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Friday, July 31, 2009

Learn a few New Rules of Lifting

I was recently placing an Amazon.com order, and since my order already qualified for free shipping, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to purchase a book from my Amazon wishlist. The book was New Rules of Lifting by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove. Lou and Alwyn also wrote another book together (with Cassandra Forsythe) called The New Rules of Lifting for Women with the tagline 'Lift like a man, Look like a Goddess.'

So with the opportunity to buy either, why did I, a woman, purchase the book that was aimed more for men? Well, although I've heard great things about both books, I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about lifting books for women. Most of them spend a great deal of time being condescending and trying to convince the reader to lift heavy (a.k.a. lift like a man). Then they'll sometimes leave out some information because it may be too advanced or technical for most women readers. Well, I don't need convincing, and I am happy to learn all about the things I'll be able to do when I am experienced enough. So yes, I bought the man's book, and I'd do it again!

New Rules of Lifting: Six Basic Moves for Maximum Muscle (henceforth NROL) is written from the perspective of Lou Schuler, CSCS, who is a journalist by trade, although he collaborated with Alwyn Cosgrove on the content, and Alwyn, a personal trainer by trade, wrote the workout programs. I have to say that for the most part, I enjoyed Lou's writing style. Books about lifting can get overly technical, and that can lead to the reader getting pretty bored, even if they enjoy the subject like I do. Lou brings a lot of humor (some of it self-deprecating) into his writing, which I think would keep even someone with a casual interest engaged. On the negative side, though, Lou seems to spent an inordinate amount of time in the book reminding the reader of his credentials. It's generally done as part of the humor, but when deciding to drive home a point, I personally think Lou could have chosen a better thing for the reader to remember than the fact that he's been lifting for 30 years.

Throughout the book, Lou outlines twenty different rules, with varying levels of novelty. Here's a few of my favorites:
  • New Rule #1 - The best muscle-building exercises are the ones that use your muscles the way they're designed to work.
  • New Rule #7 - Don't 'do the machines.'
  • New Rule #18 - You don't need to do endurance exercise to burn fat.
  • New Rule #20 - If it's not fun, you're doing something wrong.
He uses these rules to debunk much of the conventional wisdom in the gym, such as the idea that isolation exercises like bicep curls will give an experienced lifter bigger biceps. Lou also goes into some more advanced concepts, explaining the difference between training for muscle size (hypertrophy) and training for muscle strength.

The book's primary content discusses what Lou and Alwyn deem the six major moves necessary to build muscle:
  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Twist
  • Walking and Running
The first time the moves are introduced, Lou briefly explains them, points out their practical uses in daily life, and talks about why these six moves are most important. Then, later in the book, he gives each of the moves its own chapter, providing numerous examples of specific exercises that incorporate the moves and detailed instructions (and pictures) for most. I found this to be one of the most helpful sections of the book.

Finally, we get to the part you've been waiting for: the workouts! Alwyn designed three groups of programs to meet different goals. There are programs for fat loss, strength, and hypertrophy (muscle growth). Each goal has three different workouts, which can be done from 2-4 times per week. There's at least a year's worth of workouts, and since you can go back to a program after several months, you could essentially rotate through these programs for the rest of your life! On the downside, the exercises proposed often presuppose access to a gym, or a relatively sophisticated home workout system, including cable exercises like a lat pull-down bar, and alternative exercises for home gyms are not proposed.

How does this book stack up for a woman? Well, if she's like me, and she doesn't need convincing that muscle-building is a GOOD thing, she'll like the book just fine. There's quite a bit of discussion about getting bigger and stronger, and although it's written specifically towards men, I still felt like it was applicable for me. If a women is not already on the bandwagon, in that she doesn't yet believe that heavy weight lifting is a good thing, she might be better off with the women's version, which will try to dispel some myths about weight lifting for women.

While I agree with the vast majority of the points made in the book, particularly as they relate to working out, there were a few points on which I disagreed. And to be fair, Lou challenges the reader right at the beginning of the book to read everything with skepticism. So I won't apologize for my little observations.
  • Too much reliance on crunch/sit-up related exercises for the "twist" move.
  • A measly two chapters on nutrition hardly seem appropriate when framed within the context that a significant percentage of success relies on how much, and what, you eat. There's not a single "new rule" about nutrition. Shame, shame.
  • I've seen others debunk the "thermal effect of food" and the idea that we need huge amounts of protein after a workout, so it was a bit disappointing to see Lou toe the party line here, and touting both a mega-protein diet as well as the thermal effect of food.
So now that you know where I felt the authors could have done more, or said things differently, let me share what I liked:
  • The section on periodization (planned changes in training programs in order to get steady improvements) was the one where I felt like I learned the most. Although the chapter gets pretty technical, there are many ideas about how to alternate the number of reps in your program that I will absolutely try in my own workouts.
  • The book includes a great section on choosing the best program for you. There's so little time spent on this area in other books, that this was a welcome change. And even within each program, Lou and Alwyn have made things flexible, explaining how to incorporate a desire to work out anywhere from 2-4 times per week into ANY of the programs.
  • There is a workout chart included in the book that is one of the best I've seen. I am absolutely copying it and using it for all future workouts. It has a great, efficient use of space, and is flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of program types.
  • The book is WELL CITED. Not only does Lou cite the specific research every single time he mentions a study, but he has a detailed references list in the back that's even annotated with his own comments on why the source was referenced. Does this lend credibility? You bet! And when I share what I've learned from the book, I can back it up with a source other than a journalist with the CSCS designation. My inner geek is smiling.
So clearly, I liked more than I disliked. And any book that says you should do chin-ups instead of bicep curls in case you need to pull yourself into a tree to escape from a lion is a pretty cool book! Interestingly, one of the reasons it's taken me so long to post the review is that my husband confiscated my copy of the book and has been reading it himself!


