Book Review: “The New Rules of Lifting for Women” by Lou Schuler

March 2, 2009

Another book sent by Penguin Group, this one addresses how women can use strength training to get healthy and stay in shape. Tailored for women, this book written by Lou Schuler (a journalist who has written many fitness articles and books for men) outlines the necessity of incorporating strength training into our lives and explains why it is so crucial. He also provides a nutrition plan complete with recipes and a six month workout routine with pictures to demonstrate how to correctly perform each exercise.

Schuler wrote this book with the help of Cassandra Forsythe, M.S., a student of nutrition, and Alwyn Cosgrove, co-owner of Results Fitness and a member of several reputable sports medicine organizations. As a fitness writer and editor for a couple different magazines, Schuler has had a lot of experience in conducting research and understanding various fitness regimes. Because of this he has seen much success, but also much failure, in the people he sees using varying fitness programs. He acknowledges right at the beginning of the book in Part One that everyone has different results and that this program may not be for everyone. We need to take what works for us and use that to our advantage and always remember that our bodies have individual needs, and will respond according to those needs.

Part Two is all about nutrition. Some of the “new rules” include Calorie restriction is the worst idea ever, A balanced macro diet is best, and More meals are better than fewer. Schuler breaks down each of the macronutrients to explain how carbs, fats, and proteins work, emphasizing that we need all of these but particularly extolling the virtues of protein. How to determine the amount of food you should be eating by assessing you progress periodically is all laid out, followed by a meal plan with four rigorous rules: 1) you must eat breakfast, 2) you must eat 5 meals/snacks a day, 3) you must have a post-workout recovery shake on the days you lift, and 4) you must have more calories on the days you work out than on the days you don’t.

I don’t like the heavy focus on protein supplementation through commercially processed shakes. Too many of the recipes in this book require some kind of protein powder or processed soup/cereal/crackers and so forth. There are, however, many good nutrition notes about including plenty of eggs, cottage cheese, nuts and other good foods into our diets. And some of the recipes include wholesome, healthy ingredients: salads with avocado and beans and tuna, lentils, grilled shrimp, chili scallops, oregano chicken with tomato-olive sauce, and homemade vinaigrettes (all with the nutrition information provided) to name a few. There’s a sample full-day meal plan using these recipes for a 1,700 calorie plan and a 2,000 calorie plan.

Part Three is about the strength training and weight lifting itself. Highlighting the importance of doing a workout designed for you personally and with an explanation of human anatomy, as well as a discussion about resting between workouts, Schuler presents a great understanding of how best to use exercise to achieve maximum benefits. Answers to questions regarding choosing weights are very informative, and the exercise plan is explicitly detailed with training logs. Each exercise is illustrated with directions on how to perform it correctly, along with information on what each exercise does, the muscles that they work, and the variations that you can do with it.

I tried the exercise program that they provide. It’s a nice fundamental program for anyone just getting into weight lifting, but unfortunately it’s incredibly boring as well. I lasted a few weeks before I completely lost interest and gave up. It also begins very basic; one of the first workouts involves 2 sets of 15 reps of squats, push ups, seated rows, step-ups, and prone jacknife. Some of the exercises require special equipment (for example, to perform chin-ups or a wide-grip lat pulldown), but there are also those of the sort that you can do at home using body weight, dumbbells, or exercise balls.

Another problem I had with this book was that I felt that, in some parts, Schuler was trying a little too hard to appeal to his female audience as a fitness expert who really wants what’s best for you. The references to how women are absolutely as capable of any workout that a man can do are encouraging up to a point, but I found my eyes glazing over a bit at his continual self-deprecation of being a man. The chapter title of A Woman’s Place Is in the Weight Room seems a little much, too. I understand why he did it, but I just felt that the jokes about how ridiculous men can be and how women are clever were too over-the-top and an indication of trying too hard to appeal (insert unappreciative, impossible-to-satisfy female comment here).

If you are interested in learning more about weight lifting and want a personal trainer in a book, this could be a good choice for you. I really liked that there are 72 pages devoted to illustrations and descriptions of a variety of exercises. The program itself is described in an overly complex way, but after reading that part over a couple times it seemed less complicated. Schuler believes that aerobic exercise isn’t really all that necessary, which I would disagree with, but he has an excellent grasp of how to increase muscle and build strength. He is also upfront about the clients who have not been pleased with his program, and I appreciate that level of honesty. His writing style invokes a sense of comradery, making the notion of weight lifting far less intimidating if you are uncomfortable with the idea of it.

