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4.6 out of 5 stars78
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 4 February 2012
I found Men's Health Big Book of Exercise to be a great help.

I am coming from a practical angle - the sport and nutrition science discussed in other reviews goes straight over my head.

My starting point was: middle aged, overweight and confused what to do. I went to the gym 6 month prior to buying the book 3 times a week doing only cardio: rowing, x-trainer, stepper, crunches, etc. That lost me about 6 kg (1 stone) and I got stuck.

When I read the Men's Health Big Book of Exercises advice "you need to do weights" I was really sceptical. However, I followed the (excellent) workout plans in the back of the book and my weight loss got moving again - about 4.5 kg IN A MONTH. This will obviously slow down, but their advice was spot on for me.

I would look at the book as a "beginners to intermediate" guide, written in plain layman's language the average (and not obsessed) man can actually understand. As all sports books, I recommend to read the summary, do the trial and error thing and reread the chapters properly once you start getting the hang of it.

Personally, I am very grateful to Men's Health for having published the book, which has really met my needs.
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on 15 July 2011
If I had to pick one word to describe this book, it wouldn't be "big", it would be "complete". It's not just a big book of exercises- its that plus a whole lot of other info as well. Here's some of what I liked the best about it...

-it devotes a chapter to answering questions we all have about lifting, questions such as "how fast should I lift?" or "how many repetitions should I do?"

-the exercises are organized by body part, so you get a bunch of ex's for the chest in Chapter 4, a bunch of exercises for the back in Chapter 5, and so on. Easy to navigate around in this book.

-included is a section on warm-up exercies- which a lot of people forget about doing. Here you'll find a lot of stretches.

-there's a workout plan towards the end of the book for just about every need you might have. For example, you'll find a workout plan for the crowded gym, for fat loss- even for vertical jumping. Neat!

The book ends with a section on cardio, and a section on nutrition. As you can see, while it is a "big" book of exercises (and kinda heavy too), its also a very "complete' book as well. Also recommend Treat Your Own Rotator Cuff if you have a shoulder problem that keeps you from working out.
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on 26 February 2011
The concept of Men's Health Big Book of Exercises is great: collect hundreds of exercises, group them by muscle group and add some background information and nutritional advice. There you go: the workout manual to make all others obsolete. But despite the lyrical reviews posted here, I found this book disappointing. In short: the collection of exercises is great, but the way they are presented is not optimal. A serious framework to construct your own training plan is absent and the nutritional information is downright silly.


What I liked about this book is the sheer number of exercises, they are the reason I continue this book every now and then. Each exercise comes with at least one clear picture and has some handy little performance tips scattered around. However, this being the main event of the book, there are a number of omissions that I would consider flaws.

First, there is no connection between the discussion of the anatomy in the beginning of each section and the exercises. It's great that you are shown the different muscles that make up the back, but in the 60 or so exercises that follow, there is no way of finding out which muscle or part thereof is targeted by which exercise. Also, if you give 15 variations of one particular exercise, it would have been logical to mark the variations in terms of level of difficulty. No such luck.

Basically, the book first gives some fairly detailed information on an entire muscle group (albeit with some less than great illustrations), but then simply dumps a long list of exercises on you. Though the number of exercises provided is much smaller, the book Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier is infinitely better. It tells you not just how to perform an exercise but also how an individual exercise targets each specific muscle. I sincerely hope Men's Health takes some cues from Delavier for their next edition of the Big Book.


The 'exercise plans' in the Big Book are alright, but if you are looking for a good, consistent framework to get maximal results (as opposed to just "doing something in the gym"), I feel the The Body Sculpting Bible for Men is way better. It may not have the same number of exercises, nor nice color photos like the Big Book, but I feel the overall framework of training is much more solid and consistent than the somewhat hap hazardous and confusing approach in Men's Healh Big Book.


Now, if it were for the exercises and plans alone, I would still have given the book three stars, maybe even four; the sheer number of exercises makes it quite unique. Five stars would be out of the question, because the difference in content quality is too far off from some of the other books available. Still, I decided to lower the rating by one more star, because of the nutritional sections which are silly at best.

First let me say that from a magazine (such as Men's Health) I fully accept a somewhat eclectic approach. A new study comes out one month that says coffee is bad for you and the next month another says it's good - all fine. A book, however, I expect to be a bit more authoritative. This book is not.

The Big Book opts for the "high protein, medium fat, low carbs" approach. I think Susan Kleiner in her book Power Eating clearly demonstrated why a high carb, medium protein approach is far superior for building muscle and losing fat. Other than the Big Book, Kleiner backs up her story with sound scientific references. Where the Big Book settles for "A study in Denmark found...", Kleiner takes a truly scientific approach. Her conclusions are very different but much more logical and actionable for anyone who can think beyond the simplistic adage "muscle is built by protein, so the more protein I eat the more muscle I get".

Perhaps the issue is that this book strongly focused on a US audience. First and foremost, you are assumed to be too fat, or at least struggling with overweight. You also really like to eat a lot of fat and most certainly eat lots of animals. Also, you are not willing or able to change any of these habits.

