I Am That Girl Now

Friday, January 05, 2007

Book Review: The Body-Sculpting Bible for Women

I'd like to give a hearty thumbs-up to The Body-Sculpting Bible for Women (Revised) by James Villepigue and Hugo Rivera. HEARTY thumbs-up.

First of all, full disclosure: I did not buy this book for myself. My Hub bought it for me for Christmas. I was intimidated, because, well, the idea of two guys writing a weight-lifting book for women just struck me as the kind of thing where I'd end up feeling inadequate, and I do not like being made to feel inadequate. I mean, I don't need a book with a pink cover and a lot of silliness about getting "toned" and the implication that lifting heavier weights than those wee pink Wal-Mart dumbells would make a girl bulky. On the other hand, though, I have a real fear of failure, and I'd been told that this was THE book recommended for gals by the fitness folks my Hub hangs out with online, and this seemed to imply that it would be more hard-core than I was ready for. And, frankly, no matter what weight I'm at, I still bristle when people who've never been fat decide they're going to give advice to those who are. Seriously, if they haven't been there, they don't know, and I'm always going to get a weird vibe from that.

Eventually, though, after eyeing the book across the room for a few days, I broke down and read it. I'm happy to report that my fears were unfounded. In spite of the fact that these are guys writing, they have a healthy respect for women and, even more importantly, they both really get the desperation of being fat and flailing around for something to fix it, because they've been there. One of them is a former bulimic, in fact, and when I read the part where he talks about how his sister was bulimic and he picked up on it from her, and her scary brush with death in their teen years... well, damn, I will listen to a guy who knows this stuff first-hand. He knows.

The first thing they do is break down why diets, as we know them, suck. They explain the whole downward cycle of restricted calories to muscle loss to plateau to further restriction of calories to further muscle loss to another plateau to frustration and quitting and even more fat piling on. I can't stress enough how awesome it is to see it all laid out like that in plain English, with explanations for everything, because during my time on Weight Watchers that cycle was very, very familiar, but there was never an explanation for it. It happened to me, it happened to everyone I knew through WW, and we all bitched about it and comforted each other about it and coached each other through it with the old saw of "more water, count EVERYTHING, really make sure you're not cheating when you weigh or measure your food, and exercise more." And we never knew why the hell it was happening, we just knew that it happened. Never, ever, EVER did anyone say "what you need to do is eat more, specifically more protein, build muscle, and flip off the scale." There was this weird built-in assumption that if you hit a plateau, you just needed to bear down and hang in there and keep doing what you were doing, only harder. So when this book just explained it, I just felt this supreme sense of relief.

As I said, there's a deep understanding of the fat world in this book, and that may be the part that I love the most about it. The best thing was reading what may be the greatest explanation for why the low-cal diet is unsatisfying, results-wise: the body shrinks, all right, but it doesn't look like what you think it will look like. It's sort of sloppy and bumpy and haphazard. (Example: Even when my collarbones were extremely visible, I had a curved belly and a saggy butt and chubby legs and goofy upper arms. Not exactly what I'd had in mind.) I'm not saying that THIS IS THE ONLY ANSWER, LIFTING WEIGHTS WILL CURE ALL, but I do believe that a body will look better in a weight-lifting, body-sculpting scenario than in a low-cal, only-cardio scenario.

There's also a lot of great stuff about food, and nutrition, and, surprisingly, a lot about dealing with food and exercise in special situations-- pregnancy, menopause, and just plain being sick. (Hang out around bodybuilders for a while and you will discover a general distain for using those machines in the gym. Thus it was to my great delight to find that since pregnant women have looser joints and want to take special care to not be in situations where they'll lose their balance, machines are ENCOURAGED for them. Awesome.) I love that they completely accept that when you're sick, you won't want to exercise, and they encourage you to go easy your first week or two after being sick while you get back into the groove.

There's a big emphasis on easing yourself in, both in the nutrition portions and the exercise portions of this book. You know how I like that sort of thing. THUMBS WAY UP.

The main stuff, of course, is the section of training programs. First of all, you get an explanation of how the programs work, and what goes into them, and how you should warm up first and drink water and stretch. Then you get a good explanation of each exercise, on the form and how you should do them, and what you're looking for. Then they give you the programs themselves.

They rotate you through on a two-week cycle, so that your body never gets completely used to what you're doing, and-- just as important-- your brain never gets to be so used to the whole thing that you go through the motions without thinking about it. You get a list of exercises for each day (days weight-training are interspersed with days of cardio + ab work), and in a stroke of genius they've kindly added, right next to each exercise in the list, the page number where you can find the in-depth exercise explanation and picture. They group 'em in twos, modified compound supersets, so you do a set of exercise A, then a set of exercise B, then A again, then B again, before moving on to C and D.

There is also a very nice glossary and several appendixes, and at the moment I have forgotten what's in them. Oops.

Thus far I have done four days of Week 1 of the Break-In workout cycle. Last night was apparently all about the legs, because oh my God do I hurt today. (Not as much as I might have, though; I made damn sure that I stretched after each set.) My legs were so wobbly on my last set of squats that I thought I was going to fall over. EXCELLENT. I'll let you know how things go from here; I'm furrently in that state of goofy optimism that is characteristic of Me On A New Plan, so keep that in mind. Still, this doesn't feel gimmicky, and it feels doable.

In summary: Excellent book. It came highly recommended, and as far as reading and a week's worth of workouts go, I also give it a very positive recommendation. It's not expensive-- $14 on Amazon-- it's chock-full of good information, everything is explained in plain English, it's very accessable to beginners (and to shaky begin-againers like me), and they GET IT. Big bonus points for GETTING IT; seriously, I might not have taken a lot of this in quite the same way if these guys had come off as some of those I've-never-been-fat-and-I-don't-understand-what's-wrong-with-you types. AND, as yet another big bonus, the workouts are centered around freeweights and body-weight-only exercises (push-ups, crunches, etc.), so this stuff is totally doable at home.

Check it out if you have the chance.

Edited to add: Hugo Rivera, one of the authors, has a website here. Also a good read, not to mention containing some cheesecake shots of the man himself. Hubba hubba.


  • The book sounds great! I was skeptical at first because of the title: "scultping" sounds to me in the same category as "toning", i.e., bullshit. But from what you describe they sound knowledgable and realistic.

    Also I love your description of the low cal/muscle loss cycle. I keep seeing that same advice given over and over: if you're not losing weight, eat less. Eat less, eat less, eat less. Where does it end? When you're eating 1200 calories a day, do you REALLY need to eat less? It's crazy. But like everyone else I have a hard time accepting the idea that eating more could be the answer. Seems too good to be true, sort of self-delusional.

    I'm putting a big (bigger) emphasis on weight lifting in my own life right now, and coincidentally I wrote a very similar comment to Yvonne recently, that it doesn't feel gimmicky, it feels for real. It feels like it might be the right thing.

    By Blogger M@rla, at 11:39 AM  

  • Oh, and this is also a good description.

    By Blogger M@rla, at 4:01 PM  

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