Body by Science; Let the Review Begin

“The human mind treats a new idea the same way the body treats a strange protein: It rejects it.”

~ P.B. Medawar

I received a copy of Body by Science this week from Dr. Doug McGuff, and have already begun my initial read-through of the material.  Very interesting stuff thus-far, I must say.  Now, the way I handle a thoroughly referenced book like BBS (Good Calories, Bad Calories is another example), is to first go through the material in its entirety, then go back for a second, more thorough devouring.  And I don’t use the term devouring lightly, either, as I take to the books I read (especially so of a work I intend to critique), in the manner of a wolf to fresh lamb slaughter.  If any of you have a copy of BBS, here’s an opportunity for you to read along, and maybe we can compare notes along the way.  If you don’t yet have a copy, you’ve got a little bit of time to get your hands on one, as I’ll remain in my “initial read-through” phase for a bit longer (my “paying” gig is having its way with me at the moment).  In any event, once I’ve completed the initial read-through, I’ll dive right into the second, more thorough read, reviewing the work in numerous, smaller chunks (maybe this will result in chapter reviews, maybe smaller pieces) of the whole as I progress. I’ll include a wrap-up review at the end, tying together all of the the smaller, along-the-way, write-ups.  From what I’ve seen so far, BBS is a well-written and well-researched work.  I’m looking forward to having my biases and preconceived notions challenged.  Change my mind is a mantra I live by.

For an appetite wetter, check out this blog post, courtesy of TTP reader Skyler Tanner.   Skyler has put together a video clip sampling of a few Dr. McGuff-inspired, high-intensity workouts on some cool, new-fangled machines.  He’s even got a clip of the good Dr. himself taking a dose of his own, HIT workout medicine.  The one-set-to-failure theory is intriguing — and, from what I’ve seen previously, supported by sound science — though I’ve always found it to be, for reasons that I will elaborate upon in my coming posts, impracticable (at least for athletes).  I do remain open-minded, though, and will consider all options for inclusion in my workout arsenal.  Like I always say, match the trainee to his or her stated goal, then figure out the most efficient way of getting them there — that’s the name of the game, in my book.

Also, a quick public service announcement: I’ve got a whole host of interesting reader questions I intend to get to as well.  I hope to be able to post some of these throughout the rest of the week, as time permits.  Wow, I really could use a few more hours in the day, not devoted to my paying gig 🙂

In Health,


22 responses to “Body by Science; Let the Review Begin

  1. I’ll be really looking forward to your review. I’ve been reading the book again and watching the videos of Doug speaking on YouTube and the science is presented really well.

    As I think I have said before, while I really appreciate the rationale – that you need to do the minimum to stimulate growth while avoiding the damage and injury from excess exercise – I actually enjoy training and moving.

    Perhaps there is a power law thing going on – lots of easy movement (which would include some easy workouts and martial arts practice) and a really hard 10 minute or less BBS style workout every 7-10 days to build the muscle?

    • “Perhaps there is a power law thing going on – lots of easy movement (which would include some easy workouts and martial arts practice) and a really hard 10 minute or less BBS style workout every 7-10 days to build the muscle?”

      That’s my initial notion, Chris. This might be a novel way to maintain strength w/out a huge time investment during an intra-competitive season (American football season, for instance). I guess the counter-argument to using the BBS method as an adjunct would be one of overtraining. I do believe that overtraining, though, can be easily monitored and tracked in an individual.

  2. I am amazed at the level of exersion Dr. McGuff shows in those clips. I have worked out hard, but never like that.

    The slow-to-failure is challenging – the muscle burn is intense. As a hack, though, I am confused on how this leads to fast-twitch development though – I thought we’d want explosive movements.

    • Mark,
      Without getting into a long-winded, in-depth dissertation on the subject (which could easily be done), there are two basic ways to go about tapping the FTIIb muscle fibers: (1) by progressively exhausting through the slow-twitch and “lesser” FT fibers until the FTIIb’s are the only fibers remaining (Dr. McGuff’s method), or (2) via explosive movements — Oly lifts, plyos, etc — where the slow-twitch and “lesser” fast-twitch fibers are by-passed (actually not “by-passed” per se, just not fatigued). The trick is in the manipulation of both methods to suit a particular means.

