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Swimsuit season may be the reason some people try to get their bodies in shape for summer. But working at fitness is a year-round endeavor. And no matter how physically fit we think we are, there's always an aspect of our total fitness package we can improve, or an activity we can learn to challenge ourselves.
Here, a look at new fitness guides, rated from 1 to 4.
Ratings: 4 dumbbellsexcellent, 3 dumbbells very good, 2 dumbbells fair, 1 dumbbell keep looking
"Marathoning for Mortals" by John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield (Rodale, $14.95)
Rating: 4 dumbbells
This is one of the better guides if you enjoy running or walking and wondered what it would take to complete a marathon or half of it. Simply and clearly written for the average human being, Bingham and Hadfield outline step-by-step how to formulate a personal training regimen. This sets it apart from other fitness books that feature a one-size-fits-all program. They include their personal experiences, which add to the humanity of their instruction. They write as though they were coaching you not talking at you. Lace up those running shoes.
"Muscle Up," "Six-Pack Abs," "Thin Thighs," "Tight Abs & Buns" by Matt Roberts (DK, $10 each)
Rating: 2 dumbbells
Roberts' series of books looks sleek and chic, like small fashion magazines with polished and colorful photography and styling. Most of the exercises are designed decently enough so the healthy novice and intermediate exerciser will find most of the exercises easy to follow. One nit: The books appear to have fit-looking male models, but merely thin female models. Thin doesn't always mean fit. U.K.-based Roberts, a self-proclaimed personal trainer to celebrities, is smart to capitalize on his cover-boy looks with his face on the upper right-hand corner of each book. But the listing of his credentials "He went on to complete his studies at the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine" raises questions. Those two institutions are not schools they're certifying bodies. Roberts does not appear to be currently certified by either.
"Abs on the Ball" by Colleen Craig (Healing Arts, $18)
Rating: 3 dumbbells
If you've ever done crunches on an inflated exercise ball, you know that the ball makes them more challenging than if you did them on the floor. A ball throws instability into any exercise, forcing you to use your abdominal and back muscles. Several books have been written about ball exercises in recent years and this is one of the more compelling ones. For one, Craig borrows movements from Pilates practice and applies them to ball exercises for every fitness level whether you're an elite athlete or a beginner. The purpose as well as the precautions of each exercise are detailed, the descriptions easy to understand. One weakness is visual presentation: In an effort to be careful, the text can be an eyeful. Why use terms such as fig. 5.58 and fig. 5.59 to label a sequence of photos when you can use the much simpler A and B?
"The Stark Reality of Stretching" by Dr. Steven Stark (Stark Reality, $18.95)
Rating: 1 dumbbell
What's puzzling about this fourth edition is that it remains a Jekyll-and-Hyde exercise book. It's good for fitness professionals, but for consumers, some parts especially chapters one through three read and look too much like a textbook. Stark gives numerous "lectures" in anatomy and important safe techniques for stretching, if you have the patience and time to learn the terminology. If you don't, stick to basic instructions for each exercise, which also include precautions or find something else that's reader-friendly.
"Aqua Fit" by Jane Katz (Broadway, $12.95)
Rating: 4 dumbbells
Aquatic exercises are increasingly important, as we look for ways to stay fit while living longer lives and avoiding further injuries. Katz' book is the new definitive guide to water exercise. She identifies the trends in water fitness that go well beyond water aerobics and strength-training. Exercises include tai chi, yoga and sport-specific conditioning in the pool. If you're feeling bored with your workout routine, consider getting wet. And even if you don't need a change of pace, why not make the pool your gym this summer?
"Getting Back in Shape" by Deborah Mackin (DK, $15)
Rating: 2 dumbbells
As post-partum workout books go, Mackin's guide serves up the usual fare to help women recover from the rigors of pregnancy. It's attractively packaged and user-friendly. Mackin, a fitness trainer and mother of three, shows a wide variety of stretching and a small set of basic strength-training exercises geared toward the novice. Stick to exercises that use one's body weight, such as pushups. Mackin's dumbbell routines are best skipped because a few demonstrate sloppy form.
"Triathlon Training in Four Hours a Week" by Eric Harr (Rodale, $18.95)
Rating: 3 dumbbells
Hold it! Before you think this is going to get you ready for the Ironman in Kona, think again. Harr's easy-to-read book is primarily geared toward preparing for a sprint-distance triathlon 400- to 600-meter swim, 10- to 15-mile bike ride and a 2- to 4-mile run, a fraction of an Ironman. Ah, that sounds "doable." When he says a commitment of four hours a week, he's talking about four hours of dedication. This doesn't mean you won't have fun. But training is supposed to become more challenging as you develop skills and endurance. If you're an avid runner, cyclist or swimmer looking for a goal or the next step, this might be your ticket.
If you're learning strength-training and stretching exercises from books for the first time at home, invest in a cookbook holder to keep the book open while you're trying to follow the exercise.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- CONTACT US: (714) 796-7854 or firstname.lastname@example.org Liddane is an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor.
(c) 2003, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.