Strong & Sculpted Book Review

The author Brad Schoenfeld is a legend. He has been in the fitness industry for at least 20 years. When he was a personal trainer, back in the 90s, he classified himself as a “rogue scientist”, experimenting with various exercise routines and variables. After writing the highly successful book in 1998 called Sculpting Her Body Perfect  he went back to university and earned a master’s degree in kinesiology and a PhD focused on applied exercise science. He is now a professor in exercise science, internationally renowned fitness expert, and leading authority on body composition training. He leads a lab that executes controlled studies on what he calls “strategies for optimizing body composition” and has authored over 80 peer-reviewed scientific articles.

Now that is a pretty impressive resume! I knew it was a respected book because it was published by Human Kinetics, the biggest and best publishing company in the health and fitness industry. I can always trust a book to be good, honest, have reliable content with the Human Kinetics’s name on it.

Strong and Sculpted: the Total Body Training Program for Shaping Your Ultimate Physique consists of 215 pages, the bulk of it being colour exercise photos with detailed descriptions of the various strength training exercises. The layout is simple and clear and the program is easy to follow. It is definitely a book for all levels of fitness enthusiasts and gives the basics necessary for success.

The book begins with the breakdown of Schoenfeld’s training philosophy. It is informative, yet short. Next he details his Strong and Sculpted program, going through how to apply volume, frequency, load, exercise selection, intensity, and rest.

The meat of the book are the exercises. I really like the way Schoenfeld organized the sections by muscle grouping, which makes it super easy to pick and choose exercises to use for his program. Also, organizing this way gives huge variety in choice of exercises per body part.

Next Schoenfeld explains his program, beginning with the Break-In phase, continuing with the Basic Training phase, moving on to the Advanced Body-Sculpting phase, and finishing with the Peak Physique phase. He concludes with a couple of pages explaining cardio.

His program is based on a undulating periodization model. I have trained using linear/traditional periodization before, but this was my first time trying a nonlinear/undulating program.

According to NASM 6th edition Essentials of Personal Fitness Training textbook periodization is “a systematic approach to program design that uses the general adaptation syndrome and principle of specificity to vary amount and type of stress placed on the body to produce adaptation and prevent injury.” Basically, this means that a periodization program varies the focus of training at regularly planned periods of time to keep your body working to its full potential.

The linear model consists of a large overall plan, called a macrocycle, traditionally within the scope of one year, though I often see offerings of 3-month linear model periodization plans. Within the macrocycle are mesocycles, which are smaller plans normally broken up into 1 month/4 week blocks. Within each month there are weekly mini plans, called microcycles.  Within each mesocycle there is a one constant training variable. For example, one month the focus is on gaining maximum strength, next month power, next month speed, and then having a month to recover and rest. With linear periodization plans often there is a goal, like a competition or track meet, which would be scheduled at the end of the speed/power training month, and right before the much needed light rest month.

The undulating/nonlinear model varies the variables within each given month/week. For example, in the Strong and Sculpted program, a 2-week period starts with training days that work on maximal strength. The training days then switch to working with moderate weight (hypertrophy), and then to performing several endurance (light) strength workouts. Finally the plan goes back to heavy strength and repeats.

I tried a 2-week training period within the Advanced Body Sculpting program. The first two workouts were training for maximum strength: one upper body workout and one lower body workout, and then one day of rest. I loved training heavy. Maximum strength is not something I normally train for, lifting so heavy I can only lift 5-6 reps of the weight. And boy, I definitely recruited new muscle fibres because I felt it for days afterward! The middle part of the 2-week undulating plan was lifting moderate weight (hypertrophy), which is what I normally train for. Lifting with moderate weight should fatigue the muscle within 8-12 reps. One upper body workout, one lower body workout, and then one day of rest. Next, is endurance lifting, which consists of higher reps, (12-20 reps) using lower weight. I am not a big fan of endurance training, so I found that part of the program very boring. When I train for endurance, I usually add that element into my hypertrophy session, often doing a super set (performing two exercises for the same muscle back to back without rest).

When following this program, I strongly recommend adding a solid stretching program. In this book there is little mention of flexibility and it contains absolutely no stretching exercises within it’s program. Schoenfeld gives the topic of stretching one page of space in his entire book, and he mainly focuses on why not to perform pre-exercise stretches. Within that one page he does explain the current research very well. However, I do disagree with this statement from the book: “contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to include a stretching component to your regular routine”. I disagree, from the education I have received, from my own experience, and the experience of my clients.

Flexibility, the normal extensibility of all soft tissues that allow full range of motion of a joint, is hugely important in terms of functional daily living, moving pain-free, and not forming dysfunctional movement patterns around a joint leading to injures (something I am super passionate about, future post!).

If you follow the Strong and Sculpted program, please stretch your tight muscles before a workout (after your cardio warmup), these are the muscles you know that give you problems as its important to “inhibit” them so your weaker muscles can have a chance to work. Also, stretching will improve your joint’s range of motion before you work the muscles around those joints when lifting weights, resulting in better form leading to less injury, but again, only if that specific joint is tight. Better yet, ask a knowledgable, skilled trainer to give you an postural assessment, anyone certified with ACE NASM would know which assessments to perform. As for your warm-up, use your whole body by performing light to moderate cardio or dynamic stretching exercises (future post!). And after your workout, PLEASE stretch the muscles you have worked, your body will thank you.

So while I only performed the program for two weeks and ended up going back to my much loved Jamie Easonprogram, I enjoyed trying out the Strong and Sculpted training plan. I do think this undulating periodization program definitely has merit, especially to avoid burnout, overtraining, and injuries. I recommend this book to anyone looking to start a solid weight training program, you are in good hands with this reliable strength training program. Most of the exercises need to be performed in a gym, using machines, cables, and dumbbells.