Sunday, January 8, 2012

Overcoming Gravity by Steven Low

Over the past few years I have often read the blog Eat Move Improve, written by Steven Low.  He has applied some good analysis to the science and practice of exercise and writes clearly, explaining things very well, even the most complex topics.

His posts on shoes and sitting are classics and I would recommend that everyone takes a look at them.  I tend to chuck short posts out about whatever catches my eye, but I have real respect for "proper bloggers" who write detailed, structured posts with new information.

Bodyweight Exercise

Back in 2010 Steven put up a post on the Fundamentals of Bodyweight Exercise, which gave a thorough exposition of how properly to  construct a bodyweight strength routine.  The focus of the piece was gymnastics and this probably flowed from Steven's own background in the sport.  A key quote:

Having trained seriously with bodyweight exercises for about 4 years now, I strongly believe that they are superior for strength development compared to weight training in the upper body.

That article sparked a lot of interest and Steven spent a long time in the last year or so expanding that article into a book and just before Christmas he sent me a copy for review.   It is a tour de force!

The book is called Overcoming Gravity:A Systematic Approach to Gymnastics and Bodyweight Strength available now on Amazon) and Steven writes about it here.

Wow...that's a big one!

I was pretty excited to receive the book, simply because it is huge!  I unwrapped a parcel that delivered a heavy book of over 520 pages!  This is not a little ebook hastily thrown together to make some money.  Rather this is a dense, text book on bodyweight exercise or more specifically gymnastic moves.

Initially I was a little put off because flicking through it the book seemed to be a gymnastics text book and while I like to watch gymnastics, I could not see myself doing these moves....

I remember a few years ago (actually 2004, time flies!)  when DragonDoor published that article by Chris Sommer Building an Olympic Body through Bodyweight Conditioning  All of a sudden we all became aspiring gymnasts and worked on at least achieving a planche.

Well I played around with the progressions for a while....didn't get far.....hurt my writs....

Anyway as soon as Sommer published his book Building the Gymnastic Body I bought it..but was disappointed.  Maybe I am too old, but the book  seemed too "advanced" it didn't seem to take you step by step through to achieving the moves.  I had other things to do with my time and sort of forgot about all this stuff.

Size isn't everything

So when I opened Steven's book and saw all the gymnastic moves in the later chapters I put it on one side.....I did not want to read something that was just about gymnastics:  planches, levers and the manna.

However over Christmas I picked it up to read.  I felt guilty that Steven had sent it to me and I had it there virtually unopened.   Well I am glad I came back to it!    When I actually started to read it I was very impressed.

A great achievement!

As soon as I started reading properly I realised what I had in my hands.  To be honest I do not see this as primarily a book on bodyweight training or even gymnastics.  I would class it as an Exercise Physiology text.  Steven's academic background, training to be a physio is obvious and gives him a great advantage as a writer.

Across 18 chapters and 240 pages Steven gives the reader a thorough education in the physiology of strength, muscle contraction and hypertrophy, goal setting, programme design and much more.  There is a dense section on how to deal with injuries and also how to address health factors such as sleep and nutrition (paleo of course!).  Each chapter has a helpful summary at the end to allow you to absorb the key points.   With bodyweight training progression is all about changing the mechanics and the levers, playing with the moment arm so that the positions become harder.  Naturally this leads to gymnastics.  I had not really appreciated that initially, but reflecting on it there is a clear logic.

The final section of the book is a huge resource of exercise descriptions, with techniques and tips all illustrated with useful drawings.


Of course there are some elements within it that I would not endorse for everyone.  I think the training frequency that Steven recommends to too high for most  and I personally think the "science" of programme design is maybe not as settled as it might be.

Safety is also my prime concern as I get older.  I want to use moves for my exercise that are a risk free as possible.  Without coaching and spotters I would avoid lots of the moves as too risky for many people; however the moves are scaleable.

For basic bodyweight training I'd usually point people to the routine in  McGuff's article here or what I will recommend in Hillfit.  Still if you are interested in developing skills in gymnastics, then this is the book for you.  Indeed, this is the book that I thought I was going to get when I ordered Gymnastic Bodies!  It is well constructed, logically put together and reads well.

Injuries and Health

As I said this is a massive book that must have absorbed Steven's life for months in putting it together.  The sections on injuries alone would make it worth the purchase price.  Indeed, if you were to read no other parts of the book and ignore all of the gymnastics stuff, focussing only on chapters 12-18 then you would know more about injury, rehabilitation and prehabilitation than many health professionals.  Even if you were to disagree with Steven's training approach or methodology, this section on injuries is excellent and worthwhile for anyone.  That section would have made a book in its own right that would have been worth the price.


A recommended book
  • A huge volume of information
  • Excellent section on injuries and health
  • Good primer on exercise physiology
  • Superb resource on gymnastic skills and moves (if that is your interest)
The book is available via Amazon and you can read more on Steven's site


Randeep said...

Thanks for the info- I'm thinking about buying it but haven't decided yet.

Anonymous said...

Based on this review, I'm going to buy this book. Sounds great! (well written review btw)