Summer Fitness – Issue 67


Posted by in August's Magazine

I’ve been trying to think of a reason to include the word exoskeleton in a title for quite some time, mainly because it’s a very cool word. How could I tie in the calciferous protective armour of molluscs with a fitness column? How? Think of Skeletor in the Masters of the Universe and you get my drift. Of course I don’t necessarily want to be like a sea urchin, but wouldn’t it be cool to own an exoskeleton?

Fitness is full of fascinating words, for example gluteus maximus, a polite way of saying yer arse. Fartlek (training) is a Nordic word for speed play, or interval training. Burpees is another word for hell, and the list goes on. So there are a lot of interesting words in the fitness world, although some folk wouldn’t correlate interesting words and exercise. A favourite author of mine, Haruki Murakami, uses daily running as part of his creative process. A prolific writer, long-distance running plays an important part in his daily routine as described in his excellent memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It’s true that exercise increases blood flow through the body and therefore the brain, thus making you smarter. So there. If you like to read, there are countless books on fitness to be devoured, but here’s the (low fat) cream of the crop.

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Steamy gyms
Strength Training Anatomy, written and illustrated by former head honcho of PowerMag weightlifting magazine Frédéric Delavier, is a wonderfully nerdy reference book for anyone who has ever wondered what muscles do what. If you are already doing weights it will give you in-depth tips on safer and better lifting, whilst if you’re starting out, it’s an invaluable resource to work out exactly what you’re ‘working out’. It’s lovingly, sometimes a bit too lovingly, illustrated by the author himself, who has obviously spent too much time in steamy Parisian gyms studying his subjects and sketching what’s inside their bodies. It’s like having an X-ray of muscles and movements with the external bits that aren’t X-rayed sporting funky shorts and assorted European footwear. Whilst it’s a very useful resource, nothing can replace a qualified instructor teaching you an exercise programme. This is because when learning exercises from a book, or a DVD, you need someone to correct poor posture and to make the exercise more efficient. Whilst a popular saying in the personal training world is ‘it’s not rocket science’, good weight lifting form requires attention to detail.
Cherry Baker wrote Pregnancy and Fitness, which makes me giggle. Was there ever a more aptly named author? It’s another word thing – Cherry Baker – a bit like ‘a bun in the oven’. Anyway, she’s written a brilliant book on what exercise is appropriate in all stages of pregnancy. It’s got photos and descriptions of all the exercises, as well as sections on common problems, nutrition and Pilates.

The subtitle of Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion describes the book best, The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster and Easier. Previously, watching other swimmers in the pool made me wonder what I was doing wrong. How could I be expending so much energy thrashing about and not going anywhere? The book gives the reader a step-by-step guide to teaching yourself to swim smoothly and efficiently – reducing drag and making yourself more hydrodynamic (another cool word). It’s got nice pictures of boats and the tugboat/yacht analogy for drag efficiency stuck with me as I improved my stroke and enjoyment in the water.

Diets don’t work
Last, but not least there is a lot of hot air, false statistics and marketing bumf (another good word) around the subject of nutrition. If you read the BBC Health headlines often enough, you will notice that coffee is alternately good then bad for you, a superfood is discovered each week and research has proved potatoes are good for you (this sponsored by the British Potato Council). What to believe? Nutrition should be a simple enough concept to understand; therefore Nutrition for Dummies is a perfect reference book. It takes the hype out of what to eat. Like all of the Dummies series, it focuses on a simple factual level, however it contains a lot of technical stuff that you can read or ignore depending on how in-depth you want to go. For instance, if you’re worried about cholesterol and fat, there’s a whole chapter covering everything from the basic concepts down to the molecular structure.

I would love to recommend a diet book for ‘a miracle solution’. But I can’t. Because they don’t work in the long term! If you educate yourself about how your body works you can learn exactly what it likes best without having a follow someone else’s rules. So the best thing you can do for your waistline is learn about it.

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