New Rules of Lifting for Abs, by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove (review)

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Back in 2006, Men’s Health journalist Lou Schuler and trainer extraordinaire Alwyn Cosgrove came out with The New Rules of Lifting: Six Basic Moves for Maximum Muscle. It was, and still is, one of the best fitness, strength gain and fat loss books ever written. It’s so popular that on forums it’s usually just called NROL. It’s everything you need to get on an excellent, sensible, science-based fitness program. If you don’t have it, get it. It’s that simple.

Now, five years later, they’ve come out with their second sequel, The New Rules of Lifting for Abs (Amazon link). The first sequel, by the way, was The New Rules of Lifting for Women (Amazon link). I don’t own that one, so I can’t review it.

So at this point you’re crying fowl and saying, “If the original NROL is everything I need, why would I need NROL for Abs?” Fair question. Three reasons:

  1. It’s written by Lou Schuler who is a great writer and he’s just damn fun to read. His NROL books are fitness books that you can sit down and read just for the fun of it. He’s humorous, insghtful and speaks from long experience. You’ll actually enjoy reading this.
  2. Lou and Alwyn keep up on all the research and as it turns out, there’s been a lot of research on training the “core” (that is the muscles of your trunk, including your abs). When they wrote NROL, some of Stuart McGill’s research on the healthiest ways to strengthen the core was not yet available. As such, you’ll see that while NROL had a lot of crunch and twist type of exercises for the abs, NROL for Abs is mostly focussed on building static, blocking strength for the abs and integrating them into full body motions (squat, deadlift and the like).
  3. It’s really focused on building a healthy back for all of us modern worker drones condemned to sit most of the day.

What’s good about NROL for Abs

No Nonsense, Research-Based

Lou Schuler is one of the straighest shooters in the business. He doesn’t go in for stupid fads based on the latest training craze. He and Alwyn pore over the latest research in the field and give straight-up advice based on what can be shown to work in serious studies, with some help for what Alwyn sees working with his clients in practice.

A lot of exercise books try to “add value” by adding all kinds of stupid exercises that do not mimic any real-life activity. This is one of my issues with Jillian Michaels’ stuff, for example. Then they throw in ideology that’s not supported by any serious research. Again Jillian Michaels and her fast/slow metabolizer stuff falls into this category.

None of that with Lou Schuler. Basic, sensible exercises for people who care about health and fitness, backed up the latest research.

Funny

What good is an exercise book if you won’t read it? You’ll read Lou’s book. I laughed out loud a dozen times reading this.

Cheap

I’m cheap, so I appreciate products that are cheap and, frankly, $16 for a 300-page hardcover is cheap. In fact, you can get all three NROL books for under $40.

Practical

Lou and Alwyn don’t expect people to have all day for exercise. They don’t expect us to stick to extreme restricted diets. They expect us to fit in workouts and meals around an otherwise busy schedule. They provide a variety of programs depending on what condition you’re in and how much time you have.

There are some super fast weight-loss strategies that will take pounds off faster than NROL for Abs if that’s your goal, such as Warp Speed Fat Loss by nutritionist Mike Roussel and Alwyn Cosgrove. But that plan is intense and most people just can’t hack it.

Essential

Being strong is good. Having a strong, healthy core is essential.

Studies have shown that core strength is a great predictor of longevity. Because it’s so important to balance, a healthy core keeps you from falling and keeps you alive longer.

Even for those of us not looking at our dotage just yet, back problems can be debilitating. Having a sensible, safe and effective core training regime is essential for enjoying a high quality of life. I was plagued with back problems in my 20. I solved by getting smart about core training (I wish I had had books like this). This stuff matters in a way that big biceps simply don’t.

Informative

Because of the back problems I just mentioned, I’ve made it a habit of keeping up on best practices for core training for almost 20 years now. I still learned a lot from this book that changed the way I work out.

What’s Not Good?

There’s nothing really bad about the book. The one quibble I have with a lot of fitness books is they tend to only discuss endurance work in terms of weight loss. Yes, Lou and Alwyn are right. If you do a lot of endurance work, you will not lose that much fat, but you will lose muscle.

Miles and miles and miles of running is not a great way to get super cut. I’ve experienced that myself when I’ve gone through intense endurance phases.

The problem is, some of us love miles and miles of running. I wish fitness books wouldn’t obsess on weight loss and would recognize that some of us are going to run even if it does cause us to lose muscle but not fat. There is some good advice here for people like me that just happen to love endurance sports and aren’t going to give them up in order to get fit in other ways, but I do sometimes wish there was more.

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