Lou Schuler

Author, Journalist, Presenter

Posted 07/22/2014

The Book That Lived

When my friend Ellington Darden released his new book, The Body Fat Breakthrough, it immediately rose to the top in Amazon’s Weight Training category. It’s still there as I write this.

Ellington noticed that a handful of books perennially rank in the top 10: Strength Training Anatomy, Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength, and one that doesn’t seem to fit in that group: The New Rules of Lifting for Women.

He pointed out that all fitness pros know the same basic facts about human physiology. Alwyn Cosgrove’s training programs are both unique and effective, but they aren’t the only way to achieve the results our readers want. So he asked me a simple question: What’s different about NROL for Women? What separates it from so many other workout books written before and since?

I gave him my honest response: I don’t know. I’m as surprised as anyone. It’s the second in a five-book series, but in a typical week it doubles the combined sales of the other four. More than that, it’s a book for women written by a bald-headed, middle-aged journalist whose best work appears in Men’s Health magazine.

Ellington said some flattering things about my writing style, which I appreciate. But if you look through the one-star reviews on Amazon you’ll see the limits of my literary appeal.

So what is it?

I found one answer on a lively Facebook page dedicated to the NROL books. In a post titled “The New Rules of Lifting for Women Alumni Club,” Dana Smith wrote this:

For a lot of us, this was our first experience with compound, heavy-duty lifts. We went into the gym a little intimidated, clutching our book, and just praying we didn’t make complete fools out of ourselves in our very first workout. We leave the gym 7 stages later with a lot of swag and a sense of confidence that can’t be bought anywhere else.

That’s it, I thought. It’s the sense of adventure, of possibility. You never thought of lifting heavy weights as something you can do. But what if it is? What if you actually enjoy it? Thrive on it? How does that change the way you see yourself?

When I wrote to Dana to ask permission to quote her post, she added this:

Anyone who actually finishes the book as written comes out a changed person. It really is amazing how the transformation is just as much mental and, dare I say, spiritual, as it is physical. Most of us never knew just how awesome we could be! Finishing that book opens doors we never knew even existed. It really is a life changer.

It’s also interesting to me to see the women who don’t finish it. ‘It’s too hard.’ ‘It’s too confusing.’ ‘It’s too long.’ They are the same ones who never finish any program, and nothing ever changes. The ones who stick with it are never the same.

[The book] makes us feel like we have a right to be in the gym and actually have everything we need to be successful. That right there is mind blowing to a lot of us. Who knew?

Lots of people knew then. Lots more people know now. But back in 2006, when I first proposed the book to my editor, Megan Newman, what the experts and enthusiasts knew wasn’t reaching the average woman working out in the average health club. That woman was typically doing machine circuits, or using Barbie weights (a term I didn’t coin but did my best to popularize), or staying out of the weight room altogether.

NROL for Women made the counterintuitive case for doing the opposite, for training like men instead of fragile ornaments who’ll break if they lift a weight heavier than their purse. (The original title was Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess, which we kept as a subtitle.) If we were wrong, the book would’ve died a quick and much-deserved death. But we weren’t. Almost every day I see readers’ testimonials in emails, on Facebook, on blogs, in Tweets and Pins. And of course I see it in sales, which is the ultimate validation for a writer.

Which brings me back to Ellington’s question: What is it about a six-year-old book that continues to resonate with readers? After all, the basic information in the book can be found in countless places these days. Female strength is celebrated in groups like Girls Gone Strong. My friend Jen Sinkler, a terrific writer and athlete, has become a hero to gym rats of both genders with her admonition to “lift weights faster.”

And no matter how good the message is, there’s still the unlikely-messenger problem.

I wonder if the key to the whole thing can be found in these lines from the Introduction:

What I can’t bring myself to do is find a hundred ways to say ‘you can do it!’ You can do it if you want to do it. I know it. You know it. Do I really need to say it over and over?

They’re echoed in the book’s final sentences:

Nobody can choose to be perfect, but all of us can choose to be better. So what’s your choice?



  • Jon_PTDC

    Congratulations to you and Cass. I read this one long ago when I was training women. Can’t agree more with the importance of helping people change their viewpoints and supporting them through it for longevity of the book. Word of mouth is powerful, huh?

  • Tanya Herbert

    NROL for Women truly made me believe in myself and my abilities. It’s a book that I go through time and time again because I get so excited about the possibilities of a new and improved me! I bought into the myth that if I lifted weights I’d morph into the Hulk and I’m forever grateful to Lou for NROL for Women, because it has shattered the limitations I put on myself. Thank you Lou!

  • Dave

    Dana’s comments explain a level of viral popularity… Women passing and recommending the book to other women.

