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 7, 2011

Book Review: You Are Your Own Gym

You Are Your Own Gym is a book of, you guessed it, minimal or no-equipment exercises tied together into a serious of progressively difficult versions and routines. The central conceit of the book is that you don't need any equipment to work out. In fact, that any external equipment is ineffective and bad. Even squat racks - the rack you use to load and hold the barbell for back squats - get a bum rap in here.

The book has more than it's fair share of hyperbolic promises, too. For example:

"I've visited hundreds of gyms in my career. And the proof is in the pudding. I look at the people there. Then I look at my SpecOps troops. The difference is night and day. And you can achieve this difference with an amazingly small sacrifice of your time. I mean, who cannot really find the time or willpower to workout for 20-30 minutes, four or five times a week, and completely change their life?"

So . . . if you work hard at these routines, you'll be as good as SpecOps troops? A random selection of people at a local gym compared to a volunteer group of young males, ruthlessly pushed and selected down for the very toughest both mentally and physically - and the different is bodyweight exercises vs. machines and free weights? Swap in "YMCA pick-up basketball games" for "gyms" and "my NBA All-Stars" for "my SpecOps troops." I bet that if you did indeed swap them, the SpecOps troops would thrive in the gym and the people at the gym would wash out extremely quickly from SpecOps selection. That kind of hyperbolic statement hurts the book.

In my opinion, it's perfectly fine to say that other methods work but not as well for the target population, or that other methods work but these methods are simpler, cheaper, and require less gear. It's another to say the other methods don't work, and hold up examples of people who used those other methods (Bruce Lee and Herschel Walker for example) along with bodyweight as examples of why your method alone works. It's still another to say dumbbells and "weights" are bad, but that using weighted vests, telephone books, jugs of water, pullup bars, and other forms of external resistance and equipment are good. What is a pair of 8-pound jugs except a DIY pair of 8-pound dumbbells, really? I've dragged a custom-made sled and dragged a tire loaded with young kids . . . I bet my muscles couldn't tell the difference.

All of that aside, the actual exercises in the book are great. They are well-illustrated, the explanations make sense, and the progressions are logical and easy enough to follow. Examples are starting at wall pushups and eventually reaching planche pushups, or working up to pistol squats and flying lunges from basic squats and static lunges. An excellent mix of isometric exercises, explosive exercises, and plain max-effort strength work is included.

The routines are broken up into four levels. They start out pretty basic but get more and more advanced very rapidly. Coupled with the variety of exercises it should be pretty easy to find a routine you could do and which matches your goals.

Content: 4 out of 5. Good exercise selection, excellent progressions, nice workout routines. The explanations are all well done.
Presentation: 2 out of 5. Hyperbolic claims everywhere, lots of necessary page flipping, self-contradicting advice (weights are bad, heavy books for resistance are not) all pull this rating down. The photos are attractive and appropriate.

Overall: It's not a pure bible of bodyweight exercises, although that would be a nice book to have. The inflated claims drag it down, but if you want to learn more bodyweight exercises, this is a useful start. As a resource, it's useful, but I wouldn't want a new lifter to think that barbells are bad because SpecOps troops don't carry them into the field with their kit.

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