Thursday, September 15, 2011

Women's Health - Better than Cosmopolitan, not as good as Oxygen

I thankfully got a lot of feedback from my last posting.  Rants are always popular it seems.  

Some of the feedback I got was that I shouldn't expect anything better from Cosmopolitan in regards to fitness articles, but that they though I'd have a point if it was Women's Health.  I'll save my retort to that for the end of this article, but in the meantime let's take a look at Women's Health.  

Their magazine for this month didn't have much in the way of fitness articles.  They did have a 1-page spread on a kettlebell circut however which was pretty decent.  I like kettlebells, they're a lot of fun.  

Well, okay, this is just silly.

"The secret to shaving time off your workout without sacrificing results: doing dynamic combo moves that target at least two muscle groups (think quads and biceps) in each rep...they are great time-savers and also challenge your stabilizer muscles which help improve core strength and balance."

True enough!  This is one of the reasons that I like moves such as the squat or deadlift - they work multiple muscles in one movement rather than isolating muscles like one does on machines.  As well since you're using more muscles, you will be saving time doing just a few exercises cover your total body rather than going from machine to machine isolating muscles for no particular reason.  And, as I mentioned in another post, free weights will make you use your stabilizer muscles and improve core strength.

They recommend doing the circuit of 4 exericses they give you for 2 sets with an 8-10lb kettlebell.  I always dislike it when magazines give you a recommended weight.  I get asked this all the time: "What weight should I be using?" If you want a universal answer here it is: Whatever makes the routine difficult for you.  When it comes to doing strength training, the weight should be heavy enough that the last 2-3 reps are strenuous and difficult.  In the case of this circuit, it's going to be whatever makes you want to lay on the ground and die by the end of it.  No, seriously.  Circuits are supposed to be HARD.  They are a combination of strength and cardio that are excellent for getting your metabolism up and burning calories while maintaining muscle.  Not to mention a million times more interesting than running on a treadmill or chilling on an elliptical.  

Has clearly progressed from the 8-10lb recommendation

They don't give you a rest interval between sets either, which is also important and a component many seem to forget about.  For circuits I usually say 60-90 seconds.  As well it should be mentioned that a workout like this should not be your entire routine for a strength day unless it's a rest day and you just have a compulsion to go and workout. (That's not just me right? .....right...?)  Something like this should take place after you already do your strength training at the end of your workout.  You could also do this instead of your typical cardio day. (Assuming your goals are physique-related and you don't have specific running goals.)

The four exercises they give you are a little complicated for a beginner and require some serious coordination.  However, it's in no way a bad routine.  Hooray!

So in an effort to get some more out of Women's Health, I picked up "Women's Health Ultimate Weight Loss Guide," something apart from their usual monthly magazine.  80% of the book is about diet, which is great.  Diet is about 80% of the battle when it comes to weight loss, a point they make in the beginning of the guide.  Unless you're a teenage boy, it's hard (impossible for most) to out-exercise a bad diet.  However this is not a nutrition blog so I'll leave all that part alone.

Let's get to the fitness part!

First fitness chapter they have is entitled "Fast Track to a Fit Body," because I guess the title "The slow and steady track with moderate, over-time changes to a fit body" just is never enticing.  In this article they'll be talking about interval training and high-intensity training.  The tagline for this chapter is "The workout secret that will slash pounds - and the time you spend in the gym."  This annoys me.  This isn't a 'secret.'  Fitness knowledge is free and available and out there to anyone who cares to take the time to look.  Women's Health isn't selling you something that hasn't already been said before.  I guess that's just me getting uppity over semantics but the language of health and fitness magazines and infomercials really bothers me.

" that....?"
"Yes, it's the secret....of how to slash pounds."

Anyways, where was I?  Oh yes.  This article.  They cite a study that concluded that interval training will get you the same benefits as a longer, steady-state cardio workout in much less time.  As far as what they mean by 'benefits,' I'm not sure.  Why don't magazines have to cite their sources?  They go on to talk about how to mentally prepare yourself for high-intensity, how to know if you're making a max effort and a couple of examples of interval training.  Then I came upon a wondrous quote that I was very pleased to see:

"Picking up the pace during spin class isn't the only way to pump up your routine.  Programs such as CrossFit and P90X are intense workouts that have women busting out pushups, lifting barbells and swinging weights.  (And no, these chicks don't look like bodybuilders.)" Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay.


