Book Reviews – Olympian Manual, The White Prisoner and All About Powerlifting

Having now finished the utterly exhaustive and exhausting Categories of Weight Training series, I want to dial things back a notch and give folks a break from dense walls of text with badly drawn graphic (and incorrect physics).

And since  I haven’t done any product reviews in a while (let’s face it, for a while there I didn’t do any new content) and have actually read a few books of late so it seemed as good a time as any to remedy that.   And while I’m tempted to stretch this out into three separate articles, I’m honestly not sure I can come up with enough to write about each of the three books I want to talk about for that.

So today I want to look at three books I recently read which ranged in quality from a written atrocity to interesting (for a select group) to an almost must have purchase.  And I’m going to review them in that order.

The Olympian Manual for Strength and Size: Blue Print
from the World’s Greatest Coach

The Olympian Manual by Anatoly BondarchukDepending on your background, you may or may not know who Anatoly Bondarchuk is.  In brief he’s arguably the greatest hammer throwing coach of all time for whatever that may actually be worth.  If you don’t know what hammer throwing is, click here for a short video demonstrating it.

Much of Bondarchuk’s work hasn’t been translated but what has is mostly from a company called Ultimate Athlete Concepts which has done a lot of translated Eastern European texts.

I’ve read several of them, Bondarchuk’s first book on Transfer was an unintelligible mess, Volume II was better by degrees.  Vladimir Issurin released two excellent books through them, the first on Block Training and the second related to general training principles.  I can actually recommend the two Issurin books.

So when Bondarchuk’s new book was annouced, after much toing and froing, I was interested enough to read it (The Sickness as I call it, the obsessive drive to read all of this stuff, is strong in me sometimes). The title alone suggested that it might contain greatness.  Short version, it did not.

To be honest, I have rarely seen such an appallingly bad book and I’ve read some real corkers (Ian King’s book Get Buffed comes to mind as an unreadable mess but Australia and America seem to be two countries divided by the same language).  But back to Bondarchuk’s new book.  The introduction states that the book was translated by someone getting their bachelor’s in exercise physiology who also happens to speak Bondarchuk’s native languages.

But it was clear that he either didn’t have the fluency in language to do a good job or lacked the background in training necessary to make sense of Bondarchuk’s dictation.  Invariably,  the translations are gibberish and the translator seems to have done a word for word transliteration leading to some absolutely nonsensical sentences.  One section states:

At the same time, a decrease in rebase, shortening of the chronaxie, increased flow of efferent impulses and an increase in vibration of amplitude of different potential (VS Gufrinkel and dr., 1965).

I mean, these are all English words but strung together they don’t mean anything (and note that unfinished reference at the end, just left out completely.  Dr Who?); the sentence is also hanging and there’s no verb or object.  It doesn’t ever finish or say anything.

And most of the book is like that.   If you didn’t already sort of know what was being said, you wouldn’t have any clue what was being said.  I described it somewhere as “Imagine you took Supertraining and ran it back and forth through a few language translators” including the Encheferizer and you get Bondarchuk’s new book.

One chapter is titled “Maximal Isometric Stength” (read it closely) which means that even a basic spell-checker wasn’t run on the text.  There are missing tables that are referred to but don’t appear and one section (where I can only assume the translator got confused) arguing that Slow Twitch muscle fibers are more important for strength/power production than Fast Twitch.  I pray that they just got it switched during typing because that’s so wrong as to be laughable.  Maybe that’s what it said, I can’t be sure.

There are endless typos and a few times where “citation needed” appears in parentheses.   Tables spill single columns onto the next page, one chapter starts right in the middle of a page underneath text from the previous chapter and even the magical workouts are the most generic things you’ve ever seen.    The book seems to have simply had individual chapters slapped into a Word document and sent to the printer without ever having seen an editor or having anyone but the translator take so much as a glimpse at it.

Bottom line, this book is an unfinished travesty which never should have been released in it’s current format and certainly not for $65 plus shipping.  I sent it back for a refund which I will say that the owner of UAC gave me but I won’t even give you a link to this thing.  If you want it just for the comedy value, that’s great but I think there are better ways to drop $65 plus shipping.  You can get three lap dances and a watered down drink at most strip clubs and they’ll provide more usefulness to your training (a spike in testosterone) than this piece of crap.  Moving on.

