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.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Book Review: Sly Moves

Celebrity workouts are generally bad workouts. They aren't set for your goals, but those of the celebrity...and maybe not that celebrity either. They're certainly ghost-written or co-authored with the actual person who made the workout. They generally have little to offer to anyone as anything except entertainment value.

Celebrity workout books are generally worse than that.

Sly Moves is just awful.

It's 224 pages, list price $24.95...and has it for under $8. It's not worth that.

The book opens with some anecdotes about how hard it was for Stallone to get in shape for his various movies - the Rocky series, Cliffhanger, Rambo, etc. It's conversational and interesting, but it's only the introduction.

Next are the exercises. Some exercises are normal and useful - wrist rolling, pushups, bench presses, pullups and pulldowns. Some are odd but potentially useful - isometric hangs from pullup bars. Some are just dangerous - broomstick rotations done with a lower spine twist and smith machine half-squats for example - or just useless - leg extensions, calf raises, wrist curls. Each exercise comes with one or two pictures of the technique, usually one, plus a very short description of how to do it. These are sometimes sufficient, sometimes not, sometimes oddly modified - a chinup ends, for example, when you are eye-to-eye with the bar. A chinup that ends before you chin is up over the bar? Each also comes with a proscribed rep range, which with few exceptions is 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps. That's fine for a beginner, although not always optimal, and it never changes.

One red flag? A section called "To Squat or not to squat?" on pg 96. The same page as Smith Machine Half-Squats. "I recommend you only do controlled half-squats when first starting out." Then it goes on to say that he's squatting a lot and wrecked his knees. "You can get wonderful results doing leg exercises that are not so difficult." Right, squats are bad for your knees and they don't do anything that easier exercises don't. The painful irony here is that Smith Machine Half-Squats put the knees into a dangerous position, but barbell back squats do not.

The workouts for those exercises are lumped into Beginner and Advanced. There is also a "Superset" workout, where the same exercises are paired together. Guidance on raising weights, or even setting them, is sparse. Same with rest times. The book does recommend you get advice from an experienced friend or a trainer. But then why the book? This is pretty basic stuff that's missing. It's not even made clear when you progress from beginner to advanced, or when it makes sense to change workouts.

Next up is a Sly Moves for women section - slightly different exercises and workouts. The book gets points for saying the main workout will work for men and women, but then it goes on to give women a swiss ball-and-tiny-dumbbells workout. It's workable but both workouts are heavy on isolation exercises and skimp on anything multi-joint except pullups and bench presses and lunges. Those three alone would make a better workout than any of the ones suggested in the book.

The diet advice is equally bad. It's pretty much eat what you want, but not too much of it. Diets don't work, so don't go on a diet - okay, that makes sense, but it never presents other diets as a change of lifestyle. They're just quick-fixes that fail. Oh, and you'll always be heavy, and that's not bad, because trim and lean people look emaciated and starved. It contains judgments of other diets - Atkins, South Beach, Zone, low-carb in general, and others like it - based solely on spurious logic. It takes apart Atkins by calling the creator "Dr. Fatkins." It disposes of Barry Sear's The Zone by basing its criticism on the "palm-sized portion" advice it gives for learning to eyeball if palm size portions was the basis of the diet. It's trying to be conversational and fun, I think, but it's just inaccurate.

It closes with the usual motivation section. It's nothing new, and not very motivational.

Substance: 1 of 5. A mediocre exercise routine with vague advice on execution, poor diet advice, and spurious justification for its bad information.
Presentation: 3 of 5. Readable, and with good photographs, but illustrations of exercise technique don't make it clear what the hell you should be doing. Pretty, but useless.

Don't get me wrong about Sly - I enjoy his movies. I loved Rocky. I liked Cop Land - he acts with Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta and doesn't seem out of place. I admire his grit in sticking to his guns with his Rocky script, refusing to sell it and starring in it himself. I think he's fine. It's just this book that's awful and useless.

Bottom line: If someone told me they were choosing between doing Sly Moves and sitting on the couch, I'd be sorely tempted to tell them to stay on the couch.


  1. Frankly, id trust sly, whos been doing this for 50+ years over you.

    1. You're absolutely welcome to do so. I'd check out the book first, though. I would be shocked to find out that he's really doing, or has really done, what is in the book.

  2. I picked up his book in my mid-fifties, and for me, it works. No,this book is not designed to get you into competitive body-building, but it will give Joe Normal a good, workable program to get into shape, tone up and eat right. It's designed for normal people who work full-time jobs and have not a lot of time for exercise, but it does give direction for your exercise program and for eating correctly. It works for me.

    1. I'm glad it worked for you, my low opinion of the book notwithstanding!

  3. Replies
    1. No, I'm really not. I'm a fan of his movies, but this book, sorry, it just isn't anything I'd recommend to anyone.


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