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.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Book Review: Beat the Gym
by Tom Holland
This book is aimed at recreational lifters. In concept, it's a good idea - a book that'll guide you around a gym, from classes to weight room, from contract to quitting.
Generally, the book's section on contracts, negotiations, and dealing with the free personal training session and it's hard sell tactics are excellent. He's absolutely right about checking out the whole gym, using the facilities you intend to use. His advice on negotiating seems spot-on, too - clearly he's been on both sides of the counter, selling and buying memberships. He's straight up about the fact that a gym generally can't support all of its members actually training; you're not a customer but a consumer to be sold to and then send on your way.
It's the execution of the training portion that's not so good.
For example, the book defines a few terms oddly. Just one example - a "dynamic warmup" is riding on a bike for 5 minutes. That's not the common usage, however, where a "dynamic warmup" is contrasted with stretching and is used to denote mobility drills.
The book also goes into detail on exercises. But generally this detail is just a pair of pictures (start, finish) and a few sentences describing the form. No real coaching cues are included, it's just a basic description. In addition, the book recommended Smith machine squats (which force your body into the machine's motion path, rather than conforming to yours), and all squats stop above parallel.
The book gets some bonus points for recommending people avoid upright rows and behind-the-neck pulldowns, and for adding back extensions and internal/external rotation exercises . . . but minus points for recommending machine leg extensions to avoid knee injury. While leg extensions are useful for injury rehab, and many bodybuilders swear by them for leg development, they are also notorious for putting the knee in a bad position under heavy stress!
The usual "1-4 reps for power, 5-8 for strength, 9-15 for toning" recommendation shows up. Er, toning? It's not well-defined in the text.
The books also emphasizes slow, deliberate reps, with a more bodybuilder-ish approach of time-under-tension than anything else. Not very slow, but not fast, either - which isn't going to help if you stay in that 1-4 reps for power, range. You can't get fast by always going slow.
Plyometrics get a mention, along with a warning that you need a certain base of strength and ability to do them. But no mentions is made of what base you need. So how to you judge if you are ready or not? All you know is you aren't ready when you start . . . maybe . . . and have no idea how to know when you are and how to program them in.
Content: 2 out of 5. Rife with small errors and big errors.
Presentation: 3 out of 5. While the book is well-organized the exercises lack details, the workout lists lack page references and thus require a lot of page flipping, and the illustrations don't communicate particularly well.
Overall: I wanted to like this book. I really did. I'd love to have a book to recommend to gym-going friends and acquaintances. A book I could say "Get this book, listen to that guy, and you'll do fine from walking in the door to the end of your workout." But this book, as close as it comes, has too many errors that keep it from really reaching that point. If you're deciding on a gym membership, though, that section is great - borrow the book, read that section, and then move on as a stronger negotiator . . . and get another book to become a stronger trainee.
I am a professional personal trainer. I train clients at CR Fitness in Wyckoff, NJ.
I am a Certified Personal Trainer from the NSCA.
I am also a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certified nutrition coach.
I am also an athlete myself - I formerly fought amateur MMA and submission wrestling, and I train twice a week in MMA.
I also train under a strength coach - Mike Guadango at Freak Strength. I am skilled at training others, but I thrive best when I have a knowledgeable coach to direct my own training.
About Strength Basics
This blog is a collection of various advice and information about basic strength training. I'm interested in strength and conditioning. The "frequently asked questions" in this area are VERY frequently asked.
This is my attempt to pull together the stuff I keep saying over and over. It's also a place for to put links related to strength and conditioning, and to muse on strength training in general. Further, writing this blog tests what I know. You never really know something until you can demonstrate an ability to explain it to someone else. As I write, I learn what I know and I don't know. In the process, I hope to pass on knowledge to you.
I hope this material is useful to you. Please consider it a springboard to future study. Although I endeavor to be complete and accurate, this is not meant to be the final answer to any subject addressed within the blog. Strength Basics may teach you something, but more than that I hope it makes you curious to learn more!
Always remember to check with your doctor before you begin any kind of strength or exercise program. I'm a professional personal trainer, but I'm not your personal trainer. Use this information at your own risk and with the understanding that not all exercise advice is appropriate for all trainees.