The New Rules Of Lifting For Women
Year Released: 2007
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I’m reviewing this book after reading it cover to cover plus completing the entire rotation described within.
The New Rules of Lifting for Women (NRoL4W or NROLW) is a book that seeks to convince women to rethink their approach to fitness. The book is divided almost equally between Lou’s presentation of new rules for fitness (including his arguments for weight-lifting and against other myths like the “need” to do tons of cardio), Cassandra’s nutritional plan (won’t get into that here), and Alwyn’s workout plan plus descriptions of the exercises. Lou remains the author throughout, however.
This book’s main goal is to shift your attitude towards working out in general and weights in particular, not just as a woman who might be afraid to lift heavy (or even lift period) but also as an exerciser who is used to working body parts in isolation, spending lots of time on cardio, etc.
If I were to resubtitle this book, I’d put “Lift like a man, feel like an Amazon” instead of “…look like a goddess.” You will gain strength, muscle, and some overall fitness, but this is not a weight loss program, nor is it a body shaping program; it’s not ideal if you have a set goal like drop X lbs. by a certain date or fit into a specific item of clothing, prepare for a race or train for a sport or similar activity. You’ll be happier if you’re willing to step back for overall fitness and trust the program to do what it will rather than fight or change it.
The types of exercises are based on the six basic movements he introduced in the original The New Rules of Lifting: squat, deadlift, lunge, push, pull, and twist. The resulting workouts emphasize functional strength, stressing true compound (that is, multi-joint/muscle) exercises over isolation (or single-joint) or combination (or multi-limb) movements. This also makes your workouts efficient, since you can work your whole body with just a few moves.
The rotation itself consists of 7 stages that contain two separate workouts of 4-9 exercises to be alternated (except for the seventh stage, where the alternation is a little more complicated). Each stage switches up the exercises, set numbers, rep numbers, and rests; although stages 4 and 5 repeat the same exercises in the same order as stages 2 and 3, the sets, reps, and rests are different. You begin with fewer sets of higher reps, gradually decreasing your reps and increasing your sets, until the final stage, when you see higher reps again.
You’ll need about 6 months, maybe more, to complete the full deal. This program is far from a quick fix and requires real commitment and dedication, even if you skip the optional sixth stage and the optional second round of the seventh. While most of the workouts clock in between 20-45 min. (not including warm-up and cool-down), stage 5 workouts in particular can easily be an hour even before corework and the intervals or body weight matrix. For some stages, including stage 5, you have the option of doing one less set if you have time issues (that’d bring the stage 5 workouts to about an hour with corework) or otherwise need to back off a little.
The book assumes you’ll be doing weights three times a week, although twice a week is also acceptable. The program includes interval workouts in the second through fifth stages (done after alternating workouts) plus a body weight matrix (done after alternating workouts) in two of the stages. Other than grudgingly allowing you an additional day of cardio endurance exercise once a week, you are encouraged to take the other days off to rest. Because of the intensity of this program, recovery is very important. Resist the temptation to add extra exercises (especially that isolation work you may be used to doing) to the strength workouts or to do cardio in between weights sessions, because adding things in can push you toward that overtraining line, and make sure to get some extra sleep.
The idea is to work at your level, whether you’re a dabbler in weights who normally uses “Barbie dumbbells” or a serious weight-lifter, but I wouldn’t recommend this to someone new to exercise and/or weight-lifting - at least, not without someone knowledgeable about weights form helping you out. Intermediates can make this work for them while advanced folks can still find the challenge - and what a challenge it can be! - by working with the appropriate weights.
