Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review of The New Rules of Lifting for Abs

My review of the newest of The New Rules of Lifting series, by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove

I'm proud to call Lou Schuler my friend, but I'm even prouder that Lou writes books that I am happy to buy, give as gifts, and recommend. Lou was nice enough to send me a pre-release copy of NROL for Abs, and I was excited to read it. I'm even more excited to tell you about it, because it's really good.

for the abs!

Lou teams up, once again, with Alwyn Cosgrove, for the third New Rules of Lifting book, and this time it's "for Abs," and who doesn't want abs? I do. (I'm a little bit vain.) Still, I'll admit I cringed when I heard it had "for abs" in the title, but what can you do? You read the book and give it a chance. I did, and I think when you read it, you'll stop cringing, too.

Most of us would love to have abs to show the world, most of us also want what visible abs tell other people, namely that we are strong, healthy, and fit. But are visible abs (or any visible muscles) actually evidence of this? No.

Lou kicks off the book with his own story of injuries. Injuries that hit him when he was at his prime; his biggest and strongest, at the time when he and those around him must have thought him strong, healthy, and fit. ...and he was all of those things, but not where it counted. His individual muscles might have been strong enough on their own, but when asked to help each other out, some of them just didn't play well together. 

Most of us have experienced this ourselves. You are strong and feeling great, and then you reach for a bag of groceries in the back of the car, twist a bit to get it out of the tangle of seatbelts, and WHAM, your back is tweaked! Visible abs didn't, wouldn't, or couldn't help. Your muscles weren't playing well together. They were strong enough to pull the groceries out, but not strong enough to keep your spine protected when it needed their help. All those crunches didn't (and couldn't) help keep you from twisting yourself into an injury. Your abs might have been strong, but your core was not.

abs vs core

In the past few years, the term "core" has been a popular term in the fitness world, but it doesn't seem well understood. To many, the core is a fancy name for the abs, so they just keep doing crunches and situps. Some have caught on that it's not just about flexing yourself into a ball, so they also do side bends, but those are equally useless.

To many others, working the core is done with circus trick exercises like balancing on a wobble board or Bosu ball while squatting or doing curls. These are also useless for the most part, in addition to possibly making them weaker, as wobbling reduces the amount of weight one can lift. Most people want to be stronger, not weaker.

None of these exercises will do a thing to make your abs visible, either. What most people fail to realize is that they might actually be making their backs worse.  Yes, crunches, situps, side bends, and other exercises like these are both useless to shed the layer of fat over your abs (yes, you already have them under there), but  are also dangerous to your back over time. Yes, dangerous.

In reality, having a "strong" core is more than muscular strength, and more about strength were it counts. It's also about mobility, flexibility, and stability. You need the strength to lift a weight. You need to strength to keep a weight from twisting you. You need the mobility to move where you need to, but the flexibility to get there, pain free. Your core needs all of these attributes to be healthy, and being strong is only one part of that. So, even though "healthy" isn't a sexy word, it's actually a better fit when you're talking about your strong core.

the book itself

Alwyn Cosgrove's clients have an hour with him or his trainers. Just an hour, so time is of the essence. Because of this, Alwyn has learned to make his training programs very efficient. I like this. You can accomplish what you need to do in a short period of time.

Each workout is logically organized and easy to follow:

1.  Mobility & Warmup - Those five minutes on the treadmill do little to help your workout, but Alwyn's mobility drills are the warmup. In addition to getting you sweating, they lube your joints and prepare them to lift some weight. Dynamic movements take the place of the stretching you used to do (or skipped) and increase your flexibility and range of motion like a treadmill never will. These movements aren't actually hard, but they aren't easy to do without getting a good sweat on.

On a personal note, I'll share that the more seriously I take my pre-training mobility, the better my workout goes. Don't assume that getting tired and sweaty now makes for a lesser workout later. It's quite the opposite. It may take two or three training sessions to get to that point, but you will get there and never look back.

Oh, there's a saying in the fitness world that "one man's warmup is another man's workout," so don't be surprised to find yourself surprised! On the flip side, hold your head high, because your warmup will be more effective than most gym goer's whole workout!

2.  Core Training - The core and "abz" are usually left to the end of the workout, but here, they are right up front. You are going to see that these are a good workout in and of themselves, especially when you're still learning the moves. Because core strength and health is key to lifting big, it's a good thing these come first. But don't worry, they don't take all that much time.

3.  Strength Training & Power Training - Just in case you think this book is all about the abs and the core, it's not. At the heart of each training session is real strength training, featuring deadlifts, chinups, squats, pulldowns, and pressing. In addition to traditional weightlifting, you're going to find yourself doing some power training, too.  Jump squats, jump shrugs, and even some medicine ball slams are options.

Lou and Alwyn provide training options for advanced lifters, too. This allows people who are already strong in the big lifts to get even stronger, even while they get stronger in their core.

