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.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review: Beat the Gym



by Tom Holland
Published 2011
308 pages
$19.99

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.

Rating:
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.

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