Earlier in the year, I got sick for awhile, which is unusual for me. While recovering, my fitness level slipped somewhat, and I was nursing some minor aches and pains. I gradually began to train again, and slowly returned to form. I’ve finally began to really hit my stride, and along with any effort on my part, a few things really helped with getting this whole thing moving again. One was joining Planet Fitness – it’s really been fun being in a good gym again, even though I still do a fair amount of training at home. Another was focusing on lunges, which don’t look all impressive like squats, but are really excellent, and can be quite challenging. After doing these for over a month, I felt like I was ready to try 1-leg-squats again. The first day trying them again, I did four per leg, way better than before. This week I’m up to five per leg on my “heavy” day. Admittedly I got a bit sore doing them – that’s not a wimpy exercise – but I’m progressing and feeling much stronger.
Finally, I read You Are Your Own Gym, by Mark Lauren. Wow. Really good. When you have a background as a trainer, sometimes you’re privy to information that the public doesn’t readily see. Because of that, it’s easy to become jaded when you see every goofy fitness trend that comes along. You also don’t get surprised that much. However, this book really was a breath of fresh air. Lauren is highly creative, and has invented quite a few of the exercises himself. As the title would imply, the focus of the book is bodyweight exercise, which requires little or no equipment. Many people think that exercise has to be a substantial investment, and worry that they’ll have to join an expensive gym (and if you’re in a large city, “expensive gym” is a redundant phrase!), or will need to buy costly equipment. This book shows you that neither of those suppositions are true. And even if you love your gym and like to buy cool equipment, this book could provide you with a great supplement of ideas.
Lauren’s military special-ops background makes for some interesting digressions and anecdotes. Fitness reading can be pretty dry, so I enjoyed this. He had the good sense to hire a co-author, and I’m sure this helped with readability. Fitness books don’t tend to be very stellar examples of writing – these are trainers, not literary people. You can learn lots from even poorly edited books, but it’s a better read if the material is actually, well, readable. There is one funny little thing that pretty much every exercise book does, even this one. When you exercise, you plan and do a “workout”. But this sentence is bad English: “I am going to workout today”. No, you are going to “work out” today. I know, you didn’t even notice. Yes, what you’re planning is a “workout”. That’s a thing, a noun. Since people don’t even read or know how to spell these days, it’s a losing battle, I know. So disregard that, and go work out! 🙂
One favorite technique of fitness writers, especially self-published ones, is mind-numbing repetition of material. You can almost hear them berating you as you read. I think it’s a combination of not having enough material to flesh out a book, and also just the habit of testosterone-fueled nagging. Stuart McRobert’s stuff is like that. Good material, but he clearly could use an editor. You also see sentences that simply don’t make sense at all. This could actually be dangerous if you’re trying to figure out how to do an exercise, and you misunderstand the instructions, or end up doing things like accidentally increasing the number of reps by a factor of ten. With a training background, I can read between the lines, but a newbie could be led astray.
Pavel, another popular exercise author, has an especially irritating habit – he pimps his other books and DVD’s over and over again, page after page, and worst of all, his books are pretty light on actual content. He pretty clearly wants to stretch out his material so that you are induced to buy more products. It’s peculiar to see that type of hard-sell these days – it’s so out-of-date. I guess he thinks we’re too stupid to find more of his books if we’re interested, maybe on a back page like in a normal book. I actually have enjoyed and used some material in his books, but I won’t buy any more. Still, he appears to be doing fine – his minions praise him without question, even after his claimed credentials were called into question. That’s the key to success, I suppose – attaining unquestioning loyalty. Steve Jobs has achieved that. In any case, Mark’s book doesn’t bother with the heavy pimp hand – it’s packed with ideas, with nothing held back.
Back to the matter at hand. One strength of this strength book is that he’ll show ways to make even very normal exercises have several levels of difficulty, by changing angles, utilizing pauses, and other cool tactics. He suggests combining exercises into your own program, or you can follow detailed sample workouts if you’re not feeling creative.
There are a couple safety issues I’ll ding him on – for the Box Jump, there’s a photo of someone jumping up onto a pile of 3 stacked boxes. Yes, it could be fine, but I think at least a small warning is warranted. Apart from easily busting your ass (and other body parts) doing these with unstable boxes, you could easily break up some nearby furniture. There’s another exercise, the Let Me In, which could very easily break the knobs off your door, especially in an old-ish house like mine. Indeed, many exercises here are definitely for the advanced, and shouldn’t be tried lightly, like the handstands I had fun trying out at the gym yesterday. But with a little sensible caution, there are plenty of exercises safe enough for the complete beginner.
Another thing I like about the book is that it touches upon all aspects of fitness. The natural tendency of a fitness author is to only cover their specialty, so you get the bodybuilding methods that will supposedly get you FREAKIN HUGE, or the distance running books that cover cardio endurance and little else. These approaches conspicuously leave out the normal human and his or her daily needs.
This book has inspired me and helped my motivation a whole lot. I hope it does the same for you!