The exercises as shown require dumbbells ranging from light to heavy (and I mean heavy if you’re an experienced exerciser), barbell and plates, a squat rack, an adjustable weight bench, a step with at least one set of risers, a box, a lat pull-down machine, a cable machine (for seated rows and woodchops), a pull-up bar, a stability ball (or Swiss ball or whatever you want to call it), and perhaps a back extension station. If you’re attempting to do this at home, you could get away with weights, a step with risers (preferably you’d have some slanted ones on hand to make this into a weight bench), resistance bands or tubing, and a stability ball plus a mat if you need it with your floor; a high step or equivalent (Transfirmer, step with 3-5 sets of risers) and a medicine ball would also be helpful, with a pull-up bar and then perhaps squat rack or weighted vest next on your equipment wish list. I purchased this book specifically to use at the gym, and I’m glad I was able to take full advantage of the equipment, although working out in a room with other people meant that I couldn’t always do everything I wanted when I wanted.
The book itself is readable, with straightforward language in a conversational tone (Lou’s is of a straight talkin’ guy who just wants people to work out smartly). Lou tries to strike a balance between anecdotal and scientific evidence for his conclusions. I don’t know enough about anatomy and body mechanics or weight lifting to weigh in on the validity of his arguments, but he certainly seems to know what he’s doing and seems to have at least good instincts, with the possible exception of his attempts at figuring how to fit in Pilates, yoga, and related disciplines (where he doesn’t seem to have expended much effort to talk to people beyond the typical gym class instructor).
That said, figuring out the exercises involves some flipping back and forth plus making copies of the generic workout log (which doesn’t work for all stages, particularly the last). Also, the workout descriptions aren’t as detailed as they could be, deemphasizing focusing on which specific body parts are being worked (which makes it challenging to figure out what to engage when sometimes); this makes some of the less familiar exercises a little tricky to learn and is one of the reasons I wouldn’t recommend true beginners to weight-lifting to use just this book without a trainer and/or additional media to help them learn proper form.
The NRoL4W clearly is cut from the same cloth as the original NRoL – in fact, one of Lou’s new rules is that women don’t need to do anything dramatically different than men in the weight room – yet there are some differences other than the gender of the cover model:
- The arguments used to get you in the weight room are different for the two audiences, with the original aimed at people (well, guys) who are inclined to lift (heavy) weights as it is (and perhaps don’t particularly care for cardio) and just need a little push or something new.
- The original offers one break-in workout and three phases of three different programs (fat-burning, hypertrophy, and strength) to be mixed and matched for a year-long program (although it’d take you more like 1 ½ to 2 years to do all of the phases if you plowed straight through them) while the women’s only offers one rotation that lasts about six months. The women’s rotation is more “complete” in the sense that it schedules in the intervals whereas the men’s leaves that option up to the user. The women’s workouts are also simpler, with fewer changes within the stages or even workouts to the reps, lifting speed, etc., whereas some of the workouts in the original get rather complicated (including a few where you’re changing the rep count each time through six sets).
- The women’s selection of exercises includes a few more that can be done or at least adapted to the home environment; it also has more balance challenges, more for the rotator cuff and other smaller back muscles, and more for the core. It doesn’t rely as heavily on body weight exercises like pull-up, chin-up, and dip, but it does have push-ups from stage one through the end. That said, the moves aren’t inherently girly, and my husband often worked alongside me, except for a few of the balance challenge-type moves.
- The women’s nutritional plan is more detailed.
I completed all seven stages, including the optional second round of the last one, in just under eight months (with some scheduled and unscheduled breaks as my body and life dictated). I’m an experienced but not a hard core athlete or exerciser; this helped me push myself past my usual comfort zone. (My usual strength routine before was using videos by Cathe, Jari, Kelly, Amy, etc., usually with lighter weights than demonstrated, mixed in with “functional” fitness routines like the TLTs, and although I like following plans I’ve never done a serious multi-month rotation like this.)
The NRoL books have changed the way I approach strength training, and so far it seems like it’s for the better. My biggest result was significant increases in strength, particularly along my back body and in my lower body, areas I hadn’t realized how much I was underworking until I read this book and completed this program. Unfortunately my eating habits prevented me from seeing all of the benefits of the program, but I’m very pleased with the muscle I now have on my frame. I’m not so sure I look like a goddess, but I do feel like an Amazon.