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A Comparison of Three Bodyweight Training Books
on March 15, 2015
I own Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy by Bret Contreras, You are Your Own Gym by Mark Lauren, and Your Body is Your Barbell by BJ Gaddour. This review refers to the Kindle versions of each book. In short, I would recommend buying either the Contreras or Gaddour book; however, I feel the Lauren book is not worth buying unless you are collecting books on the subject. I would actually recommend buying both the Contreras and Gaddour books as they complement each other well. Neither book is perfect, but together they cover the topic very thoroughly.
This review covers the following elements:
Exercises: Number and variety of exercises.
Programming: The sample routines given in the book as well as basic templates for building your own programs.
Progressions: Making a particular exercise easier or more difficult so a person of any level can benefit from the exercise as well as allowing progression in strength and ability.
Educational value: How well the book teaches the reader to understand how the body works and how the exercises work each part of your body.
User friendliness: How easy it is to use the Kindle book.
All three books provide a large variety of exercises, however Contreras is the best here. My problem with the Lauren book is that it is not much more than an encyclopedia of exercises and doesn't do a good job of explaining why you should be doing any particular exercise. Also, he gives many of the exercises goofy, unwieldy names that sometimes don't help you understand what the move actually is. Gaddour only provides major compound movements and skips the core and isolation exercises. On the other hand, Contreras covers exercises for the arms, core, glutes and even the neck. Gaddour and Contreras both cover metabolic training and full-body exercises. Gaddour gets extra credit for an excellent chapter devoted to burpee variations, culminating in the Rolling Pistol Squat (a backward, one-leg burpee). In my opinion, this chapter is worth the price of the book (yes, I like burpees).
The Contreras book is the best in terms of programming. He gives you workout templates and suggestions for what exercises to use. The explanations of each exercise in the book will help you decide what exercises to select. He also provides sample “metabolic” (HIIT and MRT) workouts. The Gaddour and Lauren books only give you set routines to follow without much flexibility. However, the Gaddour book is better because he presents you with various styles of routines, such as for maximum fat loss, maximum strength, and so on. The Lauren book has little variety in the routines.
Gaddour is definitely the big winner here. In fact, I think this is the biggest strength of his book. He gives you eight basic types of exercises. With each exercise, he gives you five levels of difficulty. Within each level he provides three “microregressions” and three “microprogressions” that allow you to fine tune the exercise as appropriate for your skill level. Anyone who's ever engaged in strength training knows how helpful it is to progress in small increments. Contreras also gives examples of progressions and regression, but not with the detail found in the Gaddour book. Lauren is weakest here. To be fair, he does give ideas on how to make an exercise more difficult, just not as well as the other two.
The only area where the Contreras book is lacking in educational value compared to the others is regarding nutrition. Lauren and Gaddour both cover nutrition to some extent, whereas Contreras doesn't mention it. The Gaddour and Lauren books both have chapters devoted to exercise nutrition, the former written by a PhD from Pennsylvania State University.
Contreras' muscle diagrams are outstanding and they really allow the reader to understand how the body works and how the muscles are being used. He breaks it down by primary and secondary muscles worked. I was surprised to learn how many upper-body movements involve the trapezius, for example. Contreras also does a good job explaining training variables such as intensity, density, and periodization. Lauren discusses these topics to a lesser extent.
Lauren is last is this category. The book is laid out poorly. Although the exercises are organized by body part, the Kindle book does not provide links to the separate sections, as in the Gaddour and Contreras books. Lauren has an alphabetic index at the end but, particularly with the odd names he gives the exercises, it's difficult to find exercises for specific body parts. For example, if you want to find three exercises to work your thighs, you will have to go to the non-indexed Exercises section and flip through the pages until you get to what you want. This is a major headache on a Kindle. Contreras and Gaddour both provide extensive hyperlinking to get to where you need to go in the book. Contreras provides links organized by body part and specific exercises – he does the best job here.
Isolation exercises (especially glutes)
Most user-friendly Kindle version
No discussion of nutrition
No specific core exercises
No isolation exercises
Chapter on using household items to workout can be useful
Poor Kindle formatting
No full-body or metabolic training exercises
No discussion of body mechanics
If I had to recommend only one of these books, Contreras would win by a nose, with Gaddour a close second. This was a tough choice as they are both excellent books, but going by the “teach a man to fish” concept I think Contreras does a better job of explaining the topic such that you can design your own workout programs rather than merely following what someone else has shown you. That said, I highly recommend buying both of these books as each complements the other quite well. Combined, they're nearly perfect.
Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the Lauren book since it doesn't offer much beyond the other two books. It's not a bad book, but there are better.