Book Review: The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises

Monday, December 2 2013

<em>Women's Health</em> Big Book of Exercises So… I have body issues. I kinda hate my body. It has done some terrible things to me, and it rarely does well the things I wish it would. Undressed, it looks like Dr. Frankenstein’s practice corpse.

But mostly, I’m too skinny and weak for an actual living human being. In 2012, the last time I had surgery, I went from over 140 lbs to under 120 lbs in two weeks. I know what you’re thinking, and no: you really don’t want to lose any amount of weight the way I did. I’ve gained some of that weight back, but a lot of the time I feel like a cardboard skeleton — like a stiff breeze would knock me over.

When I lose weight, a lot of it is muscle. And the thing about muscle is, it’s  important. You need at least some muscles for a surprising range of everyday activities: standing, walking, sitting, breathing, etc. If you don’t have enough muscle, you have a hard time doing these things, and you get tired more easily and are more prone to injury.

So part of my never-ending recuperation is going to the gym to exercise, every now and then — but mostly then. Aerobic exercise is great for stress and helps me sleep and perks up my lousy appetite and helps get the blood flowing into my hands and feet (which are always cold), but it isn’t enough to get back the muscle I’ve lost. I also need to lift weights.

I was always small growing up, so the weights room at my high school was kind of a scary place. Some of those guys were big, and I learned to avoid them and their dumb ideas of fun. The coach who taught the weightlifting portion of PE called me ‘big guy’, and I think he meant well — but I still flinched every time he touched me. I thought he was going to crush me up and stuff me in a trash can.

When I do go to the gym, I try to time it so no one else is there, and I never go to gyms with serious lifters hanging around. I can’t relax and focus with those guys in the same room. I also assume they’re judging me, maybe laughing at my skinny ass when they’re not making ugly faces at themselves in the mirror.

I get by at my local gym — it’s pretty low-key — but a couple years ago, I realized I had forgotten everything I learned about weightlifting in high school and was just making it up as I went along. I think most guys at the gym probably are in the same ballpark; if you hid the machine placards, there would be chaos.

So I started looking for a handy reference to help me plan workouts and mix up my routine. Of course, there were plenty of body-building books for men. But every single one of them had a crazy ripped guy on the cover, and all the models were similarly beefed — kinda gross looking, actually, and it reminded me of all the really strong guys I have known who were also really big douchebags. The correlation on that is about 98%, as a rough guess.

Worse, I couldn’t believe any of the models were steroid-free, and that seems like false advertising: that kind of book can’t possible deliver those kinds of results. Like you just open the book, and instead of pages, there’s a big cut-out hole with a syringe and vials of HGH. Even if a mere book could get me those results, I don’t want to look all gross and ‘roidy — I like it when people assume I have normal-sized testes — so I put those books right back on the shelf.

That left me with basically one option: the Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises (Rodale 2010). At first it seemed like a weird idea, using a ‘women’s’ book — but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

First of all, the models are cute — not sexed up or salacious, but they keep my attention pretty good. In fact, I have kind of thing for the Quads & Calves lady, who looks almost exactly like my primary policyholder with my contacts out.

And because women are evidently not as interested in maximum bulk, there is a wider variety of exercises. I finally understand what the medicine balls, bosu, kettlebells, and various other devices are supposed to do for you, which is great: I have a much broader variety of exercises at my command.

In particular, this helps because the exercises you do when you’re recuperating are very different from the exercises you do when you’re injecting horse semen into your veins. For example, I have trouble with my knees, which is due largely to lack of strength in the surrounding muscles, and the WHBBE has lots of good low-impact options to help me work through that.

Also, the WHBBE — though written by a dude — maintains a friendly, accessible tone. It’s not all about getting jacked and pumped: it’s about exercising and being healthy, and presents useful information very clearly and sensibly. It’s not the least bit intimidating. There’s some anatomical information, some nutritional stuff, great step-by-step instructions for the exercises, and some canned workout routines.

Once I got over the whole “Wo” part, I realized the Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises is exactly what I was looking for. I imagine for any women out there reading this, you’re already sold — and, alas, there aren’t that many alternatives for women.

The surprise is that the WHBBE is also a great book for men, especially men who don’t aspire to use steroids. For men who just want to be relatively fit, navigate the gym safely, and plan out some solid circuits,  the WHBBE is a great choice. You don’t need to have body issues, but it doesn’t hurt if you do.


2 Responses

  1. K December 7 2013 @ 12:56 pm

    Love this post! I am a woman and found it interesting to read about the ridiculousness that men are bombarded with when it comes to fitness and body image. I had not given it too much thought before, but wow. Your strategy sounds great.

  2. Tania Stanwood December 23 2013 @ 5:51 pm

    I agree with the above comment, the strategy does really sound great. I have been struggling with hormone imbalance and I read that diet and exercise can really help. SO to get a few good tips like you gave I can see myself really being able to do this. I recommend Doug Ginter’s book My Hormones, I learned so much about the ways that diet and exercise can help, it’s worth a look if you have an imbalance for sure!

Leave a Reply