      • Hey,

        Before i get into the reason for my post i just wanted to say well done on the site. It’s nice to come across a forum where people seem to intelligently discuss the issue of strength training without engaging in childish name calling and slanging matches due to differences of opinion.

        Right, now this is the part where i state a difference of opinion haha.

        Whilst I agree that you are right in saying that there is two different methods by which FTIIb fibres can be engaged, i disagree that the trick is in the manipulation of both methods to suit a particular means (unless you are an olympic powerlifter). As someone who believes in evidence based science (exercise is a science afterall), the peer reviewed evidence suggests that explosive exercises such as olympic lifts cannot be soundly justified for use by anyone other than olympic lifters.

        In 2007 a critical literature review was carried out by Brucelow & Smith looking at the evidence on explosive exercises in sports training. Following their exhaustive review of the peer reviewed literature (that means journals, not books) the authors concluded that the available evidence does not support the use of rapid cadence exercises such as olympic lifts by anyone other than, you guessed it, olympic powerlifters.

        Their findings and reasons for this were numerous but rather than me doing a poor job of summarising the paper, you can read it online as a pdf file on the JEPonline website (Journal of Exercise Physiology). Just typing the article title into your search browser is the easiest way to find it.

        Bruce-Low S, Smith D. Explosive Exercises In Sports Training: A critical Review. JEPonline 2007;10(1):21-33

        • “…the peer reviewed evidence suggests that explosive exercises such as Olympic lifts cannot be soundly justified for use by anyone other than Olympic lifters…”

          I haven’t read the paper yet, but are the authors alluding to a poor risk/benefit ratio? Or learning-curve/benefit ratio? For instance, I engage in Oly derivative exercises (explosive benefit, minus the “skill” worries). Anyway, thanks for the heads-up – this is one that I’ll want to look at for sure.

          • The paper’s abstract answers your question best so i’ve highlighted it below. Do read the whole article though when you get chance.

            “This paper reviews evidence relating to the effectiveness and safety of explosive exercises, such as Olympic style weight lifting, other weight training exercises performed at a fast cadence, and plyometric exercises, that are commonly used in the strength and conditioning training of athletes. Contrary to popular belief and the practices of many athletes, the peer- reviewed evidence does not support the view that such exercises are more effective than traditional, slow and heavy weight training in enhancing muscle power and athletic performance. In fact, such exercises do not appear to be any more effective in this regard than weight training at a relatively slow cadence, and some evidence suggests they are less so. Also, such explosive exercises do not transfer well (if at all) to athletic performance on the sports field, and present a
            significant injury risk. Therefore, such exercises should not be
            recommended in the strength and conditioning training of athletes, except those who need to learn the specific skill of lifting heavy weights fast, such as Olympic lifters and strongmen.”

            • I understand, in a logical sense, that this very well could be – 30+ years of empirical (and personal) evidence, however, has proven to me otherwise. I think it comes back to the chicken/egg problem – are superior athletes better at explosive lifts, thereby skewing the empirical observations? Can so-so athletes really be made better via explosive lifting, or are they improving in other areas that seem to give the credit to the explosive-type weight protocol? Like I’ve said, I’m no scientist, just an observer. I can’t deny out-of-hand what my experience has thus-far proven though.

  3. Keith and All,

    Thanks for your comments. With a really hard HIT routine done infrequently, I have found a spontaneous increase in NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). My clients can hardly be contained from working/playing outdoors, taking up sports from their youth etc. When this occurs you see a true, spontaneous power-law driven increase in activity (as opposed to some monitored, scrutinized periodization routine).

    It is my theory that if you take care of the muscle mass/strength issues in a brief, efficient manner, then NEAT kicks in and the power law stuff occurs the way it was meant to….naturally.