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The White Prisoner: Galabin Boevski’s Secret Story

The White Prisoner - Galabin Boevski's Secret Story

While I suspect that the second book I want to look at will have fairly limited appeal to most readers of this site, I’m going to plug it anyway.  I imagine that most have at least a vague idea of the wonders of the Bulgarian Olympic Lifting system (and I wrote a fair amount about it a few years back).

Now there is a lot of lore, a fair few facts and a whole  lot of nonsense written about what was going on in Bulgaria during their dominance of the sport of Olympic lifting and getting an idea of what really went on can be difficult.

But this book gives some insight directly from an athlete who came directly through the system.  The book is autobiographical in nature telling the somewhat sad tale of Galabin Boevski (who grew up in a dirt poor country, gave his life to Olympic lifting, winning World and Olympic medals before failing a drug test and spending time in a Brazillian prison).

The book is translated and there are some oddities in the language but I can’t honestly say that I had any sections that were unclear (the book was nice enough to give footnotes for some words or concepts that needed to be defined).  It’s fairly short and written almost vignette style with no section being more than part of a page of a couple of pages long.  I will say that it was a little bit hard for me to tell what kind of chronology the book was following as it seemed to jump back and forth from Boevki’s youth and training to his incarceration.  That’s how most American sports biographies are structured but it’s a little hard to tell with this one.  I simply don’t know for sure.

Being the kind of nerd I am, I would have loved for the book to have had more information about the actual training but that wasn’t really the purpose of it.  It does give some glimpses into the kind of man/coach Abadjev was (translation: an autocratic taskmaster who ruled with an iron fist but built champions, throwing away any who fell behind or didn’t do what he told them when he told them to do it) along with some of the intrigue that goes on in elite Olympic lifting (it tells about athletes being sold to other countries, failed drug tests, etc).

Mostly it tells a story of one of the great lifters (who’s training poundages indicate that he might have beaten the pocket Hercules Naim Sulmonican’tspellhislastname had he been given the chance) who gave his life to a sport and a country that ultimately let him down.  The story ends fairly abruptly and I’m not honestly sure what happened to Boevski afterwards.

The book is inexpensive, available both on Kindle and a print on demand book from Createspace.  If you have any interest in Olympic lifting, the Bulgarian sports machine or just interesting athlete stories, I recommend this one.

Click here for more information on the book and an excerpt about Abadjaev at All Things Gym

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 All About Powerlifting: Everything You Need to
Know to Become Stronger than Ever

All About PowerliftingAnd finally I want to talk about a book that I really cannot too strongly recommend.  And that book is All About Powerlifting by Tim Henriques.  Also the author of a physiology textbook, Tim is a competitive powerlifter who has written what I think is a truly must-have book on the topic (and it will have much information of value for folks with no interest in powerlifting).

Certainly other books have come before on the topic but this is certainly one of the most comprehensive (I haven’t read Powerlifting by Dan Austin) I’ve ever seen.

From the very start I knew I was going to like this book as Tim makes it clear that while he hopes that the book will have something for lifters of all levels, that it’s really aimed at folks just starting out or with a few competitions under their belt.  That kind of honesty in books is rare and set the tone for the rest of it.

Tim takes a detailed look at all three powerlifts (and there is even a chapter on the strict curl which is a part of some competitions) looking in great detail at each.  I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn how to squat, bench and deadlift even if they have no interest in competing.

One chapter a piece is dedicated to the performance of the lifts, along with a description of standard meet technique and rules; a second chapter talks about improving the lifts with lists of popular assistance exercises (along with when they might or might not be useful) and a listing of the muscles involved in the lifts, their relative importance, and the exercises that target them.  For folks who want to know how to bring up a specific part of a movement, these lists will be intensely helpful.  He also mentions little tips and tricks that often go unmentioned, things like using a band stretched across the power rack to make sure you hit depth and putting black paper over the mirrors as you get closer to competition.

I will note that throughout the book, Tim is very good about addressing pros and cons of some of the major arguments that often come up.  Head position is one that comes up frequently with various camps arguing for one proper head position.  Tim examines each from a pros and cons, benefits and drawbacks view along with giving his own personal preference.  This is rare in books these days but it is a nice thing to see for a change.

An additional chapter addresses the use of the powerlifts for athletes and I was pleased to see him distinguish sports into different categories and suggest different strength standards (none of which are ludicrous) for each.  Apparently some powerlifters think his numbers are too low but the reality is that huge levels of maximal strength just aren’t that important for most athletes (a point I touched on in my own Categories of Weight Training series).  Once a basic level of strength is reached, training time is better spent on many other things.

