Friday, November 20, 2009

The Female Body Not-Such-A-Breakthrough-As-All-That

Don't get me wrong: there's a lot to like about Rachel Cosgrove's new book, The Female Body Breakthrough. If you're a twenty- or thirtysomething cardio queen who's tired of spending an hour a day on the elliptical with little to show for it, and you want to make some serious changes in your shape and body composition, you need this book. Rachel makes a great case for making a paradigm shift: giving up starvation diets and marathon cardio sessions in favor of weight training and frequent small meals.

Thing is, none of this is exactly a new paradigm. Some of it has been around so long that it has acquired its own set of critics and debunkers. In the chapter on nutrition, for instance, there's a reference to the thermic effect of food. This is something Tom Venuto talks about in Burn the Fat Feed The Muscle and The Body Fat Solution, and I think John Berardi discusses it as well in Precision Nutrition. Basically, it's the idea that every time you eat you force your body to expend energy digesting what you consume, thus stimulating your metabolism. Great if true ... but proponents of intermittent fasting such as Brad Pilon say it isn't.

Anyway, if you're a regular reader of this blog (or any other fitness blog for that matter) you probably already know most of what's in The Female Body Breakthrough. Metabolic resistance training. High intensity bodyweight conditioning sessions. No long slow boring steady state cardio. Meals every 3 hours or so, with protein at each meal. No processed foods. Et cetera et cetera et cetera, as the King of Siam would say.

What does set The Female Body Breakthrough apart from, say, The Body Fat Solution, The New Rules of Lifting For Women, and all the other excellent entry-level body transformation guides on the market, is that it's written by an actual woman with years of actual experience changing her own body as well as the bodies of her clients. Rachel Cosgrove is what I like to call a metamorph: someone who has gone back and forth from being a chunky aerobics instructor to an ultra-lean, muscular physique competitor, to a skinny-fat triathlete, and back again to the lean, toned look she currently sports. She's dealt with bulimia and post-competition binge eating, and she rides the hormone rollercoaster every month just like you do (at least if you're a premenopausal female.) She doesn't just know about this stuff, she's lived it in a way that Tom Venuto, Lou Schuler and the rest have not. To me that gives her some extra credibility. If you've got a skinny-fat cardio queen in your life who wants to make some changes, and you're looking for a fitness book to give her for Christmas, Rachel's just might be the one.

Don't bother, though, if your friend is indifferent to looking "hot." To me the biggest problem with The Female Body Breakthrough is that it presumes its readers are primarily interested in looking hot and sexy. A catch-phrase that's reiterated throughout the book is: Be A BITCH, "BITCH" being an acronym for Be Inspiring, Totally Confident, and Hot. The feminist in me finds this more than a little cringe-inducing. Not that I have a problem with women striving to Be Inspiring, Totally Confident and Hot, but I don't happen to believe that those qualities should be reserved to those who have attained a low bodyfat percentage. To me, being a BITCH--being confident, empowered and sexy--is all about what's happening between my ears. What my butt looks like in jeans has nothing to do with it..

Mind you, I don't really fault Rachel (I don't think she'd mind my calling her Rachel) for not fighting that particular battle in her book. Judging by what I see at the gym every day, she's got enough of a fight on her hands getting women off the treadmill and into the weight room. If she can succeed there, who knows--her readers may find they are so empowered by their strength gains and improved fitness that they stop worrying so much about what they look like to potential sex partners.

Now that's what I call a paradigm shift.