The Complete Guide to Strength Training (2015): An A-1 resource for evidence-based practice in strength training

I am very highly impressed with The Complete Guide to Strength Training (2015) by Anita Bean, the fifth edition of the book. It makes good sense for a book of this kind to go through successive editions, thereby keeping up to date with research and development in the field of strength training.

Except on days when I work out at home, I work out at the Gus Ryder Health Club in Toronto. I never leave any valuables in my locker, as lockers can be broken into as I’ve observed over many years of strength training at fitness centres in Toronto. I carry my keys and wallet with me, when I’m working out.

Assisted Pull-Up machine. The Assisted Pull-Up is an exercise that I recently got around to learning, as it was included in one of the routines in Anita Bean's book that I've recently been following. Jaan Pill photo

Assisted Pull-Up/Chin-Up machine.  Jaan Pill photo

For a long time, I’ve been interested in learning about how long a rest period (such as between sets) is the best, in particular circumstances. I often read news reports about research related to strength training and related topics such as high-intensity interval training. I like to make sure that my fitness efforts are evidence-based. I like to read widely about fitness-related topics, while keeping attuned to what the evidence actually indicates.

Anita Bean’s training programs present a clear account regarding all key aspects of strength training, including how much time to rest between sets, and how much time to rest between exercises, at particular stages in a year-long schedule of workouts.


Such a schedule includes periods of less-intense workouts, and a stage of anatomical adaptation in preparation for periods of highly intensive work. The overall approach is known as periodization, which according to research yields greater gains than an approach where you do the same thing week after week, all through the year. I find it easy to start with Bean’s routines, and to adapt them to my particular circumstances.

The book also provides a good overview of high-intensity interval training, a topic that has been addressed in many research reports in recent years. It also highlights a wide range of strength training exercises that do not require weights or machines (that is, body weight exercises).

To figure out details regarding specified exercises, such as the Assisted Pull-Up, by way of example, I like to refer to Anita Bean’s book and also other books such as Basic Pumping Iron (2004) by Grant Breese and Dean White.

Basic Pumping Iron (2004) has the best approach to photography and layout, as it relates to the visual depiction of exercise sequences (you are dealing with a variation of Data Visualization), that I have encountered to date. Like many books, it contains the occasional copy editing error. For example, on page 81 of a two-page spread for the Assisted Pull-Up, there’s a variation hint that refers to the use of an inclining or declining bench, and to pressing one arm at a time or alternatively. Clearly, that little bit of text was meant to go with another exercise, not the Assisted Pull-Up.

Cardiovascular work

I spend about an hour a day walking around my neighbourhood including along the Lake Ontario shoreline and along open green spaces. Three days a week I also engage in short bursts (currently two minutes in length, with same-length intervals of less-intensive cycling) of high intensity cycling on a seated bicycle machine, on the days when I do strength training.

Correctness of form

Moving a weight rapidly to gain momentum, to enable you to work with a heavier weight than you could otherwise handle, is not the best work one’s way through an exercise. In a sense, it’s a misapplication of the laws of physics. Poor form tends to be the product of understandable motivations, that a given person may bring to weight training, but leads to less than optimal long-term results, so far as I have been able to determine.

For a resource that has schedules and routines that are really easy to follow, and is based upon the most recent research, Anita Bean’s book, now in its fifth edition, is the one I would recommend.

I very much like Anita Bean’s emphasis on correctness of form, and how to go about achieving it – both as a general principle and with regard to specific exercises.

Although it has the occasional editing error, such as when a Start and End photo for an exercise happens to be identical (Leg Press, p. 111), The Complete Guide to Strength Training (2015) is an A-1 book; I recommend it highly.

Metaphors derived from strength training

The concept of moving a weight rapidly to gain momentum, and other instances of neglect of attention to, or lack of knowledge about, correct form reminds me of an analogous situation in community self-organizing, an area that I’ve been involved with as a volunteer for thirty-plus years. The person who make a big show of using a heavier weight, than the exercise in question calls for, if the aim of to maintain good form, is analogous to the person who weeks to dominate by doing a great deal of talking at a meeting, without taking into account the fact that other people at the meeting have much to contribute as well.

By way of example, with regard to the metaphor, consider a useful online document entitled Succession Planning for the Non-profit Board Chair from Social Venture Partners, Boulder County. In the above-noted document, which is exemplary in its discussion of key concepts associated with succession planning, “some methods and a process of systematically trying to develop new leaders is suggest,” as the document notes.

The document adds:

  • Be careful of selecting the loudest or most dominant person for the Board Chair, as you ultimately need someone to facilitate the involvement of all of the members. Often these characteristics can demand respect (or alternatively just be intimidating) but more skills are necessary than that, as discussed earlier.

[End of excerpt]

The person who is the loudest or most dominant is, to return to the metaphor, the equivalent of the practice of working with more weight than makes sense, in the circumstances of a given strength training exercise. You want a situation, in both contexts (strength training and community groups) where the larger picture is taken into account, and not just what appears on the surface.

In the case of strength training, you want to lift weights in such a way that you get the best possible outcome from the process. In the case of community self-organizing, you want leaders who have the capacity to bring people together, and who have the capacity to listen along with the capacity to excel at communications.

Bench Press exercise

With regard to metaphors, I was impressed as well with a discussion, in another book that I have read in the past year, regarding the use of the Bench Press as a means to determine the maximum weight that a given athlete can press, as a preliminary step in the development of a strength training program.

The author notes that, when you’re dealing with the Bench Press, it’s not uncommon for a person to be susceptible to injuries, given the physics involved with the exercise. The author recommends not using the Bench Press as a way the establish a person’s maximum lifting capacity.

And why not? Because the application of maximum force, when doing this exercise, may give rise to an injury that keeps an athlete out of action for the entire playing season. That concept, of taking care with regard to such matters, has applications in so many areas of life. That is, to my mind, a most powerful metaphor – something to think about, in any aspect of life.


Beware of overtraining. At one point many years ago, I followed advice to do upper body work one day, lower body work the next. That might work for some people, in some circumstances, but for me it led to classic symptoms of overtraining, which I learned about by doing a web search for my symptoms, at the time. The symptoms included a high morning heart rate and a spike in blood pressure readings. It turned out to be pretty scary – overtraining can destroy your health. I followed the online advise and took a seven-week break from strength training. I was fine after that. I now work out three days a week, and that’s it.

Three sets of eight reps

Before I learned what’s what in strength training, I was destined to go with three sets of eight reps, for about twelve exercise altogether. I would have been doing that year in and year out.

That’s not a bad way to start; that can take you a long way – but there is so much further that we can go, by way of strength training, as I have learned though reading books such as The Complete Guide to Strength Training (2015).

Blue Zones Solution (2015)

An August 1, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “My Dinner With Longevity Expert Dan Buettner (No Kale Required).” The article notes: Not a lot of dairy products.

The above-noted article prompted me to read The Blue Zones Solution: Easting and Living  Like the World’s Healthiest People (2015). This is another book that I have found useful, as a reference based upon evidence-based research about topics that are useful to know about, although at least one of the ‘experts’ referred to in the book gives me pause.


A more recent post is entitled:

Successful strength training is largely a cerebral enterprise

A March 9, 2017 CBC article is entitled: ‘Get out of your comfort zone:’ Interval training benefits extend to aging: U.S. study indicates mixing speeds of aerobic exercise is ‘good from an aging perspective'”.

A March 24, 2021 New York Times article is entitled: “Too Much High-Intensity Exercise May Be Bad for Your Health: A new study hints that excessive HIIT may harm your mitochondria, the energy generators found in every cell of your body.”


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *