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 21, 2011

Book Review: The New Rules of Conditioning for Abs

The New Rules of Lifting For Abs is the latest in the New Rules of Lifting series of books by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove.

Let's get the title out of the way - yeah, it's about the abs. For serious lifters, this makes the book sound very trendy and fluffy. Deadlifts? Getting strong in pullups? Overall health and fitness? Nah, screw that, I just want teh abz for my internet self-shot for my social media profile. But this is not true. It's more like training from the core out, with "core" being broadly defined as everything that contributes to stabilizing the torso. New Rule #5 is "The core includes all the muscles that attach to your hips, pelvis, and lower back." Now we are talking! Spinal muscles, abs, the lats - it's a very broad but useful definition of core. No fluff for appearance here. The goal is to get your stronger in the core and then, yeah, see the abs at the end, not see the abs at all costs. So don't let that line turn you off. If you wants teh abz, this will help you get there. If you couldn't care less about your abs, you'll still benefit from the core strength and stability built into every training session.

The book draws heavily on Dr. McGill's work, so you know it's fact-based and tested. Not surprisingly if you know Dr. McGill's work is that the book shies away from loaded spinal flexion, or high-rep spinal flexion. AKA weighted situps, crunches, and twists. But it does make a very important exception that is dear to my heart - MMA fighters. MMA fighters specifically need to train spinal flexion against a load. The book mentions clinching and takedowns from the clinch, but I'd also mention that many BJJ, catch wrestling, and general grappling movements require you to be able to flex very strongly against an opponent's resistance. The general population doesn't need this, and there is evidence MMA fighters are trading long-term risks against sports-specific needs. But it is very nice to see that caveat instead of the usual "everyone must do this" vs. "everyone, don't do this" approach of most books.

So it's just crunches. But what does the book include?

First, it includes a lot of core exercises. They are progressive, meaning you go from static stability (holding a good core position) to dynamic stability (holding a good core position while moving parts of the body) to integrated stability (holding a good core position while moving the whole body). In specific terms, think "plank," then "Pallof press," then "Turkish get-up."

The workouts are great. They are focused primarily on core strength and building strength, unlike the varied workouts of the earlier NROL books. Each individual workout has:

- a dynamic warmup element
- core exercises
- full-body exercises
- metabolic exercises (aka cardio, energy systems work, finishers, etc.)

The sets and reps undulate, meaning you don't just do 5 sets of 5 or 3 sets of 10 or something of that sort, but switch around between high, medium, and lower rep days to build strength in a variety of ways.
There is also a strength-focused option, for people who want to add even more heavy lifting to focus on getting stronger in the big lifts. The extra volume isn't excessive, and because they are centered on lifts like front squats, it's certain not fluff or a throw-away gift to folks who need more raw strength.

The diet section is also excellent. It focuses on whole foods, good eating habits, and minimizing the damage from convenience foods. Since seeing your abs is more the result of diet than of exercise, this section is pretty much required for a book on abs. The diet advice is broken up into four levels. Each level gets more and more exacting, from "get some basic stuff right" all the way to precise nutrition approaches. It's a nice progression, and it makes for diet advice that isn't either too much too soon for folks with a terrible diet nor too little for folks already weighing and measuring their food and cycling their calories and carbohydrates around their workout schedule.

The writing style of the book echoes the one you'll see in the other NROL books and books like the All-Pro Diet. Lou Schuler is the everyman, and Alwyn is the off-camera expert telling him what will work and what won't. It works pretty well, although after reading so many books written or co-written by him it's hard to picture Lou Schuler as the "everyman" - he obviously knows his stuff. But the approach is popular and probably is for a reason. It makes it easy to address common sense and urban legends and FAQs in-line with the explanation, without undermining the main message.

The organization of the book makes following the workouts tough. I tried to do one, and I find I was flipping back and forth, back and forth, over and over. This makes a joke of the prescribed rest periods - 60 seconds quickly stretches into 5 minutes as you try to see what's the next exercise and double-check how to do it.

One nice bonus? The book has a list of all of the "New Rules" from the whole series. Great!

Content: 5 out of 5. Excellent information overall, especially with regards to exercise progressions.
Presenation: 4 out of 5. Very attractive, easy to read, excellent workout writeups and easy-to-understand pictures. Marred only by requiring a lot of flipping to actual try the workouts.

Overall: Apart from the need for flipping pages a lot to get going, and the need to show a lot of judgment selecting exercise variations, it's great. The emphasis on quality of movement and abdominal strength in all areas (not just ab appearance) also makes it a great way to start or re-start your workout. Even if you just want more ab exercises in the no-crunches vein, it's a great resource. Don't let the buzzword "abs" scare you off from this one. Highly recommended.

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