Interested in the basics and not sure where to start with weight lifting? Give this book a shot. But personally I would not advocate the protein shakes, and I’d say that it’s important to focus on all forms of exercise, not just strength training. There are a few parts of this book that I did not agree with, but the last chapter depicting the different types of exercise is a good guide to have on hand.

Have you read The New Rules of Lifting for Women or any other books/articles by Lou Schuler? What’s your take on it?

Don’t forget to answer the poll about milk if you have not already done so- we need that calcium to build strong bones and support when we lift weights!


  1. Great Review Sagan. I especially like the part where you get down and dirty about his underlying cynicism of women (maybe i interepreted it wrong?). I have not read this book, however have read a couple reviews, mostly positive. I like your take on it because in the end, people are going to listen to relate to people and/or books which they feel can help them and we need encouragement!

    Happy Monday!

    • It’s useful for women who wants weight lifting. I have recommended your blog to my friends too!

  2. Hi Sagan,

    This is a great review of the book.

    We do have this book at our house, as well as the original — “New Rules of Lifting”. I have heavily used the original, which was designed as a general book on lifting – and probably geared more toward men. And I have found the programs in this book to be extremely challenging for me – in a very good way. I basically skipped the whole nutrition portion of the book, focusing primarily on the workout routines. I have found NROL to be an excellent source.

    Regarding NROL for Women – first off, I’m pretty sure that Alwyn Cosgrove wrote the workout routine in this book (and the original). While I can’t speak specifically to it – my wife has spent some time with the program – I have found that the workouts Cosgrove creates to be challenging ones. Boring? I’m not sure. Possibly. And it could be a personal preference as well.

    Another nice thing about both of these books – is there is an online fitness forum that I have frequented in the past – completely independent of any one particular program, etc. And they have a message board dedicated to both of these programs. Both of which are highly active – which is a great way to connect with people who are using this specific program. And, I also know that the authors (Schuler and Forsythe, anyway) are members as well, in this community, and have popped in on occassion to answer questions. And that’s the other thing, this message board draws a lot of fitness experts from throughout the world -it’s just an excellent source of fitness knowledge.

    So – my take on this? I am, myself, drawn in by the programs Alwyn Cosgrove develops. Although, in all honesty, I have not done anything specifically out of the New Rules of Lifting for Women. Still, I have the utmost of respect for Cosgrove, and I do believe he creates workout plans which are challenging and will make those who use them succeed.

  3. Wonderful review!!

  4. I’m not familiar with the book as you are, Sagan. Based on what you said, I disagree with several points, especially his dietary views. I realize my views are contrarian to much of today’s wisdom, but that’s the way I am 🙂

  5. Thanks for the review Sagan. I’ve had this book sitting around for a while. I did start reading it but got side-tracked. I did wonder though, whether it was going to tell me much that I don’t already know, and how well the workouts would adapt for the at-home exerciser. I really appreciate hearing your thoughts on in.

  6. A very good review as always Sagan. I agree with some of the points in the book and agree with others. True…what works for each individual can vary. Hope you had a nice weekend!

  7. i haven’t read this book, but i appreciate the revew!

  8. I read this book a couple of months ago. This book’s targeted audience is for newbies to resistance training. I usually do not read the nutrition information, unless it is a specifically a nutrition book, because they usually list food that are not in my current diet. Yeah, the attempt to appeal to the female audience is a little cheesy, but I am pretty sure somebody appreciates it.

  9. Thanks Sagan, I tend to feel bogged down with weight training book routines as well. Are you familiar with The Power of 10 or the slow lift philosophy? I’ve read/heard about it and it sounds intriguing, although I haven’t actually tried it. People swear by it saying they tone and slim down very quickly…

  10. Rupal- I don’t think he intended for there to be an underlying cynicism… its just that he was trying so hard for there to NOT be any cynicism that it seemed almost as if there was. Does that make any sense?

    Lance- thanks so much for your input! I agree that some of these exercises are quite challenging, and I really found the exercise portion to be an excellent part of the book. It might just be my personal preference that the repetitiveness of the workout felt boring to me.

    VeggieGirl & ttfn300- glad you enjoyed.

    Dr. J- I’m difficult to please with the nutrition aspect of most books… I just don’t like the protein powder idea at all!

    JavaChick- I think it would be useful if you’re in a slump and need some ideas for a workout- just flip through the pages and choose some exercises. There’s a lot of them!