  1. Great review! My partner is currently working through the NROL program, and I'm doing the NROL4W. I chose the women's book because although I'm absolutely convinced that lifting is great for everyone, I was still a little intimidated by the free weights area and it's mouth-breathing residents. No more! There's every chance I'll move onto the NROL when I'm done.

    I have to pretty much agree with all your major points! And I do like that Lou invites us to be sceptical from the get-go, there's far too much "it's in a book so it must be gospel" in the fitness world, so it's good to see an author addressing that. In response to a couple of your points...

    There's a lot more on nutrition in the women's book, including some sample recipes and meal plans, which probably make it more of a balanced programme. I haven't tried them myself (diet is my weak link, I have no willpower) but they look varied and interesting, and Lou encourages people to find their BMR and eat ENOUGH. No starvation in the New Rules.

    The NROL4W also claims that the workouts can be done at home and has the occasional gesture towards this (suggesting that cable wood chops be replaced by a lying med-ball twist), but really, it's not feasible to do as a home programme. How many people have a squat rack and full set of olympic weights in the basement? Lucky people, that's who!

    One last comment, before this becomes the longest blog comment ever! Ican't remember if they're mentioned in the NROL, but if you visit http://www.thenewrulesoflifting.com/, blank copies of the training logs are provided in Word format. I found these much easier than photocopying and trying to scrawl my horrendous handwriting into the space available ;-)

  2. Great review. I have and like both books. NROL4W really isn't a dumbed-down "pink" version of the program, and the nutrition information is far superior to what's in NROL though probably still too "party line" for your taste. The only thing I really didn't care for about the women's version is that there's only a single one-size-fits-all program, whereas NROL has options depending on whether your goal is fat loss, strength or hypertrophy.

    FWIW I've always found Alwyn's programs to work better for strength-building than fat loss. For fat loss I've generally gotten superior results with Turbulence Training, though frankly I have no idea why that's the case given that Craig and Alwyn use many of the same methods.

  3. I don't have NROL, just NROL4W so I can't really compare the two. I will say that I didn't find NROL4W condescending in any way. I am enjoying the program so far, but I'm only in phase 2 of 7.

    I would love to hear about your thoughts and results if you decide to do this program.

    Thanks for the review!

  4. Thanks, ladies, all of you for your comments! Yes, it's true that not having read NROLW, I really didn't know whether it would be dumbed down or not, and I'm glad to hear it's not. That being said, I love that the book I have has all of the different programs. Of course, I do love Turbulence Training for fat loss, but it's nice to have some options, and the programs really do seem similar.

    Nancy, I did see from the table of contents that NROLW had an expansive nutrition section. There's something for us to scratch our heads over...why give them women lots of nutrition advice and shortchange the men, when studies show women tend to eat healthier than their male counterparts? I suppose the length of the book was an issue.

    Oh, and Nancy, thanks so much for the link to the worksheets! DH made one himself on Excel, modeled after what was in the book, but I will download the one online as well. Cool stuff!

    I really appreciate all of the comments and great information each of you provided. I am planning on trying some of the programs from NROL, but haven't decided which one I will try first. And of course, if there are crunches, I will replace them with a similar core exercise because we all know I don't do crunches! LOL! So I'll be sure to report back on my thoughts then as well.

  5. I think if Cassandra Forsythe co-wrote NROL there would be a larger nutrition section. Occasionally she is a guest on the Fitcast podcast contributing her awesome nutrition knowledge. She has a blog also that is worth a look. http://cassandraforsythe.blogspot.com/.

  6. In addition to what Greenteagirl has mentioned about Cassandra Forsythe, I wonder if the more extensive nutrition section was included in NROL4W based on feedback from the NROL? It would be very interesting to see a couple of extra chapters with nutrition advice to go with each of the different programmes....

  7. Here's what I found on Cassandra Forsythe:

    Cassandra Forsythe-Pribanic is a recent PhD graduate from the #1 Kinesiology doctoral program in the US at the University of Connecticut. Originating from Northern British Columbia, she received her MS in Human Nutrition and Metabolism in 2004, and her BS in Nutrition and Food Science with distinction, in 2002 from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. She will also become certified as a Registered Dietitian (RD) in summer 2009. Her main research interests are low-carbohydrate nutrition, dietary fatty acids, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight-loss, female-specific nutrition and training, and the female athlete triad. Her PhD dissertation project explored the ideal fatty acid composition of a weight-maintaining low-carbohydrate diet though a highly-controlled feeding intervention.

    So it seems she is a female nutrition guru!