Even within that context, the advice that comes out is sometimes downright puzzling:

- Beans, peas and corn should be avoided as they contain a lot of starch (p. 442)
- However, whole milk is fine (it's not all that much extra fat anyway), source cream is almost pure fat but hey, serving size is generally small, so go ahead! Other "healthiest" or at least "guilt free" foods: butter, pork chops, full-fat cheese, chicken thighs, coconut (p. 444 - 447). This one I found a particularly funny health advice: vinegar is good for you, so sprinkle some on your caramelized onions (!) or in your mayonnaise (!) before you spread it on your sandwich. Now, maybe I have been gone from the US for too long, but I don't think that I ever saw anyone health conscious eat mayonnaise sandwiches. But according to the Big Book, it's apparently great for your workout diet as long as you add some vinegar to it and stay clear of beans and potatoes. Yeah, right!

If you insist of eating a lot of fat, I can imagine the advice in this book to then at least cut back on carbs makes some sense. But it's obvious that this is no optimal diet advice for anyone serious about exercising. Again, Susan's Kleiner approach (high carb, medium protein and low fat) is far more sensible and much better researched. Sure, if you live in an area where KFC is considered lunch and a white sub sandwich is considered your healthy option, any truly sensible exercise diet may be out of reach. But of course, your results will never be the same as when you opt for a truly effective exercise diet.

In summary:
- Great book if you are a strength trainer and are simply looking to find some more exercise variations. The selection of exercises is unparalleled. Major flaw: the book doesn't tell you why and when you should choose one exercise over another, or which muscles each exercise targets specifically. For more detailed information on anatomy, how to exactly perform exercises and how these exercises relate to your muscles and objectives, a much better option is the classic but recently updated Strength Training Anatomy-3rd Edition (Sports Anatomy)
- If you need some guidance in setting up an exercise plan, opt for The Body Sculpting Bible for Men, Revised Edition: The Way to Physical Perfection instead. While Men's Health Big Book contains lot and lots of information, it gives you little guidance to make sense of it all. The little snippets of information basically have the same value as reading a couple of magazines. If you thought this book tied all the somewhat useful snippets of information from Men's Health archives together in a more consistent framework, you're out of luck.
- If you struggle with overweight and you are absolutely sure you cannot stray too far from the mainstream American diet or let go of eating lots of animals and fatty foods daily, then the nutritional advice in this book may be the best you can achieve. But if you are serious about your body and health and are willing to change to an optimal, goal-oriented diet (i.e. eat like an athlete), make sure to ignore all nutritional sections in this book completely. They are confusing at best, and if you follow a mainstream European or Asian diet, they will actually lead you in the WRONG direction. Instead, order a copy of the very dry, scarcely illustrated but content wise very solid Power Eating, Third Edition by Susan Kleiner.
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on 1 November 2013
Very Clear, easy to follow and great tips.
Always handy to have to hand as a great reminder.

Worth the purchase.
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on 6 May 2015
There are better books on the subject out there but as a general reference guide this comes in as nearly perfect. The book talks about nutrition without actually talking about nutrition - just lots of rambling around the subject and no real specifics (my own general knowledge is better).
Not a book for a serious builder or athlete but for the common "got to get myself fitter" type this book will suffice adequately. Clear pictures and descriptions with regressions and advance moves also so nobody will need to get bored with their workout. Excellent for the frequent gym user who isn't willing to pay for personal training but I will use this as a reference to my personal training as there is always a need to push oneself harder to get fitter. Some very useful little known facts but useful for motivation only.
If you have a general understanding of fitness this book "might" be a good guide but you probably already know the contents so it is only a reference guide.
There are better books on the market for fitness.
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on 1 March 2012
I have found this book very useful to give variation and focus to my workouts. My brother and I use this book when we train together, not only does this book have a plethora of exercises but it has specific workouts depending on what you are trying to achieve fitness wise. For example we're currently doing 'Scrawny to brawny' Three different workouts you alternate with a list of exercises, how many sets and reps to do and a page number for each showing exactly what to do, put simply this book is idiot proof. It has a section for each body part if you're just looking for a new exercise for your shoulders or chest etc combined with sensible and informed nutritional advice this is an encyclopedia for any fitness minded person looking to get into better shape or just handy for those already in the know to vary exercises or make doubly sure you're doing things right. For 10 pounds why not? In my opinion it's well worth it.
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on 8 September 2010
This is exactly what I wanted and more! The only disadvantage is that I will never need (/have an excuse) to buy another overpriced copy of Mens Health at the train station ever again! This book has got all the practical stuff you'd ever get in a thousand years of Mens Health magazine minus all the marketing waffle.

Mainly what I wanted it for is the large full page pictures and explanations of how to do the moves, and 650ish of them, so I can keep varying it so I don't get bored.

In addition, which I wasn't expecting but is absolutely brilliant, it's got sections on the principles of how to design your own workout routine so you can keep it balanced and optimally effective, and some example sequences.

My favourite thing about the book is that doesn't at all have the usual MH pretentious style and promotion of buying endlessly more fancy stuff -e.g. in the intro where he's talking about gear that's essential vs. extra, he makes the obvious point that a swiss ball works almost as well as an incline bench and is much less expensive and far more convenient at home.

I think this book is going to get used to death and passed onto my kids! :-)
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on 6 April 2013
Couldn't really fault the book as it is e very good reference for all exercises, however, the format could and shouid be a lot easier to handle on a kindle...nightmare getting back from a description of an exercise to the root page...but as I said...a good book for learning form of a huge array of exercises.
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on 26 March 2013
Even though ive trained for over 25 years, i Still found the book a very good read. There were helpful tips and good advice about nutrtion, could possibly done with a little more Info re nutrtion but still a good book.
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on 22 April 2013
Really good book. There are a lot of exercises to go through and a lot of different workouts available depending on what you want to achieve!
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