Strength Sensei Bookshelf

Covert Bailey's Smart Exercise

A fitness celebrity’s controversial take on how to lose fat

If you were to rank the most popular books on diet and exercise, Covert Bailey’s Fit or Fat publications are near the top of any list, selling about six million copies. An energetic speaker and wonderful storyteller, both in person and in print, Bailey’s influence on the general population was remarkable. However, Charles Poliquin was not a fan of Bailey’s work, especially the one published in 1994 called Smart Exercise: Burning Fat, Getting Fit.

Coach Poliquin questioned Bailey’s understanding of the value of weight training for fat loss based on several bizarre statements in Bailey’s book, The Fit or Fat Woman. For example, consider this comment where Bailey commented about why so many weightlifters are lean:

“They watch their diets carefully and get into aerobic activities without thinking much about them. They play a little backyard basketball or soccer, both of which lower bodyfat like crazy, without listing the activity as part of their exercise program. After all, a little basketball is just for fun.”

Coach Poliquin was a fan of the sport of weightlifting, sponsoring American and Canadian weightlifters, and considered Canadian weightlifting coach Pierre Roy a mentor. Roy coached many athletes who competed internationally, including an Olympic silver medalist. Coach Poliquin can assure you that few serious weightlifters play supposedly high fat-burning activities such as “backyard basketball” or soccer.

Bailey continued his rant against weightlifting in Smart Exercisewith a chapter entitled “The Fat Weightlifter.” First, he says, “When I talk about power lifters, I’m referring to the Olympic-type lifters.” Say what? Powerlifting and weightlifting are radically different sports. There’s more.

Bailey explains that “power lifters” have hypertrophied muscle that lack long-term endurance, which is why power lifters do poorly on fitness tests. And here’s the kicker, “Despite their muscle mass, they have limited capacity for sustained exercise. This also explains why power lifters tend to be fat,” and that the weightlifters who are not fat are those who also perform aerobics and avoid eating lots of “fat-filled protein.”

As for bodybuilders, Bailey says they train much differently than weightlifters. “Their workouts involve slightly lighter weights with more repetitions. Their training also includes running, cycling, or other aerobic exercise. Their workouts use more of the lactate and aerobic systems.” He also said that “most bodybuilders are quite strict about the amount of fat in their diet,” and the combination of “weightlifting,” aerobic exercise, and careful dieting make for very attractive, highly muscled, low-fat bodies.”

Covert Bailey believes that bodybuilders stay lean by performing aerobic activities such as running and eating a low-fat diet. (Photo by Miloš Šarčev)

Bailey has an interesting take on steroids, explaining that a shoulder injury he sustained wasn’t responding to treatment. His doctor gave him a shot of hydrocortisone (a drug often used to treat inflammation), and his shoulder “responded completely and totally.” So, for such medical purposes, steroids are good. Then he gave us this warning about anabolic steroids: “We hear that a football star taking steroids has a stroke and dies at the age of twenty-nine. Or a bodybuilder gets liver cancer after taking steroids for years. Or a steroid-using basketball player gets “roid rage” and beats up his girlfriend. Cancer, heart disease, psychosis all have been linked to steroid use, but data are scarce.” Enough already!

As for the basic premise of Smart Exercise, Bailey explains that aerobic exercise is the intelligent choice for fat burning because only aerobic exercise burns fat. As a bonus, the fitter you are, the more quickly your body will get flushed with fatty acids that will cause the body to “Release the grease!!”

Bailey is to be commended for encouraging the general population to exercise and eat well, just as Richard Simmons, with his over-the-top personality, inspired his followers to start investing in their health. But if you’re looking for current science-based information about how to best train and eat to lose fat, you should pass on Smart Exercise.

[You can purchase Covert Bailey’s Smart Exercisethrough Amazon.com.]

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