    There’s probably more here though…

    — Nobody ever buys one diet book. NROL4W promises a “breakthrough diet and fitness plan”. Women dominate the diet/fitness information product industry. You just have the numbers in your favor 🙂

    — Amazon puts the book in the “weightlifting” category. Barnes & Noble has it in the diet & fitness section — not in sports where the “other” weightlifting books. In most B&N putting a fitness book in sports on the last rack, bottom shelf in between surfing and wrestling is the kiss of death. I still see NROL4W on end caps at B&N come New Year’s time.

    — The book cover may be as close to perfect as is imaginable. You don’t see the model’s face or breasts so any envy or “that’s impossible for me” is minimized. Those arms and back fit the athletic college physique look and appeal to the “I wish I had Michelle Obama’s body” thinking. The body isn’t jacked and it isn’t skinny. It is “toned” and strong.

    — Crossfit and mud-runs are cool especially with women. The cover (again!) shows someone who looks strong and capable.

    — If you browse through the physical book you aren’t repulsed. Pick a page and you’ll find readable text, a recipe/menu plan, photos of an exercise, or a chart. There’s nothing incongruent and despite the one star reviews I think most folks would agree you write well Lou 🙂

    — If you browse and skip to the diet section (which I am going to guess that most do) you don’t find anything over the top. Again, everything seems doable without being a celebrity.

    • Thanks Dave! That’s interesting. I didn’t know B&N even had a diet & fitness section. You’d never guess I do this for a living!

      • Dave

        I think it’s called “Exercise & Health” and in every B&N I’ve been in it is next to Diet and there is a reasonable amount of bleeding between the sections and the featured books.


    I disagree that women who never finish the book are somehow failures or complainers. I started the book 5 or 6 years ago, and I’ve done the first workout hundreds of times, but I’ve never gone farther, and that’s fine with me. Life happens: moves, intensive work travel schedules, illness, unrelated injuries, IVF cycles (ovarian torsion risk from exercise), other workouts. Also, I never got the hang of the front squat in the second workout. I started over many times, but the first set of workouts kept working for me, I felt great about myself, I increased the weight I lifted by a factor of 3, came close to my goal of lifting my own body weight in both deadlift and squat, and lost weight, although it came back with aforementioned life factors. Looking forward to going back to that first workout at the end of my pregnancy.

    • I see your point, and I apologize for the implication. I think the arrow of causality goes the other way: The people who do complain (and you can see a couple of these in the 1-star reviews on Amazon) are often the ones who admit to modifying the program the most.

      That’s not to say the program is perfect. Alwyn and I have often discussed how we’d do things differently today. That’s why we wrote Abs, Life, and Supercharged: to more accurately reflect the exercises and systems Alwyn, Rachel, and the trainers at Results Fitness currently use.

  • So happy to see Dana quoted here! 🙂

    I loved NROLFW and don’t think I would have ever even considered stepping foot into the “man’s” part of the gym without it. I love the supportive FB group and still contribute there once in awhile even though I finished the program in 2012. It opened the doors to me wanting to embrace getting stronger and lifting heavy. I even started my blog because I started the program; but kept going after I finished the program. (http://www.winetoweightlifting.com/2012/07/23/end-of-nrolfw-and-a-new-beginning/)

    NROLFW led me to Stronglifts, and eventually I have landed in Crossfit, now with an emphasis on Olympic lifting. There is nothing more empowering than a barbell in hand.

    I know so many women in the FB group have used NROLFW as their gateway into lifting and have grown into other sports such as powerlifting, Oly lifting, Crossfit, or other competitive strength-based events.

    I highly recommend it and am so thankful that I stumbled across the book two years ago. Definitely was a catalyst for the great things I am doing today.

    • Thanks Jennifer! I’ve enjoyed your NROL posts at winetoweightlifting.com.

  • Bill Logan

    My guess: It’s a serious book that, despite a light-hearted writing style, doesn’t condescend to women. I agree with Dave about the cover, although I’d probably phrase it differently: it’s not a cheesecake photo.

    Have you considered updating it? Since it continues to sell so well, that would seem to indicate there’s a separate market “For Women” that’s not being served despite the introduction of “For Life” and “Supercharged”.

    • Thanks Bill! We’ve certainly talked about an update, or a whole new book.

  • Lisa Lilge

    Another Facebook group that is a testament to the popularity of this book was started shortly after it’s release and currently has 3,700 members! 700 of those members have joined just in the last few months. The books’ popularity is continuing to grow! So thank you Lou, Alwyn and Cassandra! https://www.facebook.com/groups/NROL4W/

    • Thanks Lisa! Damn, that’s an active group! Glad to see Alwyn in there answering questions. (Especially since I know how busy he is these days!)