Other chapters address nutrition (it was fine, there were a couple of howler statements like sugar being stored as fat and carbs being essential but whatever; I’m a nitpicky ass and in the aggregate it wasn’t bad) and he addresses both losing and gaining weight for competition, giving overall good advice.   He talks a bit about water manipulation, staying with fairly conservative recommendations as well.

Meet preparation, what to expect, along with handy checklists are provided along with information on warming up to hit a maximum and different approaches to setting attempts (both conservative and aggressive approaches being described).    This section alone should be mandatory reading for anyone headed into their first powerlifting meet.

Conditioning is covered and it was nice to see Tim address everything from walking to general cardio to interval and GPP methods.  The book touches on gear and Tim gives his opinion on the topic which I thought was a fairly balanced look at the issue (I imagine that singular chapter will touch off most of the argument about the book). There is also a brief look at the different powerlifting federations looking at gear used, tested or not, etc.

The book provides conversion charts for the lifts along with an equation that just seemed unnecessarily complicated to me to determine weight at a given rep count or maxes.  I know what he was attempting to do but his method just seems like a lot of unnecessary number crunching.

The book rounds itself out with some useful appendices including one that was mainly comedy of the “You know you’re a powerlifter if” Sprinkled between the chapters are interviews with top lifters (and even one meet director); giving some insight into what top athletes are actually doing.

The book is beautifully laid out, was edited well (no major errors jumped out at me) and at a whopping 460 pages leaves almost nothing unturned.  But there are a few negatives I want to mention.

I do think the chapters on the individual exercises would have benifitted from more pictures, each one ends with a photo series of a proper lift but reading dense text about elbow position and foot position without pictures is confusing.  Presenting pictures of the assistance movements would have helped as well since not everyone will automatically know what’s being described. I could see this kind of book having an accompanying DVD or online video library easily.

As well each of the chapters attempted to present a chart showing the relative frequency of training for the lifts against training experience and loading but they were, frankly, unintelligble.  The ink wasn’t dark enough to tell which line was which and I couldn’t make heads or tails out of them.  You can get a vague idea from the text descriptions but those three charts really failed to do what they intended to do.

Perhaps the biggest problem I had with the book is that there are endless LOOOOONG hyperlinks to other articles that the author has written about training programs or what have you.  On the one hand it was nice for there to be more information presented; on the other there’s no way I see most people typing those things in correctly.  It’s one thing to put clickable links into an E-book.  Having long hyperlinks in a print book just really doesn’t work.

And that brings me to probably the biggest drawback of the book.  You might notice one topic I didn’t really talk about and that’s programming.  In every chapter on the individual exercises, there are links  to lift specific programs but the chapter on overall programming was desperately thin approaching non-existent, a total of 10 pages (the chapter on the strict curl was 32 pages for contrast).  It covers the most basic of concepts of periodization (general prep, specific prep, peaking), some of the currently popular programs are mentioned and then it’s just a lot more hyperlinks to other articles.

I will give Tim credit for addressing this: he stated that including all of the programming information would have added a full 50+ pages to the book increasing the size and cost of the book.  And obviously the information was already there on the web.  But I’m not sure that providing endless hard to type in hyperlinks is the solution (as above, this is a problem that e-books don’t have but which may become a bigger problem for print books as more and more information is on the Internet).

I’m honestly not sure what the solution is, maybe a DVD with videos and collections of links, maybe a support page on the book’s website.  Hell, just package a flash drive with each book that has the links and some videos or something.   Even providing Tiny URL’s would have been better than thinking someone will type in website.com/free_online_article/most_recent/etc-etc.html over and over again.  Maybe I’m wrong; I know factually I wouldn’t sit trying to type in those links for very long.

But ultimately those minor drawbacks (and let’s face it, there is NO shortage of programming information out there) don’t detract from the fact that this is one very well-written book and I really do recommend it.  Advanced trainees are unlikely to get much out of it but Tim even acknowledges that in the beginning.

Anyone with a beginning or intermediate training background who wants an enormously detailed resource on the three powerlifts (and the strict curl) in terms of performance, improvement, etc. would benefit from this book in my opinion.  If you’re facing down your first competition, PICK IT UP sooner rather than later.  Folks who know me know that I think most training books suck so the fact that I have this much good to say about this book should tell you something.

Click me for more about All About Powerlifting

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