4.  Metabolic Training - Not your mother's cardio. Time efficient and very effective metabolic training is found here. Burpees and swings are demanding and challenging like an elliptical machine never will be. If you feel like you need to do more, then hop on the machine afterward, but in my opinion, you should have just worked harder in the actual workout.


Programming - The book has three months of programs, but enough alternative exercises and progressively tougher options that you can loop back around and make yourself even better.  The book has good descriptions and pictures and of each exercise, too.

Mobility alternatives - Some mobility drills can be embarrassing to do in a regular gym. When you have a trainer telling you what to do, not so much, but you'll just have the book, not the trainer. Lou and Alwyn are smart enough to realize that you're not going to do something if it's silly looking, so they have provided alternate mobility drills for when you're being watched.  They are also smart enough to know that we don't all have a huge warmup area, so rather then tell you to suck it up and weave your way between equipment, there are alternative drills for when you have little more than a place to stand. Thank God!

No break in routine - Thank you. The first two NROL books would have been better if the break in workouts would have been simply named "Phase One." I don't know how many times I've answered the question "I already lift weights, so do I need to do the Break In Workout?" Yes, you should.  It's just a workout that you do first, but the term "break in" has a beginner stigma attached. "Phase One" does not.

Lifestyle - The book has a whole section on our modern lifestyle, which is the enemy to our abs and our core.  being sedentary, and working behind the wheel or in front of the computer causes so many issues. The book makes a good case for getting off our butts and moving around more. We workout for maybe three hours a week, leaving 165 hours to reverse all of the benefits. Take charge of your lifestyle to see the improvements you really want to see.

Nutrition - Lou does a great job of breaking nutrition down to terms that everyone can understand. You can train all day long, but if you have a layer of fat covering them up, then you don't have abs (invisible ones don't count). So many fitness books are filled with half truths or wishful thinking, but this is pretty much straight shooting, netted out, and simple advice to follow.

A forum - Like with the last book, there's an internet forum for asking questions. The New Rules of Lifting for Abs forum is a going to be a great place to ask your questions and meet others also following the program. The last book and forum combination spawned challenges, training, groups, and many friendships, so please be sure to check it out! Of course, the book's not out yet, so all you can do is say "hi" to Lou right now, but the books are coming!

not (as) cool

There are some things that many people can't do, and when they are included without options... well, I wish for options. In the warmup and mobility section, the Squat to Stand is programmed, but I cannot physically squat down like that without falling over backward (which sort of tanks my ability to stand afterward). Likewise, the Overhead Squat is part of the strength programming. This is another exercise that I cannot do (this time I'll fall forward, however).  Neither of these is a bad exercise. On the contrary, they are good exercises, but when you can't do them, you need options or a way to build up to them.

The irony is that my inability to Squat to Stand is a lack of mobility and flexibility and my failure to Overhead Squat is likely those issues and a lack of core strength where it counts. I need this program, but I'll have to find my own way to build up to them.


Most of us would love to have abs to show the world, most of us also want what visible abs tell other people, namely that we are strong, healthy, and fit. But visible abs are not actual evidence of any of that. We don't actually need visible abs to have all that, but the abs are like the proof. They are like a fancy watch, a receipt for an expensive toy, or ATM balance slip to wave around and show off. But, you can find big dollar ATM slips in trash cans near any ATM if you just look. But, try to make a withdrawal and it's a no go.  You don't want abs a core that is a no go.

The New Rules of Lifting for Abs provides the trifecta needed to produce the abs and core that are both show and go. The training, lifestyle, and nutrition sections work together to get you lean enough to show the abs, strong enough to look and feel your best, and mobile enough let your strong and healthy core keep you there.


I really like this book. The warmup and mobility routine has been a great addition to my training. It may seem trivial, but kicking off my training with the NROL4A warmup really seems to prep me for the harder stuff to come. I'm warm and loose, and far better more capable of squatting. I like it.

It's worth nothing that the subtitle of the book makes it clear that it's going to be more than just abs, but also developing a strong core and healthy back.  The mix of core work and strength work make it fun and interesting, and you're certain to come of of this program far more capable and strong.


The New Rules of Lifting for Abs is available on December 30th at all the major bookstores. At the time of this writing, choosing two day shipping from will have it actually show up at your door on the day it's released. That's a nice trick.


The Book - The New Rules of Lifting for Abs - on Amazon
The New Rules of Lifting Homepage -
The New Rules of Lifting for Abs Forum -
Alwyn Cosgrove -
Lou Schuler -


  1. Great writing and a great review overall, Roland. Thanks a bunch.

  2. I can't wait. :o) With my low back/hip injury from last February (that has just gotten better in the last month), and my knee injury from May (cartilage defect on the lateral femoral condyle) I have not been doing much working out other than Yoga and walking/hiking. I'm really looking forward to getting back into it since my injuries all seem better. This will be a perfect way to do it. :)

  3. Along with toning the muscles, most ab products will offer cardiovascular training as well. The body is fully supported, enabling your muscles to be worked in the most effective approach.

    Abs Equipment


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