      • Lisa Lilge

        We are always super grateful when Alwyn stops by. We have also done a couple of Q&A’s with Cass. We would be thrilled and honoured to do a Q&A with you if you ever have a little time. 🙂 It would also be a great place for you to get some amazing feedback about the book if you are considering a new edition (though part of me thinks don’t fix what isn’t broken!). Thanks again!

        • Lisa, I’d love to! Next week is completely booked (Fitness Summit!), but maybe the following week could work.

          • Lisa Lilge

            Fantastic!!! I will message you through Facebook to work out the details. Have great time at the Fitness Summit and thank you!

  • Alex Belov

    You’ll surprised how many people follow you books in Russia. It is a Bible for serious athletes.

    • Thanks Alex! I’ve seen traffic coming in to thenewrulesoflifting.com from google.ru. I was hoping it was lifters and not spammers!

  • Benjamin B. Taylor

    I’ve actually recommended this book dozens of times and I have actually purchased it for friends or clients multiple times. It is what I use as “evidence” women should be lifting heavy weight. No matter how much I say it, many women just don’t get it or don’t believe me. Or if they are open to the idea, they’re idea of heavy is completely distorted. They’re thinking Skittle Rainbow colored dumbbells. When what I mean is iron. Heavy iron. On a barbell.

    It seems to me to be the only book that says to women straight up, LIFT HEAVY without apologizing for it.

  • Meghan Fifield

    I just bought NROLW and I’m excited to get started. Ive been working out for years and I’m in decent shape, but for has hard as I work (6 days a week 90-120 minutes) I should be getting more results. THe problem is i’m working out hard and not smart. And I’m working so hard that I have no control of myself in the kitchen- I’m STARVING!…. I’m getting ahead of myself, but is NROLW a good place to start and then once complete use one of your newer books, like SuperCharged? Also- I’m terrible at following diet plans, but I use my fitness pal to track carbs, proteins and Fat, as long as I follow a daily schedule of when I eat and your recommended 40/30/30 it really doesn’t matter what I eat (of course I mean what ‘ whole food’ choices I eat)? Even though I’m lifting heavy now I believe this program will work because I’m not lifting anything like these workouts and I’m obviously doing too much- which is causing more harm then good.

  • anjuli

    I started lifting about 4 years ago and NROL4W was my first book/program I ever read. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. It showed and taught me the how and why. I did finish all the phases. I love seeing muscle definition in women…I just wasn’t aware how to achieve them (other than using boring machines at gym). It was simple to read and follow for someone who had no prior experience with weight training.

    And, for me, what clicked in my head was this — “What I can’t bring myself to do is find a hundred ways to say ‘you can do it!’ You can do it if you want to do it. I know it. You know it. Do I really need to say it over and over?” — it was simple and very true. To me, saying it over and over wouldn’t have made the difference, lol. So, thank you!

  • niv646

    I just finished reading your book NRoL4W and loved it. Started Stage 1 today, but I am having trouble understanding how to follow Exercise A and B. (Workouts 1-8) Can anyone please explain in more detail? The book was too vague for me.

    Thank you for your time.


    • Kathy Baker

      I just finished the book The New Rules of Lifting for Women and I am having trouble as well understanding how to follow the exercises. I need a further explanation.

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  • lanih

    I need to ask how to interpret the Workout A and Workout B plan in Stage 1. For example, Workout A has 8 workouts, 2 per row and 4 rows. I don’t totally understand what a “workout” means. If it means to execute the exercise (squats for example), then what does it mean to do workout 1 and 2 on the 1st row? It’s even more confusing when you get to the 4th row with workouts 7 and 8 with 3 sets.

  • lanih

    I need to ask how to interpret the Workout A and Workout B plan in Stage 1. For example, Workout A has 8 workouts, 2 per row and 4 rows. I don’t totally understand what a “workout” means. If it means to execute the exercise (squats for example), then what does it mean to do workout 1 and 2 on the 1st row? It’s even more confusing when you get to the 4th row with workouts 7 and 8 with 3 sets.

  • Anne Clark

    I just finished ready the Lean Muscle Diet. I am wondering if I should follow the NROL for women lifting plan or the Lean Muscle Diet.I have been lifting for years but apparently wrong even though I am fairly strong. The trainers I have used have always done giant sets and tri-sets. My heart rate was always very high and I was certainly beat-up after my workouts but not necessarily increasing my strength. Thanks for your help!

    • Hi Anne,

      I don’t know if there’s any right or wrong way to lift. There’s certainly a benefit to getting your heart rate up and challenging your cardiovascular system. If the goal is to get stronger, then certainly NROL for Women will help with that, as long as you can do the barbell squats and deadlifts pain-free.

      If you need to make adjustments, don’t hesitate to swap in hex-bar deadlifts or goblet squats, or to use dumbbells instead of a barbell on any other exercise.

      I hope this helps, and good luck with the program!


      • Anne Clark

        Thanks, Lou