    Mark- am all about the personalization in programs 🙂

    Asithi- thanks for your thoughts on this; I agree.

    Jolene- I have not and now I am SO intrigued… do tell more!

  11. Nice review, Sagan. I haven’t read it, but I’d like to. Sounds like a good reminder on the nutrition info.

  12. Thanks for the review. I haven’t read this one, but I plan to. It probably would have been more beneficial to me when I was first starting out, but I’m sure I’ll find something useful in there.

    I’m with you on the *necessity* of protein powders. While I use chocolate whey protein occasionally in yogurt, I don’t want to build my nutrition around it. 🙂

  13. Sagan!

    The question I wonder about with all of this is, for people like you and I, who basically are fit and healthy, normal weight, etc– does what works for us have the same results with people who are unfit and obese? There are numerous physiological things that seem to be altered when people are far from fit. I want to believe that with time, what we do would work for them, but “they” seem to always be looking for something else. One of the things I learned on the dairy farm was that since we started our day with serious physical labor at 5 AM, by 8, I was ready for breakfast. Where now, I feel two meals a day is the most non farm hand adults should eat 🙂

  14. I’m happy to see that your review took a shot at this author going a little beyond to make sure he could point out the difference between men and women. You may have found your niche with the reviews Sagan.

  15. Loved this review, Sagan! I especially appreciate your point about how men don’t need to self-deprecate to make women feel more comfortable. There is plenty room on the weight floor (and in the world) for both genders to be kind to each other and to themselves.

    And I think I get where you are coming from about the “boring” lifts. One can only do so many squats and step ups before you start craving variety.

  16. Interesting… I’m gonna stick with Jillian though 🙂

  17. Dara & Maggie- it’s got its good points (I do like Jillian too:D)

    Cammy- it gets bad when people start relying too much on those powders… they shouldn’t be the main factor of a persons diet!

    Dr. J- interesting! I think you’re absolutely right. Which makes me feel odd when I consider how much I eat compared to how much another person eats… it makes me self conscious when I realize that I eat more than them (and am way more little), but I’ve got to remember that exercise is a big part of my life so I need that fuel.

    Tom- thanks 🙂 I appreciate that!

    Charlotte- exactly, it just became so repetitive. And you put it so well about the genders.

  18. Thoughts on the 5 meals a day thing, from my experience:

    It was wonderful, if you are into elite sports. I was doing that, eating every three hours on the nose, while training for Canada Winter Games. Keep in mind I was also training 25h/week. By transitioning to five meals, I found myself gaining muscle and losing fat without changing my workout regime at all. I suppose it came from keeping myself constantly supplied with some level of protein.

    The upshot was surprisingly stark. However, the downside came in the form of meal satisfaction. I was always eating on the go, and eating lunch-type things. One can only be satisfied on sandwiches and granola bars and fruit for so long. Nothing makes me happier than a good meal at the end of the day, and that was rarely a possibility, especially given that portion sizes decreases starkly when meals are spread out over five.

    That’s what got me out of it, but over the past month or so I have entered an adapted version… three meals spaced out 3h to keep me supplied with protein during the times I work out/am walking around, followed by a satisfying dinner. We’ll see how it works out.

  19. Thank you for the review. I haven’t read this book yet but lifting is a topic I’ve always been interested in. It’s been a couple years since I lifted regularly and I’m toying with the idea of starting again. I’ve been looking for a good book on the subject … I might find it hard to deal with this book’s cheesiness towards women, but I’ll give it a peak. Thanks!

  20. lovelovelove your review.
    posting tomorrow about MizMag but Id welcome a book review from you for the first issue!

  21. Hmmmm. I’ve read a couple of wishywashy reviews about this one. Maybe I’ll just check it out from the library and not purchase it myself.

    Great comprehensive review!

  22. great review- ive been curious about this book. i’ll probably pass- not because it sounds bad, just because you were so thurough in your review, lol

    Kelly Turner

  23. First blog I read after wakeup from sleep today!

    Are you tension? panic?

  24. Another very thorough review. You are so good at describing the value of each individual book. I think I’ll pass on this one based on your description but I really appreciate learning about what I’m choosing to miss. 🙂

  25. Westwood- Such a good point. I pretty much eat constantly. But a lot of the times it IS the same things over and over (fruit. Vegetables. Egg on toast. :)).

    Monica- yeah, cheesiness can be a nuisance sometimes, though its well-intended.

    MizFit- absolutely! That would be awesome.

    Gena- library is a gooooood place.

    Mike- aw 🙂

    Juliet- glad you enjoyed!

