Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Female Body Breakthrough

You know, I love doing book reviews and I hardly ever do ‘em. This is perfect seeing that my summer exploration into some of the popular bodybuilder and fitness enthusiast ideas regarding weight loss is coming to a close with a ceremonious “Eat the Food.” This is kind of like asking for a Woot Woot or an Amen. Here, I asketh upon the clergy, “Can I get an EAT THE FOOD-ah?!”

Actually, if we are going to go into full-blown cult status, we should call ourselves “Fuddhists” and worship Fuddha. Pronounced “Foodists” and “Foodha” of course. Read the Fuddhist Bible HERE.

So anyway, yeah, if I can stop thinking about food for a minute - like this GRILLED CHEESE maybe I could get going on this book review. Here goes.

The Female Body Breakthrough by Rachel Cosgrove is a book review that I issue to you ladies out there. A jam for the ladies and the superstars. My typical conversations about fitness can get a little Bro-ey, so hopefully this will even the score.

And when it comes to bro-ness, Cosgrove’s book is like the antithesis to all things male. Reading it felt like payback for all the times I made women in my life watch Predator, or Cabin Boy, or early-era Adam Sandler films – something that my willingness to watch that dance movie with Julia Stiles, that lame pairs figure skating movie, multiple viewings of A Walk to Remember, and even an at-the-movie viewing of Crossroads evidently didn’t make up for.

Although it would be an easy target for ridicule – I often found myself laughing while I was reading it due to her way over-the-top femaleness (B.I.T.C.H. – Be Inspiring Totally Confident and HOT!), we’re going to break this beauty down purely on substance and substance alone – because Cosgrove possesses some genius, and her message could very well be eclipsed by her She-Ra geekiness if it wasn’t for someone to translate what it is about her information that is a “Breakthrough.”

Cosgrove is the wife of Alwyn, and together they own a gym out in California where they “build butts.” Together, along with guys like Scott Abel, they are on the true cutting edge of exercise physiology. That cutting-edge understanding, although not elaborated upon much in the book itself, really comes through in the well-photographed and documented exercises as part of Cosgrove’s program.

Before we go any further, let me give you the basic premise of the book…

1) Cardio and aerobics and all that stuff stinks
2) If you want to look hotter, it requires having less body fat AND more muscle mass
3) The way to achieve that is to do a combination of metabolic exercise and strength training (which we’ll discuss), while eating a nutritious whole foods diet without obsessing over macronutrients, calories, etc.

Sounds reasonable. It is. In fact, although she didn’t quite go into such detail, you can basically categorize exercise into 2 categories…

1) Exercise that forces your body to do things more efficiently (burn less calories to do the same thing)
2) Exercise that forces your body to adapt by increasing its power capability, which, by definition, means becoming LESS efficient in a sense.

In other words, a performance athlete can generate huge amounts of power in a short period of time because their bodies are optimized for that type of activity. For endurance activity, muscle, particularly explosive fast twitch muscle is a huge burden – it burns way too many calories and will make you really tired if you tried to run 10 miles on legs constructed of fast twitch muscle fibers. Likewise, marathon runners are typically super weak, and cannot generate power.

Both adaptations are smart and appropriate adaptations to various forms of exercise. In fact, the body’s ability to make such adaptations is something to be marveled at really. But in a conversation strictly about cosmetic exercise, there is absolutely no doubt that fast twitch muscle-building and power-generating exercise is what yields superior results. But I guess it all depends on who you wanna impress. Once again we return to discussing Weird Al, who likes small butts and he cannot lie vs. Sir-Mix-A-Lot, who likes ‘em real thick and juicy.

But just to say “go lift weights” is incomplete. Cosgrove is a master of exercise physiology, and her workouts are designed to achieve something far beyond traveling around each exercise machine and making a few check marks on your clipboard.

Her workouts are a fine blend of asymmetrical movements, balance movements that activate what is called “proprioception” that Abel loves talking about, power moves that cause rapid muscle firing (like what you get from plyometrics), and some otherwise pretty badass stuff with an emphasis on overload (which is atypical for women-centered weightlifting which can be pretty light and fluffy). Overload means doing enough to force the muscle to adapt and increase its strength, size, and hardness. And it’s all done emphasizing full ranges of motion as well for full muscular development.

With Cosgrove, you’re not doing the typical bicep curls with 5 pounds dumbbells so fast and effortlessly that you are practically fanning yourself while you’re doing them. She’s more into classical strength training with heavier weights that you struggle to maybe, if you’re lucky, do 8 repetitions of. The result is that she and her clients are like superheroes, busting out chin-ups a half dozen at a time or more.

So you’re doing, not sissy stuff, but friggin’ one legged dumbbell deadlifts, super deep squats, front squats, and all that. Hence her claim that all of her clients have excellent butts that you can bounce a quarter off of.

These 3 times per week workouts are later punctuated by at least one “metabolic” workout per week. This is basically hardcore bodyweight exercises, plyometrics, rope-jumping, pushups, ab work, and all that blended into a high-intensity round patterned after high-intensity interval training (But I think Abel proves that this is unnecessary, and can very easily be worked into a strength training workout by doing the workout with very little rest in between sets. This is of course, the premise of his Metabolic Enhancement Training – combining what Cosgrove has made separate).

Anyway, her infatuation with postworkout protein shakes aside, Cosgrove’s book is a good primer into a result-generating fitness routine that many women could adopt into their own workouts. The name of her gym, “Results Fitness” is very appropriate. If I needed to pick up chicks I would definitely go there before going to a bar for that purpose, although protein-shake-swilling babes are not much sexier than the alcohol-swilling variety. Of course, 180 is not a fitness or exercise physiology palace by any means, but the book and the principles behind the exercises she highlights are worthy of mention – or worthy of recognition I should say.
I’m actually hoping to build my butt a little. I pretty much turned mine into a deflated balloon with years of hiking – an exercise done with very small ranges of motion that worked my quads and hamstrings like a champ, but left my ass hangin’.

So yeah, I’m looking to have a female body breakthrough in my butt. Shut up. I kill you.

The meat of the book is great. Illustrations are great. It’s not overly complex – even though I might have made it sound that way. All in all, for a woman who is really burning to build a “fit and fabulous” body, Cosgrove has created a pretty damn good roadmap. Treadmills, exercise bikes, Elliptical machines, and Stairmasters are forbidden. You gotta like that.