"Some women are intimidated when they see a workout like 50 pullups, pushups, and squats because they assume they can't do it...But the challenge empowers them.  They get a chance to do things they thought were impossible."

"There's just now way around it:  If you're not uncomfortable, you're not working hard enough."

There's a tear in my eye.

I'm just so HAPPY!

"Only 20% of your workouts should be high intensity"

....aaaand there it goes. 

 So if you exercise 5 times a week only 1 should be high intensity?  Maybe this is true if you're an athlete during the in-season.  However, CrossFit gives a workout of the day...everyday.  People who do CrossFit do it many times per week.  I do high-intensity work 2-3 times per week.  They give all these lovely quotes about working hard and then tell you to only do it once a week, and that's if you're one of the few people who works out 5 times a week?  Just wrong.  If you're a beginner, yes, chances are high intensity work isn't something you can do more than maybe once a week.  However as you get used to the workload this will change.  The definition of high-intensity also needs to be refined if they're going to put out this kind of statement.  

But, let's not put down Women's Health.  Here's another great quote they give in this guide:

"To burn more fat while weight-training, higher weight, fewer reps instead of lower weight, more reps."


However, Women's Health does not hold a candle to Oxygen in the fitness department.  If you want good info on exercise and fitness Oxygen is definitely the way to go.  It's targeted towards women, however the information is just as applicable to men.  Their models actually look like they workout.  It's shocking, really.  They have success stories from readers every issue who go on to do powerlifting, figure competitions, bikini shows, etc. from their advice.  One of their readers submitted in a sarcastic piece of mail that takes after my own heart: 

"I hate the gym!  A friend took me to her gym for a workout last week.  I hated it.  There were too many sweat-covered grunting gorilla types.  I had to get out.  I realize that Oxygen is a big promoter of weight lifting, but sorry guys, Oxygen just isn't right for me.  I get much more from Shape magazine because they don't believe in strenuous exercise - and neither do I.  When I feel an urge to exercise, I lie down until the feeling goes away."

From the cover you wouldn't be able to tell how good this magazine is, except for the fact the cover girl has meat on her bones.

So I'm going to transition here onto the retort I got back the most from my last blog post; that no one should expect good fitness information from Cosmopolitan - it's Cosmopolitan.  It'd be like expecting an electronics magazine to have a decent article on fitness.

Well, if an electronics magazine decided for whatever reason to write an article on fitness, I would indeed expect them to have decent information in it.  If you're going to put out any kind of writing on any topic to the public, if you're going to give advice to anyone about anything, you better know what you're talking about.  Cosmopolitan covers a variety of topics and frequently fitness is one of those topics.  Whether or not their main focus is telling women how to have better sex, if they are going to write about fitness they should write with care and with an informed opinion.  The whole idea that people don't expect good information from Cosmo is telling.  Considering how many women (okay so it's probably a lot of 14 year old girls reading how to give better blow-jobs also) read the magazine and take it for truth should be enough argument to say that we should expect better.

Well this is probably the longest post I've written!  If you made it this far, congratulations!  You win my gratitude! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

It's Rant Time

While one day perusing men's and women's magazines for the content of a new post, I noticed something disturbing.

One of the main fitness contributors for Men's Health is Alwyn Cosgrove.  One of the frequent contributors for Cosmopolitan is Tracy Anderson.  Now my first post already dissected some of Tracy's....questionable advice.  But I'm sure most people don't know who Cosgrove is (except for fitness nerds!) so let's compare these two:

Alwyn Cosgrove (

Cosgrove owns one of the top gyms in the country, has written hundreds of articles on the subject of exercise and sport performance, and is a sought-after lecturer by fitness professionals.  He is endorsed by other big names in the field such as Mike Boyle, Joe DeFranco, Mike Robertson, Dave Tate, Eric Creesey, the list goes on.  Also note how his website has archives of all of his blog posts and articles available to you for free.  Just take a look at a couple and you'll know this man is the real deal and a true expert.

