Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review: The First 20 Minutes

The First 20 Minutes is a book about exercise physiology. It's been a number of very good years for exercise physiology since more and more research has been published about mind-body connection, and there's any number of fads and myths, which this book does a great job of debunking.

For instance, take barefoot running. It's been touted as the solution for everything related to running injuries, but it turns out that for instance, the natural walking position even when barefoot is heel striking first, not stepping on the balls of your feet. Interestingly enough, there's research showing that barefoot running doesn't solve all running injuries, and in fact may create different injuries, so choice of running footwear or lack thereof is largely a matter of personal taste.

The section on stretching is well known --- hopefully by now everyone knows that stretching before exercising is actually bad for you. What's oddly interesting is that she found research showing that most athletes overdo the warm up, wearing themselves out before the actual event.

Reynolds does a good job describing the difference between fitness and health, and points out that 20 minutes of exercise a day is all you really need to maintain health. But if you want to change your body shape, then you have to do quite a bit more (an hour a day). Worse, exercise isn't a great way to lose weight, unless you do a lot of it. She notes that vigorous intense workouts exceeding 800 calories burned do indeed give you an "afterburn", where your appetite gets depressed and your metabolic rate increases even post workout. Unfortunately, life's not fair. Apparently, this does not happen to women.

Ever wondered why women sweat less than men? This book has the answer. There's also sections on why more repetition at a lower weight is the preferred method for strength training now, and how exercise affects your brain (old hat to folks who've read Brain Rules), and how exercise affects your DNA at a deep level, provided you start early enough (in your 20s). There's also how exercise affects kids as well as older people (hint: it's good to start early, while the baby is in mom's womb!). All in all, the book is comprehensive, even more so than Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights.

I do have a few complaints about the book. First, Reynolds doesn't like cycling, so she gives cycling short shrift --- there's very little tips for cyclists that are useful, and she quotes an old study showing that 60rpm is more efficient metabolically than 90rpm. Anyone who does any amount of cycling knows that metabolic efficiency is unimportant in cycling --- cyclists are already the most efficient land animal on the planet. It's about endurance, and it's far easier to push a light weight for a long time than to push a heavier weight for the same amount of time.

With those criticisms aside, though, this is a great book and worth reading. Recommended!
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