if you've never done yoga you are advised to mix-and-match by doing the Beginner yoga until you get used to it.

Part III is the exercises. The exercises are generally good, although you get a mixed bag of isolation moves and compound exercises along with kickboxing, yoga, bodyweight calisthenics, and gymnastics moves. They aren't broken up by difficulty, so it's a little tough to figure out what to swap out if something is easy or too difficult for you to do despite otherwise qualifying for the level that features it. They are organized well enough that you will have no trouble finding the exercises as you flip through it to follow a workout. Some of the exercises are a bit iffy for de-trained types - I wouldn't try to coach someone through these in a hands-on one-on-one training situation. But overall, it's done well.

Bonus points to Tony Horton for featuring himself - his 50-something year old self - doing most of the moves. He looks good and the exercise form description matches the picture, so visual learners aren't getting advice different from those reading the text and vice-versa.

The diet section is next. It's a bit more on the cleanse-and-purify end of the scale, advocating dropping all caffeine, alchohol, meat, gluten, and sugar from your consumption. The diet is generally good - lean protein, carbs from whole food sources - fruits and veggies, not cereals for the most part, and a healthy mix of fats. Supplementation is covered as well. There isn't anything objectionable here, and no wild claims of magical success.

Content: 4 out of 5. The exercises are reasonable safe and effective, and the diet and exercise details and explanations are on target.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. The pictures are attractive and clear, and follow the text. The workout writeups are easy to follow, and the writing is clear and neither too technical nor did he dumb it down excessively.

Overall: Generally, I mentally classify workout books as "I'd be happy to have friends do this," "I'd be okay with friends doing this," and "Don't do this." This one is firmly in the middle - there isn't anything glaringly wrong with it, but the 5-6 days a week of working out at such high reps, with some often very technically demanding exercises, seems a bit much. I'm sure if you stick with it, it will work, but consistency and compliance are big concerns for me. That said, if you can handle the demands, you almost can't help but get results.

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