BOOK REVIEW: You Are Your Own Gym by Mark Lauren

You Are Your Own Gym: The bible of bodyweight exercisesYou Are Your Own Gym: The bible of bodyweight exercises by Mark Lauren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

As the title suggests, this is a guide to bodyweight exercises, and—specifically—periodized callisthenic training without equipment. Periodization is an approach in which the volume and intensity of workouts is in constant flux, as opposed to the regular approach that used to be the norm. It’s with regard to coping with a lack of fixed equipment that this book really seeks to separate itself from the many high-intensity interval training (HIIT) books in bookstores today. Obviously, calisthenics require much less equipment than weight training. However, without at least a pull-up bar and dip bars, it’s hard to get a well-rounded bodyweight workout. You Are Your Own Gym shows the exercises done with makeshift apparatus where necessary. Some of the suggested substitutes look safer than others, and a few of them (e.g. door pull-ups) work muscles a little differently than the basic. However, the examples get one into the habit of considering how one can use one’s environment creatively to get a good workout. [I would recommend exercising caution and safety when using the demonstrated improvised methods.] Even if one has access to equipment in day-to-day life, frequent travelers often have trouble getting a good workout in on the road. This book can be helpful in assisting one in avoiding the dead spots in one’s training regimen due to inability to get to a fitness facility.

The author, Mark Lauren, is a former Combat Controller and Special Operations fitness instructor. For readers who aren’t familiar with the US Air Force, Combat Control is one of two special operations career fields in the Air Force (excepting pilots and crew who fly special operators around.) Combat Controllers usually serve with Army Special Forces, facilitating the provision of air support in the midst of combat operations. Lauren certainly has the bona fides to write intelligently on the subject.

The book consists of 12 chapters, but it’s the penultimate and final chapters that present the meat of the work. Chapter 11 presents a thorough collection of bodyweight exercises organized by the area of the body worked. In most cases, the exercise descriptions include a photo, as well as modifications to provide a more or less strenuous version of the exercise. The latter feature makes Lauren’s program nicely scalable. The reader can optimize exercises to his or her needs.

The last chapter lays out the program. Because varying the characteristics of the workout is the key to the periodization approach, varied workout structures are discussed. These include well-known approaches such as interval sets, super sets, and tabatas, as well as less familiar approaches such as stappers (cycling through a fixed number of repetitions of a few exercises for a set amount of time without rest periods—but with a low enough number of reps to avoid failure) and ladders (i.e. long sets in which one does on rep, rests for one, does two reps, rests for two, etc. up to just before the point of failure, and then working back down to one rep in a symmetric manner.) While one can certainly make up one’s own workout with the knowledge gained to this point in the book, there are 10-week sample programs at four different levels (starting with beginners and working toward advanced practitioners of calisthenics.) If you’re not sure which level is right for you, the author provides a set of exercises that one should be able to carry out as a minimum to begin work at a given level.

The first ten chapters deal with a range of subjects including: diet, strength training myths, motivation, intensity, and the nature of bodyweight exercise. These short chapters lay out basic concepts helpful to engage in the program. There are three appendices that discuss equipment issues, a summary of guiding principles, and a discussion of the science of the program. The latter is beneficial, given some claims by the author that old school fitness buffs might find hard to accept–such as the lack of need for high volume endurance activities for cardio (i.e. one doesn’t need go for a run to get cardio benefits.)

I found this book to be beneficial. I like the fact that Lauren addresses the science of the approach rather than just throwing his approach out there with all the fad workouts. I found the advice to be sound, and have become more creative when considering how I can get a good workout on the road as a result of reading the book. As I write this, I’m in the 10th (and final) week of one of the sample workout sequences. I believe I’ve gotten good strength workouts from the program. I enjoy the scalability of the program, and have taken advantage of both easier and harder variants of the exercises.

I’d recommend this book if you’re looking for a bodyweight exercise program—particularly if you travel a lot, don’t have access to fitness facilities, or just like to workout at home.

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