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Get the Picture
How-to books say and show it simply
"Teach Yourself Visually Weight Training" isolates key moments.
How-to exercise books could paper the globe, but some offerings among the latest wave show a sophistication in their simplicity, as user-friendly and easy on the eyes as video.

As with all of these picture-heavy books, don't expect depth. But if you want a clear picture of the basics, you could do much worse. Two worthy books are, aptly enough, from the "Teach Yourself Visually" family. One takes on yoga; the other explains weight-lifting. As the titles suggest, the books are well-illustrated, full of color photographs and concisely written.
 Fitness Notebook

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Coaching the Coach

"Coach's Little Book of Wisdom" by Ron Quinn, a longtime Ohio-based youth-sports coach, is a thin book with no photographs. It simply is filled with pithy quotes designed to keep the kids eager, the parents happy and the coach sane. Here's a sampling:

• Late bloomers need encouragement — how else can they bloom?

• The learning process does not follow a predictable pattern. Allow for some chaos.

• Happiness is seeing a player you coached years ago and hearing him call you "coach."

• Know when you need to ask the question.

"Teach Yourself Visually Yoga" begins and stays with the basics. Its strength is in the to-the-point explanations of yoga types and benefits, as well as tips on everything from clothes to props to the effects on muscular and skeletal elements. It touches — always briefly — on yoga for seniors, for kids, during pregnancy and as a lifestyle. The book is divided into various poses. Each one gets four photographs with step-by-step instructions under each. Much of the type devoted to poses takes a question-and-answer form, like, what should I do if my palm can't touch the floor? And how can I deepen this pose?

"Teach Yourself Visually Weight Training" is set up much the same way, taking the reader through main steps with both pictures and short instructions. In addition to the photographic examples, including one example of what not to do, targeted muscles are pinpointed on a muscular-skeleton drawing for each exercise. There is a section on weight-training etiquette, which goes over don'ts such as wearing perfume or carrying your gym bag into the weight room, and tips on how to set up your home gym or stay in shape while traveling.

Each makes for a good refresher manual, is 300 pages and retails for $24.99. The publisher is maranGraphics, a family-run business from Toronto, Canada.

In "Tai Chi Mind and Body" (Dorling Kindersley, $15), Tricia Yu explains exercises through step-by-step instructions, color photographs of single movements and the entire exercise in one visual sweep. With each exercise, Yu describes the benefit and gives a tip on how to imagine the movement. While downright wordy when compared to the "Teach Yourself Visually" books, Yu also believes that seeing is the best way to grasp the fluid, meditative Chinese art. Yu familiarizes readers with essential elements of tai chi: proper breathing, becoming alive in each moment, warming up gently and basic moves. For the "Dancing Crane," for instance, she supplies four photographs and instructions, as well as a strip of smaller images to give a sense of the movement.

"Meditation: Simple Steps for Health and Well-Being" (Illustrator, $12.95) by Andrea McCloud and Karen Greenberg is about the dimensions of a wide-open hand, and dispenses tips to find self-awareness. The authors call it a "glow guide," and it seems to be geared toward people who get stuck in life's traffic jam. Take the "sidewalk stroll" exercise, for example. Put on good shoes, go outside and walk. Where? Don't concern yourself with that. Just walk and don't think past the next step. Go more slowly than usual and survey your body. Feeling loose? Tight? Light on your feet? "Don't judge, just observe," the authors suggest. Stop somewhere and take in the world around you. Then move on.

"The Men's Health Cover Model Workout" (Rodale Press, $21.95) by Owen McKibbin uses visuals that are mostly of him and his perfect chest and abs. It offers a possible road map of "16 weeks to a picture-perfect body" — and has the gall to show a large photograph of McKibbin's flawless torso above a headline that reads, "I Wasn't Born This Way."

Still, once I waded past the laborious getting-to-know-him part, I found his workouts reasonable. His advice on everything from rest to nutrition was moderate — so moderate that I don't think many of his readers will make the cover soon.

"Thin Thighs" (Dorling Kindersley, $10) by Matt Roberts is filled with photographs of workouts done by gorgeous models. You know, the kind who fill and sell all those fitness magazines. But the book, and Roberts' similar editions on tight abs and buns and weightlifting, provide a nice, compact presentation and easily understood advice. When he wants to get a point across, from drinking water to concentrating on form, he fills a page with a few lines of type.

Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer.

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