Marc, from Feel Good Eating, (chock-full of fantastic Paleo-oriented food ideas), asks what I think about Dr. Doug McGuff’s Body by Science concept. Well, let’s check it out and see what Doc McGuff is up to.
Let me first come clean by saying that, because I know somewhat (though I have not read the book) of what the good doctor is promoting, I am afflicted with a wee-tad bit of pre-established bias. I’ve tried best I could to come to the concept anew, with a slate wiped clean as it were. I like to think that I’ve succeeded in that task, however, I may just be fooling myself. Also note that I’ve limited my discussion to what information is found in the link above. Ultimately, I’d have to say there is more to the Body by Science concept that I agree with than what I disagree with. Again, though, this idea has been formed with limited knowledge. Anyway, with that said, here’s my take on the good doctor’s concept, and practical applications thereof:
Dr. McGuff’s assertion that exercise, in and of itself, is not necessarily essential to, and may in fact be detrimental to, the body (and survival, for that matter), I can — with a few caveats, of course — go along with. I guess I’d have to say my take on exercise is similar to that of water ingestion — it’s got to be of just the right amount, and of the right kind, or things will begin to get ugly in a hurry. Now, I already feel my pre-concieved biases starting to kick in, so I’ll leave it at that short statement for now. However, keep in mind that when we are speaking of exercise prescription, it is absolutely essential to also define the potential trainee pool. Leave out either half of that definition, and the discussion becomes moot.
So, reading on. I suppose the first real trip-up I came across in this piece was in answer to this question:
Question: When you have people want to
lose fat, has it been your experience that it’s inevitable that on a
below-maintenance calorie diet that one will also probably lose some
degree of muscle tissue – even if paying attention to the principles of
intensity, volume and frequency? Is that just a given?
MCGUFF: I believe it is because you’ve got
to remember that muscle is “metabolically expensive” tissue and if you
are going to be at a calorie deficit you’re body is going to make some
efforts to jettison its most metabolically expensive holdings as a
survival reflex. Now there are things that you can do mitigate that as
much as possible, including applying the appropriate exercise stimulus,
but I do believe it’s [i.e., muscle loss] going to occur to some
extent, especially initially in the process. But I think that will
occur to a certain extent and then stop, if everything else is done
My initial thought here is, of course, why do we need to be at a forced calorie deficit to lose fat? What we need is proper Paleo nutrition, and calories (via the natural hunger response) will take care of themselves. Muscle tissue will be shed, yes, if and only if we give our bodies the signal to do so. “Cardio” work would be just such a signal. In the good doctor’s defense, he does mention the fallacy of “cardio work benefits” earlier in this piece. Now would be a great time to talk about high-intesity, short duration, power-intensive work. However we’re next subjected to this…
The point I try to make with my fat loss clients is the average
person at age 35 is unhappy because they’ve gained about 35 pounds of
fat since they were 20 years old. If you take that 35 pounds of fat
gain – from age 20 to 35 – and figure that out on a daily basis, that’s
a calorie excess of a single potato chip over that span of time. To
lose bodyfat you’ve got to do the opposite: a very modest calorie
reduction done in a disciplined fashion over a long range of time,
combined with strength training so all the weight loss is discriminated
towards fat loss. That’s our philosophy there.
This is the old calories-in, calories-out, body-as-a-basic-thermodynamic-machine mantra that has been sufficiently laid to rest in the minds of the Paleo-enlightened. Good Calories, Bad Calories properly dissects decades worth of applicable science relative to weight-control theory. My results (and the results of many, many others) are proof positive of that science (and the proper interpretation of that science) as applied within the laboratory of the real-world. Dr. McGuff does tout the benefits of natural, whole foods, and he seems to acknowledge the benefits of limiting carbohydrates, so we’ll have to give him props, there. But I know I’m preaching to the choir, here, so I’ll move on to the other “issues” I know are to come. Like this…
Question…In other words, there’s nothing
intrinsically more beneficial in using free weights or rubber balls in
developing the muscles that aid in stability and, in fact, you can
probably train these muscles more efficiently and efficaciously by
using, say, a Nautilus machine.
