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Book Review of: Ready, Set, Go

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Review of
Ready, Set, Go, by Phil Campbell


This is one of those rare fitness books based on information, rather than misinformation.

It is limited in its scope, though--it focuses on the exercise portion of the fitness equation and does not address the nutritional side. If you want a total fitness solution, you will need additional information. I don't see that as a huge minus for this book, as many people who know one area overextend themselves to cover the other. Campbell does the reader a service by sticking to what he knows, except as noted later in this review.

The core philosophy of Campbell's book is nothing new--it's been around for ages in the bodybuilding world. That philosophy is that exercise intensity, not duration, produces results. Specifically, Campbell focuses on intensity in cardio training. One way to look at it is "sprinting vs. jogging."

I was running bleachers as part of my martial arts training a quarter century ago. Bill Phillips talked about interval training in his book, Body For Life and in his related movies. Sandy Miller, an outstanding personal trainer and former competition body builder, was teaching interval training before that. So, it's not a concept Campbell discovered and is now bringing to the rest of us. However, he does a great job of making it real and understandable.

Campbell also brings some new information to the age-old "debate" of sprinting vs. jogging (which is about on par with flat earth vs. round). He provides extensive research and goes deeper into the HGH connection than other authors do (at least the ones I have read). In fact, much of Campbell's advice seems aimed directly at increasing HGH. However, he's lighter on the testosterone issue than some other authors who've delved into the endocrinology behind effective physical training.

He also takes on one of bodybuilding's main tenets, and deftly provides the other side of the coin. This is the practice of taking in carbohydrates and protein after a workout. Phillips, for example, talks about doing this within two hours for optimum muscular development. And the Shaklee Corporation advised this (using their product Physique, offered at about 20 years before that--based on double-blind studies. What Campbell says is, yes, do that to maximize muscle growth. But if you want to maximize fat loss, then don't eat sugars during that window. He's not conflicting with the principle--he's showing there's another way to use this window of time if your purpose is fat loss rather than muscle gain.

I do think this is a great book for the beginning to intermediate athlete, and for the person who simply wants a healthy body. But I need to point out some errors. The book does have a surprising number of grammatical and syntactical errors, but it also has a few  informational errors that the reader must be aware of.

The most obvious error is one that conflicts with Campbell's own message about training intensity. The charts he provides for weight training require too many repetitions per set and too much time for completion of the workout. The only way to crank out that many reps or work out for that much time is to lower the intensity. This attenuates the testosterone release and increases the cortisone release--just the opposite of what you want. The cure here is to apply the same intensity philosophy to weight training as Campbell does to cardio work. You will be amazed at the results, if you switch from his low intensity recommendations to a more focused workout.

Next, we look at the photos. I'm going to go in reverse page order, because--coincidentally--that's the order of presentation if I address these in order of increasing severity. The first instance results in underdevelopment, the second leads to injury, and the third leads to more serious injury.

On pages 276 and 277, we see photos of Campbell on a standing calf machine. You can see from the photos he has poor or maybe moderate calf development. The reason is that to get sufficient tension on the muscle, you must use the entire stack of such a machine--and then some. When I have stacked the machine, I have always gotten deep "marks" in my skin--even when adding towels for padding. This machine is for beginners and maybe for intermediate users. But calves are very strong and require a great deal of weight to be properly challenged for growth (not my opinion--Arnold Schwarzenegger commented on this in great detail in one of his books and in various interviews).

A better choice is the seated calf raise, as illustrated by the model on page 278. Notice, this person is obviously not a beginner. I like to use about 350 to 400 lbs.--not possible on the standing calf raise machine. The standing calf raise with a padded barbell (as opposed to the machine) hurts my back, and I don't know any trainers who recommend such a risky exercise anyhow. So, the seated calf raise is probably your best bet in terms of using standard equipment.

On page 232, we see a model doing behind-the-neck pulldowns. This exercise, which represents no motion you would use in real life, puts the shoulders at a very odd angle and then puts tension on them. While this exercise may help expand the chest cavity somewhat because of the position, it's a dangerous movement that informed lifters simply do not do.

On page 220, we see Nick Shelby, a "nationally ranked bodybuilder" doing the bench press with his shoulders rounded forward and fully extended. Shelby is primarily working his front delts, which, you can see, are huge and--at least to my eye--appear out of proportion to the rest of his body. This poor form tends to rotate the shoulders forward. It change shoulder geometry in a manner that weakens it both in terms of strength and stability. The danger to the rotator cuff is high, and that can mean a dislocated shoulder in addition to torn connective tissue.

Campbell himself has this shoulder rotation problem, and you can clearly see it in his cover photo. It's a common problem among people who do the bench press incorrectly.

Men, especially, adapt this poor form (recruiting the front delts into the motion) so they can push more weight up while bench pressing. But, bench pressing that way actually limits your gains and sets you up for injury. The correct way to isolate and work the pecs (rather than the front delts) with the bench press is to try to squeeze your shoulder blades together. Keep those shoulders back. Have someone spot you on the bench, until you get this right. If you do round your shoulders forward, then immediately cut your bench workout weight in half and train until you can do the exercise properly without someone to push your shoulders down before you increase the weight at all. Or, if you are happy with the idea of a blown shoulder, bad posture, neck pain, and advanced arthritis, then do it the other way.

That number of errors in this book is statistically insignificant, considering the breadth and depth of this book and its illustrations.

If you have been doing conventional circuit training and jogging, you have a program that won't allow you to reach anywhere near your fitness potential. However, it will allow you to waste a lot of time doing circuit training and jogging. Changing to Campbell's approach will produce changes that others will notice.

If you modify Campbell's weight lifting program per my preceding comments, you will see even better results. Campbell himself has a higher body fat level, less vascularity, and less musculature than he would have if he took his program to the next level--that is, making his weight workouts intense. If you modified his program per my previous comments, you would be doing the same kind of program Bill Phillips talks about in his books or Shawn Phillips talks about in his (other authors, such as Frank Zane and Rachel McLish, provide similar information--the Phillips brothers are not the first, nor will they be the last). But with Campbell's book, you will understand more of the "why" and that will probably help you do a better job of putting your heart into each and every moment of your workouts.

Beginning and intermediate athletes stand the most to gain from this book. Advanced athletes should already be working out this way (except as noted previously). If you're an advanced athlete, this book can add insight to your training knowledge and help you develop new variations in your training.

Phil Campbell has done the world a service by putting out this book. I hope in the next edition he will correct the few information errors and have a good copyeditor clean up the grammar and syntax. Even without that effort, this book is a pleasurable read that will give hope--and results--to people who are still looking forward to having healthy bodies and vibrant lives.


About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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