  26. […] difficult for a male author to write a health and fitness book designed for women, however. When I reviewed Lou Schuler’s The New Rules of Lifting for Women, I felt an equal unease with the way that the author seems to view his female […]

  27. I don’t think this book is addressed to women so much as to the people who suffer from the myths about women, and I think it’s great. Most of it. Lou Schuler is spot-on when he describes what men in the weight room look like to women. I had exactly those perceptions of the boys in my weight training class, when I was 14, the first girl in my high school to take advantage of newly coed P.E. and take weight training. I lasted one semester as the only girl in the class. I ignored the boys, as much as I could, the pin-up photos, the stupid comments (my sister lifted weights, she gained 2″ in the bust; oh I get it why you want to lift weights, you want to be a burly chick). I couldn’t ignore the fact they locked me out, any time the teacher forgot to unlock the outside door; the boys went directly from boys’ locker room to boys’ gym for the warm-ups and stretches, the opening of class. Also there was the guidance counselor who told me there were no other options for 2nd period other than another P.E. class, so MWF I would have three straight hours of P.E. When I told him that wouldn’t deter me, he told me to “Smile” at the 2nd period P.E. teacher to assure he’d take me, in his class.

    I took great satisfaction in the fact of my growing strength–that I could do 30 push-ups from my toes, in that 2nd period P.E. class. At the end of the semester, the last max day, I pressed 540 pounds on the Universal leg press, while guys stood around with their mouths hanging open.

    I would’ve stuck with it if there had been at least one more girl. But thinking I would have to put up with being the only one forever, I quit. The next semester I watched from across the asphalt and grass, from another P.E. class, while one girl climbed ropes, in a class of all boys.

    Since then, it’s been more than 30 years. I didn’t go near a weightlifting gym again for about 15 years, ’til I was prescribed weightlifting by a chiropractor’s physical therapist, for treatment of a back injury. I was given a routine based entirely on Cybex machines and small weights for small muscles. And this was almost three years after the
    sacroliliac sprain. I followed the routine, off and on, for years, eventually adding squats with a barbell. It was watching women athletes do that, and seeing that some of them weren’t any stronger than I was, that encouraged me. Also I had men in the weight room tell me that I should be lifting heavier weights.

    Lou Schuler is absolutely right, that women are not encouraged to lift what they/we are capable of lifting. That many women suffer from misplaced fears of hurting themselves, or getting “too bulky” and that these create psychological barriers to lifting weights at all, or keep them lifting “Barbie weights”–using small weights for small muscles, long past the point where these exercises have any usefulness, if they ever did.
    My sister once had a set of pink dumbbells marketed as “Princess Smartbelles.” (They weighed five pounds. If that.)
    Check out the 1985 film, Pumping Iron II, The Women.
    Watch Bev Francis, the strongest competitor, lose, for lack of “femininity.” Read Cory Everson’s explanation of why a woman bodybuilder needs breast implants. After 1985 there arose an entire new genre of “fitness” competition showing women weightlifters with “feminine” bodies. Read Gloria Steinem on muscle and femininity–her essay in celebration of Bev Francis.

    Muscle vs. femininity for women is a tiresome debate. Of course we have muscles. If we don’t use them, they’re weak, and that gives us all sorts of aches and pains, limits our abilities and our very survival. I would rather push 200# of rocks two miles in a wheelbarrow to make a garden, or carry 800# of bricks upstairs (in 16 trips) to build brick-and-board bookshelves, than go to a gym and deal with the spandex and bullshit, but since I run out of projects at certain (freezing out) times of year, I guess I will have to go to my gym. I’m paying for (membership in ) it, have been for about nine years now–been there about a dozen times a year, at most. The guys can move aside for me. They can borrow it, when I’m not using it.

    Thanks Lou, Cassandra, and Alwyn. And thanks to Susan Kleiner, whose earlier book Power Eating, (and Susan Powter’s book Stop the Insanity) helped convince me to eat more, more often–and whose enthusiastic endorsement on the back, convinced me to pick up this book, and read it.

  28. Allison, great points. I totally agree with you. I am in my 8th week of this program and I have had the most amazing results. Each person has to find what works for them. This really worked for me! I have not gotten bored with it because I push my self to go beyound my preconcieved limits.

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  37. […] difficult for a male author to write a health and fitness book designed for women, however. When I reviewed Lou Schuler’s The New Rules of Lifting for Women, I felt an equal unease with the way that the author seems to view his female […]

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