on August 1, 2008
New Rules of Lifting for Men was quite interesting, but I didn't do anything with it as it was so targeted at men. But I eagerly bought this new women's version, which is similar in some ways but overall is quite different and definitely targeted for women. I enjoyed Lou Schuler's witty writing style and offbeat humor, which made the information easier to digest and less dry. I read this entire book carefully front to back (important to do!!) and decided to implement co-writer Alwyn Cosgrove's workouts exactly as written and stick with it. One caveat: I think this book and its workouts is NOT for total beginners. In a way, you have to "arrive" at this book and the ideas it presents. I think if you were a newcomer to weight training you'd need some help with the exercises and proper form (particularly the squats and deadlifts, which must be done correctly to avoid injury). As a newcomer you would not have the frame of reference to appreciate the total brilliance of the workouts.
I've worked out and tried many different programs in the last 10 years. I admit to having a tendency to "over-do" my workouts, my approach was always "more must be better", and consequently I always burned out on the programs and the 2-hour workouts I'd end up doing. Despite my hard work, I never got the results I wanted. Coming into this book, I knew a lot of weight routines and was familiar with proper weightlifting form. At first glance I thought the routines didn't look hard or detailed enough, that there were too few exercises! But I was WRONG! Despite the apparent simplicity of the workouts, they are not easy or fluffy. Rather, they are quite substantial because they are not isolation exercises. Every exercise works multiple muscles at one time. Fewer exercises but more muscles worked in a natural way. (Think of tripceps kickbacks with dumbbells: This is not a movement you'd ever do in real life. Plus, it's not great for your elbows!!).
This book argues that to build muscle, gain strength and lose fat, you need to concentrate on multi-joint type exercises (i.e. squats, deadlifts, pushups, step-ups etc.) and not waste time with a multitude of individual isolation type exercises (i.e. bicep curls, tricep kickbacks and pushdowns, etc.), Alwyn Cosgrove's exercises are designed for practicality in real life utility. Having the strength to lift heavy things is a reality....hence the value of squats. On the other hand, laying back at an angle on a leg press machine and pressing weights outwards and upwards is not something we would do in real life. He stresses fewer reps with increasingly heavier weights. Strength over endurance. The reasoning behind each exercise is explained, and you need to be willing to do the background reading in this book so you can absorb the logic of the workouts and their design and sequencing. Coming into this book with my previous weightlifting experience, faulty though it was, this program immediately made a whole lot of sense as a truly different approach. I knew all my previous efforts hadn't paid off to my satisfaction, so I was finally ready to try this new approach: Stick mostly to big muscle exercises, no isolation exercises at all, fewer reps, lifting progressively heavier (no "Barbie weights!!"), and LIMITED exercises per workout (usually just 5 exercises), and short but high intensity interval cardio if any at all. (Cardio is not emphasized here). Each workout takes about 30 minutes, ideally done 3 days a week (although two workouts can suffice, but 3 is ideal) requiring at least a day between weight workouts (I generally did Mon-Wed-Fri). I have resisted my previous tendency to "do more", so I've done the workouts strictly as written and haven't added anything additional. I wanted to see what results I would get with the program "as written." And surprise....I've got better, more defined biceps doing pushups, squats and deadlifts (but not a single bicep curl), my quads, glutes and hamstrings are rock hard and strong without any of the hamstring curls, leg extensions, etc. The squats, deadlifts, step-ups, pushups and a few other things have worked wonders in just 4 weeks. In this short time I'm stronger and more defined than I've ever been. I'm really quite amazed.
The program is divided into a number of levels (varying weeks of length per level), with each level having 2 alternating workouts (so you never do the same workout twice in a row--important to prevent plateaus). If you do all the levels and workouts, the whole thing would take about 6 months to finish. --> This is NOT a quick fix, it's steady strength development done realistically over a reasonable time. It requires commitment and a solid determination to follow the program as presented (if you "tweak" it, you're not doing the program). After finishing the program you could then repeat it to hold on to your progress level.
I decided to wait until I was adequately into the program to review it. Now after about 4 weeks, here's my initial opinion: I can already tell this is the BEST program I've ever embarked upon and I'm seeing results already on a level which I never reached previously.....not even after 12 weeks of Body for Life! I've got stronger, more defined biceps than ever before without doing a single bicep curl! Back of the arm flab is gone! Quads are firm without a single leg extension! Squats and Deadlifts are amazing, and those two alone target an incredible number of muscles all at once. My mid section fat is rapidly diminishing, despite a pretty modest amount of ab work (so far in Level 1, only modest reps (2 sets of 15 reps on two stability ball exercises divided between two different workouts: jackknives in one workout, and ball crunches in the other workout, that's it for Level 1). No endless ab work here! After all, most of the OTHER exercises are also working your abs!
I'm incredibly impressed with this program. I can say it is working better for me than the multitiude of other programs I've previously tried in the last 10 years. And I work out far less, usually 3 weight workouts a week (occasionally only 2), with 20 to 30 minute interval cardio (elliptical) usually done after weight workouts or sometimes an interval aerobic workout on days I don't do weights. The max I go to the gym in any week is 4 times. The structure of the program has allowed me to stay very positive and enthusiastic about the program. I really like the full body nature of the workouts (I previously had done upper vs. lower body days), It's nice to have alternating workouts.....not so boring. I like the challenge of gradually increasing the weight on the various exercises. (Note: on this program it's important to keep a record of all workouts). This a program you can sustain forever because it doesn't burn you out mentally or physically--importantly, you are not overexercising to get results. The program can actually be fit into your life quite nicely. I look forward to the workouts! I feel great afterwards!
The book has what appears to be a good nutrition section, although I don't follow it because I have certain dietary restrictions (no gluten grains, for example) that don't fit with the recipes and recommendations. But it looks very solid for most people. I don't consider the nutrition section to be the most important part of the book since at this point in time I've got a very careful nutrition plan that works for me. The nutrition part would be good for someone who has a relatively controlled diet already. It would probably be hard for someone who is a junk food junkie to transition to what is presented here.
Final thoughts about fat loss: This is probably not the book for someone looking to lose 50-100 or more pounds. It's for someone who is probably 30 lbs. or less from goal and who has worked out before, who has a certain level of current fitness, and who is comfortable in the weight room. You need a certain level of independence and self motivation. Having these prerequisites, this book is a wonderful blueprint for getting to your goal, and you will lose that last fat in the process.
The only negative was a tiny bit of vagueness in figuring out the exercise routines. A blank workout sheet is in the book, or you can go to a website and print off a workout sheet, but I didn't like the setup of either of them so I used a spreadsheet program to create my own workout sheets. It took me a bit of time to figure out the Levels/workouts and precisely how they worked (a fully filled out sample would have been nice and would have cleared up this confusion). It's important to record every workout, the weights used, etc. as this is your record of progress. Since you are alternating between two workouts I think it would be difficult to remember what you did/what weights you used previously if you weren't writing it all down. The idea is to consistently challenge yourself with more and more weight (slowly, of course). At the end, it will be nice to see a record of how you got there!
If you are a relative newbie to exercise and are someone who needs to get your diet under control, doing Body for Life would be a very good way to get your diet under control and learn weightlifting basics. After that you might be ready for this program.