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, May 2, 2011

Book Review: Real Men Do Yoga

I first heard about this book over on this blog thanks to Mike Robertson's link to the post. So I decided to check it out from the library, and then check it out. Ironically, Mike Robertson had just posted a blog post saying yoga was overrated (while outlining both the good and bad of it), so make of this what you will. Perhaps I'm just being contrarian by reviewing this.

Real Men Do Yoga
by John Capouya
Published 2003
195 pages

This book is predicated on two ifs - if you are a man (preferably, a guy - think T-Nation here) and if you are intrigued by yoga but are concerned it's for "girls." If those two things are true, this book might just be for you. You are certainly in the target demographic.

The tone of the book fits this exactly - mentions of hot yoga girls, being humbled by the poses, knowing asides about getting your cardio from sex and sports instead of faster yoga styles, etc. But there is probably a reason for this. Yoga gets slammed for, well, not being weight training - and slammed hard - in most articles that deign to mention it at all on weight training sites. Gymnastics doesn't get so much hate, despite being quite similar (yoga handstand vs. handstand?), mobility drills are lauded as a great warmup (but yoga is bad), etc. There are exceptions, but they aren't that common and keep the "yoga is sometimes good despite sucking" theme up. So that explains the style of writing. It's not badly done here, though, and it makes a good case for why yoga is for you, even if - especially if - you also weight train and want to continue with both. It wholly avoids the typical "this is better than that" false dichotomy you'll find books espousing alternate training techniques.

Tone and audience aside, what's in the book?

The book takes a piece-by-piece approach to the body and to yoga. First it outlines basic moves to flex the upper body and spine (that's thoracic spine, aka t-spine or upper back, and lumber spine, aka l-spine and lower back). Next, it takes you through a series of poses to do the same to your hips and legs - especially the former. Then it's time for balance.

The poses are a mix of the pretty basic (cobra, downward dog) to the more advanced (crow, pigeon, eagle). They are presented in a seemingly logical order, though - each pose is certainly harder than the previous one, and the later chapters assemble them in a more difficult fashion than the earlier chapters.

The book gets bonus points for emphasizing functional abs over visible six-pack abs, although it does somewhat falsely put out the idea that not everyone could get them. Everyone probably could, if they really wanted to exercise and diet hard to get them. But the discussion is purely centered on the value of a midsection strong in all directions, both at generating and resisting movement.

Further chapters in the book go into suggested sport-by-sport workouts, longer yoga routines, and how to avoid (and deal with!) injuries when doing yoga. That's right, injuries - something you don't find in a lot of yoga book discussions. The book frankly admits you can get hurt, how to avoid getting pushed too far by overzealous instructors or your own ego, and how to cope if you do.

There are also chapters on meditation and, this book being aimed squarely at guys, sex. It's only a few pages but it's a guide to using yoga to improve your sex life. It reminds me a bit of Built For Show in that it frankly admits you want to get in shape to meet women and impress them once you do.

The athletes who do yoga are interesting, but because of the date, mostly retired. It's nice that Sean Burke did yoga, but he's retired from the NHL now. Only a few athletes are still playing, so it's getting more and more dated as the days go by.

Some of the information on weight training is inaccurate, or at least misleading. For example, the book says "Weight-training actually tears muscles, creating scar tissue (that's what forms the visible bulk)." That's not true. "Tears muscles" may be accurate - microscopic muscle tears in the muscles, which then heal stronger, is one way muscles may get stronger (there are multiple theories on this). But the "visible bulk" of muscles is hypertrophy - muscle fibers increasing in size, and/or being surrounded by increased supporting materials. It's not scarring; scar tissue is weak and inflexible, muscles may not be ideally flexible but they aren't weak, and can in indeed move. Further information on the role of lactic acid is outdated - it's increasingly being viewed as a fuel, not a downside of training, for example. Yoga is also presented as integrative, which is true - it's always some form of compound exercise (in other words, it involves multiple joints). But the contrast is with machine exercises, which are designed to be isolative. Little mention is made of free weights or bodyweight exercises, except to contrast them to yoga moves in a way that makes them seem inferior (even when nearly identical, such as pushups with yoga-style pushups).

Content: 4 out of 5. The yoga information is excellent, but it could have used the original names for the poses more clearly (so you could use other references), and it really would benefit from more pictures, not just a final post picture. The non-yoga information is sometimes wrong, or at least misleading, and that costs a lot of points.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Very easy to read, and while it lacks a bit in attractiveness of the typeface, it's not hard on the eyes. The pictures are clear and the content is well-organized.

Overall: If you are a guy, and have never done yoga, or if you haven't in a long time, this book might be for you. It's got a good starting set of poses and routines, makes a good case for trying them out, and doesn't dumb it down excessively even as it makes it easier. Recommended for guys who meet the ifs, otherwise another yoga book might be for you.

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1 comment:

  1. Nice review. Do you know about these yoga books?


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