Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pennsy's Bookshelf: The New Rules of Lifting

I read too much. Too many books and not enough doing. At this moment, when I ought to be at the gym for my Saturday morning sweat-fest, I am instead writing about reading.

My brain has always been my favorite muscle and it shows, but it is always easier for my body to follow when I understand what I am asking it to do. So here's a book I got myself as a birthday present, and the authors are teaching me a lot.

The New Rules of Lifting is organized around two lists. One is the list of twenty rules based on common sense and a good humor. The last is "If it's not fun, you're doing something wrong." The narrative voice of New Rules... belongs to Lou Schuler who has a rare combination of expertise, humility, and humor about himself that keeps the text light and effective.

The other important list - the one that provides the spine for the functional part of the book is this one:

  • Squat
  • Bend
  • Lunge
  • Twist
  • Push
  • Pull
These are the basis for all human movement. They are also the basis of  the programs designed by Alwyn Cosgrove. They are simple routines, designed to be achievable in an hour. The way they are designed applies several principles.
  • Periodization - stick with a good program for an extended time, then switch when your body starts to adapt to it.
  • Variety - don't repeat a workout. Try to lift a little heavier, a little faster, a little more powerfully each time you go to the gym.
  • Compound movement - do a full body workout every time. 
  • Using muscles the way they were designed to be used - There aren't a lot of situations where you will be required to stand still and bend your elbow under a heavy load the way you do with arm curls. On the other hand, bending over and picking up heavy stuff is a daily part of life. Strengthen your arms as part of a bigger movement like a deadlift or a clean and press (honey, can you pick this up and put it on the top shelf for me?)
  • Intensity - Work hard and fast. Because the workouts are so simple and so short, loafing through them is a waste of time. Rest between sets is built in, but as Schuler points out, Work = Strength + Speed. I've been watching olympic lifters lately and they exemplify this principle as much as anyone. It isn't just that they move amazing amounts of iron off the floor - it's that they move it so fast that they can hop underneath and push it up over their heads. 
I am going to try the Fat Loss program. There's also one for strength and one for hypertrophy (that's muscle growth.) It looks hard, which I like. It also lasts a long time, also a plus. I have been experimenting and learning, but now I want to get a little more focus into my training. There's a whole year's worth of workouts. I don't know if my attention span can handle that kind of discipline, but if it makes me pretty, that may be motivation enough.

There's also a version for women whose subtitle is Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess. I have not read that one, since that isn't really the look I'm after, but I would be surprised if it doesn't share many of the qualities of the one I have. 

The authors don't speak very highly of running. I find this to be pretty common among resistance advocates. Runners tend to speak ill of the weight room too. Typically, I have managed to delight in two antagonistic activities. Since I haven't really found a guru who says much about combining them - except for old Arnold Schwarzenegger who used to run a lot while competing - I'm going to have to find my own way to reconcile them.

And now, off to the gym. Seriously.


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