MCGUFF: Correct. The whole concept of
“stabilizers” or bringing stabilizers into play while you’re actively
working another muscle is just a romantic notion that really doesn’t
bare out in reality at all – there aren’t “just stabilizer” muscles.
Any muscle can be a “stabilizer” if it’s contracting isometrically to
stabilize the body from any opposing movement in the opposite direction.
My first reaction here, was to rant all up, down, sideways and over this statement — until I realized that he’s absolutely right (…and a hush fell over the crowd). In all seriousness though, to fully and adequately answer this question, we have to address just who the target trainee’s are. Are we talking about a morbidly obese individual just beginning their fitness quest, or a highly accomplished athlete? As a correlate to this, consider the whole CrossFit debate. We absolutely have to define the trainee’s goals before we can properly define the parameters of their overall workout scheme. Now, just so that we are all on the same page, let me state implicitly that the only machine I would ever routinely put a healthy, non-rehabbing athlete on is a GHR bench. The musculature and CNS of an athlete — and all reasonably healthy individuals, in my opinion, have to be encouraged to work in unison — and in all dimensions, and planes of movement — to produce high levels of power output. This, quite simply, and in my humble opinion, cannot be reproduced on a machine.
The following question, though, defines where Dr. McGuff and I take (somewhat) divergent forks in the road:
QUESTION: Let me ask your opinion on why was — or is — Nautilus such a huge advancement in bodybuilding and fitness training?
To be fair to Dr. McGuff, here, the question pertains specifically to Nautilus’s affect on bodybuilding and fitness training; no mention is made to it’s effectiveness as it pertains to athletic endeavors. Quite simply, my belief is that Nautilus is to athleticism as slow and extended cardio is to sprinting, i.e., highly counter-productive. If athleticism is not a concern, however, and we limit the talk to purely bodybuilding applications, then I’ll — still with some reservations — go along with the doctor’s concept. That is, I’ll go along with the concept, however, I still have serious doubts as to whether there can be enough induced fatigue during an exercise bout to justify the extended amount of down time he proposes. I agree with this concept in theory; practically, however, I don’t believe it can be done effectively. This all eventually gets back to the single set to failure, Arthur Jones argument. Empirically, I can say that I have not seen much progress from anyone I’ve seen pursue this particular route. Conversely, however, I have seen great progress in people who’ve stuck to different set/reps schemes within the “25 for a bigger engine” umbrella of routines. And interestingly as well, I have even seen people make phenomenal progress (myself included) using 20 – 25 singles to failure while employing a much narrower recovery window (6 to 12 % drop-off to a 4 to 8 day recovery). Now, this protocol really isn’t that far removed from what Dr. McGuff is proposing. This just goes to show you that protocols within the strength and conditioning arena (and I’ll include bodybuilding here, as well) are not as black and white as they may first appear at the onset. There is always plenty of room for morphing and overlap.
So, what exactly is the difference between an effective 20 -25 reps to failure routine and Dr. McGuff’s, Arthur Jones-inspired, routine? Well, I think answering that would require a blog post in and of itself. Briefly, though, let me suggest these things as being detriments to Dr. McGuff’s protocol: (1) too much recovery for too little drop-off , (2) limited CNS stimulation, (3) the inability to initiate instantaneous, supra-maximal muscle tension (i.e., as in the “catch” of a power clean, or a depth drop), (4) over-stimulation (and resultant fatigue) of the slow-twitch fibers, with an accompanying under-stimulation of their fast-twitch counterpart — the “too heavy, too fast” conundrum. Now, I’m open minded enough to consider that, for certain trainee populations, this protocol would in fact be sufficient. I do feel comfortable in saying, though, that for athletes, or for those who wish to move like athletes, I would not suggest this type of protocol.
Again, let me state that this post is in reference to the above link, provided by Marc, (as he asked for my thoughts on that post specifically), and my not be totally indicative of what my thoughts might be on the book, Body by Science. I think it only fair that I provide you with a favorable review of the book, here. I certainly wouldn’t mind reading the book in it’s entirety — I am open to the fact that my overall opinion of the system my be swayed by a more complete understanding of Dr. McGuff’s ideas.