The Female Body Breakthrough

female-body-breakthrough-coverCosgrove, Rachel. The Female Body Breakthrough: The Revolutionary Strength-Training Plan for Losing Fat and Getting the Body You Want. Rodale Books, 2009.

As an oldest sister myself, I always wanted someone to look up to — someone who’d tell me the real deal about men, women, periods, getting into shape, being my own best friend, and how to dress myself. She’d be compassionate and encouraging, but honest. She wouldn’t let me get away with BS, but she’d always be in my corner.

Strength trainer Rachel Cosgrove is that woman to her clients.

Along with Mr. Rachel Cosgrove, aka some guy named Alwyn whom nobody in the strength training field has ever heard of, she runs Results Fitness in California. And let me tell you, it’s a pretty special gym.

Walk into Results on any day of the week and you’ll behold a room full of women lifting heavy — women squatting, deadlifting, Olympic weightlifting, bashing out sets of kettlebell swings or sandbag lifts, hauling shipping ropes or in other ways having their asses kicked.

This is unusual in and of itself, but even more unusual is that the majority of these women are “plain folks” of all ages, leaning more towards the “office worker” than the “WNBA player” or “superninja” end of the spectrum. Truly, it is spectacular.

Now Cosgrove has encapsulated her generous but firm approach into a wonderfully comprehensive book on women’s training and nutrition.

It’s always refreshing to read something that encourages women to train heavy and hard, as well as to nourish themselves adequately.

Cosgrove explains why the traditional women’s magazine fitness and nutrition “advice” (lift light, do lots of toning reps, do cardio till your feet fall off, live on 1200 calories of rice cakes, etc.) sucks, and her clients’ results speak for themselves. Moreover, Cosgrove provides her own experience to demonstrate that hours of low-intensity cardio don’t do — pardon the pun — jack squat.

But aside from good advice, Cosgrove gets into female-specific concerns, devoting large sections to periods, PMS, life stresses (e.g. child care), etc. This is sorely needed now that women are training seriously more than ever and need good guidance about how to address their natural hormonal fluctuations and physiological considerations — particularly in a fashion that is not condescending or dismissive. Cosgrove addresses biomechanical problems common to women, such as quad dominance, poor core stability, and the consequences of wearing high heels.

More unusual, Cosgrove tackles women’s “horizontal hostility” — aka backbiting, sniping, and/or self deprecation — head-on. “End body bashing,” she writes, celebrate your accomplishments, and don’t be a crab in the bucket. In other words, don’t pull other women down just to make yourself feel better. Don’t focus on perceived “flaws”; help yourself and other women develop strengths. It’s a uniquely collective, chick-positive approach in an industry that is often “every woman for herself”.

Cosgrove’s Fit Female Credo

1. Act as if you are a fit female.
2. Get out of your comfort zone.
3. Fuel your body to be fabulous!
4. Train hard or go home.
5. Get hooked on feeling fit, not a number on the scale.
6. Be an early riser.
7. Make rest, relaxation & regeneration a priority.
8. Obstacles will arise — anticipate them!
9. Keep a journal or a blog.
10. Eliminate the negative people known as crabs and surround yourself with positive people.
11. Think about your thoughts.
12. Attitude is everything.
13. Manage your stress.
14. Put an end to body bashing and instead celebrate your strengths.
15. Don’t rely on will power. Have strategies.
16. Stop rationalizing and making excuses.

What distinguishes this book stylistically is its clarity of voice. It’s well-structured, easy to follow, and above all, honest and forthright.

Cosgrove recounts her own struggles with body weight/fat and eating, describing her journey from cardio queen through triathlete through fitness model, and finally arriving at a place where she felt productive and satisfied. This is not a perky, post-adolescent, surgically produced cheerleader but a real woman, warts and all, dealing with Thanksgiving dinners and life stress and love handles and injuries, just like the rest of us.

gerry-clientAnd throughout the book we meet the other real women who are Cosgrove’s clients, everyone from Gerry (pictured here) to Lori, who writes poignantly:

“I can look at a photo album of myself over the past 20 years and in the photos where I am overweight and out of shape were also the times in my life when I did not have control of my life. Such a time was this past year when my life went spiraling out of control. Along with the spiral came the pounds. True, I had just had a baby (no easy feat at my age, 42) and true I had just been through a traumatic relationship with an abusive alcoholic. After going through days and weeks where I was so depressed I could barely get out of bed (only to care for my newborn, to eat, or to use the bathroom), I had finally had enough. I did what I always did when my life had tilted too far: I got back in shape… Not only did I physically get into shape, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually followed like stepping stones.”

Oh yes, and apparently Cosgrove knows the secret to getting a fantastic ass. What is it? Well, you’ll just have to read it and see! Thank me for the recommendation when your glutes are like two springy cantaloupes!