Tracy Anderson (

Anderson has no formal education in exercise, anatomy or physiology that we know of.  All that's said is that she did extensive personal research into the field, which tells us essentially nothing.  In the fitness professional community she is seen as a bit of a joke.  Not much more can really be said about her credentials.  She has none other than being able to say she's trained celebrities.  Let's take a look at when Kelly Ripa went for a visit to her studio:

Note how when Anderson speaks about exercise, she never really says anything.  Not one thing that comes out of her mouth makes any sense or says anything substantial.  It's like listening to a politician give talking points.  I mean really, just look at that cube.  What is that?  What is the science behind what she does?  (Hint: there isn't any)

Let's look at an article written by someone who went through her exercise and diet plan:

Key notes to take away from that article:
-Anderson's diet plan puts you on a 700 calorie a day diet with mostly non-solid food.  (Good luck keeping up with that)

-2 hours of exercise a day 6 days a week. (Good luck keeping up with that when you're only eating 700 calories a day)

-"Tracy is totally against other forms of cardio, such as running, where you repeat your movements over and over. That, she says, will bulk muscles."  I'm sorry has she ever even LOOKED at a marathon runner?  They're TINY.  Oh wait, you can run for free.  You have to buy her super special cardio routines.

Gosh just LOOK at how bulky she is!  I mean I guess that's a female, it's just so bulky it's hard to tell.

Even men with their 10x more testosterone than women are small when they are marathon runners.

- "I would go to bed so hungry that I could hardly sleep.  I feel faint on several occasions and in the middle of Oxford Street everything starts to black out." Anderson's method backed by the hard science of "If you literally starve yourself, you will probably lose weight."

-"There are no fats (in the diet)"  Yeah those aren't necessary for essential bodily functions or anything important like that.

- "On the downside I feel woozy and find it difficult to concentrate. At first I had loads of energy but now I'm always tired and am told I'm horribly grouchy to boot.  My skin is terrible and my nails are flaking and weak. And  -  how can I put this  -  my system has become, shall we say, somewhat sluggish. Normally I'm as regular as clockwork. Not any more."  The price we pay to have someone tell us how to be anorexic for beauty.

-A real, actual dietitian is appalled by the diet and says "I see patients suffering with anorexia nervosa and now I'm reading their diet in pamphlet form."  Ohhh SNAP.

-Author makes posts on Anderson's support forums with the dietitian's findings and questioning Anderson's methods; posts are deleted.

- "Jo Doust, professor of physiology at the University of Brighton, says there's nothing new or magical about Tracy Anderson's exercises.

He says: 'She claims you can re-engineer your muscular structure and defy your genetics through her programme, but you just can't do that.
'You can develop your muscles but you can't defy your genetics. Her exercises aren't special  -  you could get a similar plan from any trainer in any gym.'"  Except you wouldn't from any legitimate trainer, unless you said "I want to spend money without getting results, what do you have for me?"

-Gwenyth Paltrow, one of Anderson's big-star clients is also her business partner.  Is there a wonder why she endorses her products?  Oh, and she also has osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis.  Fun!

So why do other celebrities train with Anderson?  She probably has a great personality and is fun to work out with.  She probably sells herself very well.  Is it so hard to believe that celebrities are as easily duped by good salespeople as anyone else?  Why do some people continue to go to psychic healers, use magnet therapy or buy and endorse a shake weight? 

And let's not forget there are other celebrities.  Cameron Diaz works out with A-Rod.  Jessica Biel works out with Jason Walsh. (A fellow UNC-CH graduate, whose entire list of celebrity clients is available on his website).  Both lift weights that are (GASP) more than 3-5lbs which Anderson swears will make you bulky.  Just look at these hulking offenses against femininity: 

You both disgust me with your manliness and lack of osteoporosis.

Just to throw it in your face more, here is a whole video of various women and various body types lifting heavy objects for varying repetitions:

$10 says these women eat more than 700 calories a day.  Another $20 says that they can take all their groceries inside in one trip.

So I feel like I've gotten off my original point of Cosgrove vs. Anderson.

Why does Men's Health deserve a reputable expert such as Cosgrove, but Cosmo readers get the joke of fitness professionals?  I can only assume it is the continued wide-spread ignorance about women's fitness, which is only perpetuated by people like Anderson.  

Will you get slightly more muscle than Paltrow if you lift weights?  Sure.  But I'm here to say that muscle is GOOD.  Muscle is what is going to make you look tighter, firmer, leaner, more sculpted, whatever crazy buzz-word you want to use.  Muscle is what makes Biel's butt look firm while if you just do cardio all day and diet like crazy it will probably be tiny but flabby.  Muscle is what will make your underarm less flabby. 

Is it worth osteoporosis, an excruciating, unrealistic, near-anorexic diet, 2 hours of cardio 6 days a week, and not having enough strength to support yourself to look like this 

Instead of this?

I doubt it.

P.S. This is a great blog post by Dean Somerset about how to tell an expert from an "expert":