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Notes from a newbie
on January 27, 2007
I'm a fifty year-old guy who's long been more into cardio workouts than weights. Sure, I might do a half-hearted circuit on machines after jumping off a treadmill, but like many folks, I thought cardio workouts were tantamount to "real" exercise. Then I happened upon this book. It struck a chord with me, and I decided that free-weight training was in my future.
One day, I bravely picked up an empty Olympic bar and embarked on the first exercise of Schuler and Cosgrove's "Break-in" program: the squat. "Fifteen reps with 45 pounds," I told myself, "I can do this." However, I stopped at twelve reps. I stopped at twelve reps because I really wanted to avoid forever being tagged as the guy who collapsed in the power cage with forty-five measly pounds atop his shoulders. I forgot all about the prescribed one-minute resting period between sets, and simply waited for my legs to quit shaking. This took significantly longer than one minute. A profound realization overtook me: I was a wimp--a six-four, two hundred and forty pound wimp. At that moment, I decided that I'd spent decades of my life ignorant of what constituted "real" exercise.
The upper-body exercises went better. The real challenge, at that point, was walking from station to station. If the gym had offered me a wheelchair to move between exercises, I would have humbly taken them up on it.
The next morning, I felt sore, although I told myself that it wasn't so bad. Then came the second morning. I got out of bed, and for a moment, I considered asking my wife to call 9-1-1. My upper legs felt as if someone had taken a meat tenderizer to them. For about the next week, my lower body reminded me that I might have bitten off more than I could chew.
It took me two weeks to gather the courage to embark upon the Break-in program again. (I felt torn between that and self-flagellation.) The second time around, things began on a little better note. I still couldn't get through a full two sets, but I was no longer moving between stations at tortoise speed.
I'm now finishing the four-week Break-in program. I'm still not using much weight for the squats, but I've graduated from the empty bar, and I'm completing all of the reps. Instead of staggering out of the gym trying not to vomit, I'm doing Cosgroves's "Afterburn" program on cardio machines to top off my workout. I'm glad I've stuck with it, especially when I run up hills and notice that my heart rate is lower than before I began the program. It never occurred to me that free-weight training would benefit my cardio activities.
Of course, as a newbie to free-weight training, I can't offer a valid comparison between the NROL programs and others. However, I like the idea that the Break-in program uses higher reps with lower weights. I think the chance of connective tissue injury is lessened compared to the "standard" three sets of eight to twelve reps, and I think it's a much safer way to learn what's involved in working your muscles to exhaustion.
My lack of experience notwithstanding, I think this is a great book for those who want to break into free-weight training, with a caveat or two. Looking back, I wish I'd started my program with a couple of weeks of body weight exercises. I had a nagging feeling that I was running before I could walk when I began the program, a feeling confirmed by an article I later found on Alwyn Cosgrove's website. He wrote, " . . . the only reason to ever use external load (i.e. weights) is because your bodyweight is not enough resistance. Yet most guys are making exercises harder by adding external load, when they aren't capable of handling their bodyweight in the same exercise. I'm constantly amazed by how many people I meet who can bench press whatever pounds of weight, but are unable to perform 10 correct push ups (typically due to a lack of core strength and synergistic muscle stability). As far as I'm concerned - unless you can do an easy twenty push ups, you have no business getting under a bar for bench pressing. In my training facility everyone begins with bodyweight exercises. You have to earn the right to lift weights in my facility." In another article, Cosgrove states that a lifter shouldn't consider doing squats with a barbell until he or she can do a set of single-leg squats with body weight. If I'd discovered that advice in time, it might have saved me from a week of moving around like a hobbled, worn-out old gelding.
Also, rank beginners such as I might consider using the services of a personal trainer when learning the squat and deadlift, or at least ask the advice of an experienced lifter. Although I'm new to this free-weight game, I'm convinced that the squat and deadlift are safe for most folks IF correct form is used. That's a big "if," however. In my case, I found the deadlift to be counterintuitive, and I had to use a mental checklist of sorts to avoid slipping into bad form.
So, I heartily recommend this book, given those qualifications. Schuler has a relaxed writing style I found effective and enjoyable, and Alwyn Cosgrove appears to be one of the most qualified and respected trainers out there. I've lost 11 pounds in the last month, with only minor changes in diet. That's quite heartening: at fifty, I've found cardio workouts are no longer the magic bullet for weight loss that they were in younger years.
And, that's only with the Break-in program. Next up is Cosgrove's Fat Loss program. Let me at `em!