    Right now I’m gonna go do some hot laps on the BMX track I built on the land next to my house.

    Thanks for the interest,

    Doug McGuff

  4. Doug

    thanks for the clarification. That is a helpful perspective. I really enjoy exercise – hiking, yoga, self defence and like to train in diffrent ways for the fun / play of it. I’d hate to give all that up for 8 minutes a week of superslow. Your comment helpfully explains that that would not be necessary.

    It is this integration of HIT training and other activity that I find really interesting.

  5. Keith,

    I’ve ordered my own copy of BBS (By the way, Amazon Prime is probably the best deal in the world for those of us who read a lot; Free two day shipping for $80/year!) and it should be here tomorrow or Monday. I’ll be really interested to compare notes with you as it seems that you and I utilize similar dietary and exercise methodologies (I don’t have a fixie but I usually try and grind in as high a gear as I can on my Moots!)

    Frankly I am skeptical about the functionality of gains made through movements which aren’t applicable to sport or everyday life. I used Art DeVany’s lifting protocol for quite a while but frankly found it quite boring and also only began to see results I was happy with when I started working out at my local Crossfit affiliate.

    However, if I never challenged my preconceived notions, I would still be eating oatmeal for breakfast and decrying Atkins as the “butter and pork-rinds diet” (hello, 21 year old Ryon!).

    By the way, I recall in a post about BBS a while back (perhaps it was about Dr McGuff himself?) You agreed with the notion that Machine lifting was equivalent to free weights (viz. using the “Extra stabilization muscles). Could you expand on that idea a little? From my experiences with machines and free weights (both genuine Nautilis machines and more standard cable fare), that the free weights feel much more difficult, skill-based, and functional than the machines (as well as more visceral, which is important to me. Machine environments always seemed sterile and lifeless).

    As a martial artist, I feel far, far more “Brutal” in competition when I work out with free weights than I ever did on machine-based protocols. I wonder why this is.

    I think there might be a separation between lifting and exercise for lifestyle and health enhancement, and that to support the playing of a sport. But does there necessarily have to be a separation there? I will save the conjuncture for when I actually read the book. I look forward to the discussions!


    • Ryon,
      “…You agreed with the notion that Machine lifting was equivalent to free weights (viz. using the “Extra stabilization muscles). Could you expand on that idea a little?”

      Actually, I’m of the opposite mindset. My big problem with machines is precisely that I feel like the stabilizers are under-utilized and, therefore, not prepared to properly perform in the real, multidimensional world. Strength imbalances arising b/t prime movers and stabilizers is another concern I have. Additionally, I wonder about CNS activation and proprioception (and the marriage of these two phenomena) as related to athletic performance. I just haven’t been sufficiently convinced — though I remain open-minded — that machine work translates well to the field of play. This may in time be proven to be an old-school, antiquated bias that I’ll need to shed. For the time being, I’m taking the “trust, but verify” route.

      “…weren’t DeVany’s hierarchical sets supposed to go through the fibre hierarchy too in some way?”
      Whether or not that was his intent (though, I believe it was), I do think they owe their efficacy to the same, progressive (or, hierarchical) fiber exhaustion theory. And along the same lines of what I opined above, I believe the “missing link” here — something that people tend to downplay — is the absolute importance of CNS activation/training. There’s just no substitute, imho, for training instantaneous power-generating capability — at least in athletes, or those looking to enhance performance gains. But again, I remain open-minded. And I don’t think one method necessarily has to be performed at the exclusion of the other. It may be that SS/HIT is the perfect adjunct “base” to a sprint/power/explosive/Oly-lift program.

      John seems to be an interesting guy with a wide-ranging set of interests, check out his curriculum vitae sometime; probably a great guy to sit down and drink a beer with.

      And coming around full circle with what you cite here, we have the Evo-Sport methodology (Jay Schroeder) and his use of long duration isolations and instantaneous, super high force “recoil” reps. Interesting, interesting stuff, indeed.

    • re “Frankly I am skeptical about the functionality of gains made through movements which aren’t applicable to sport or everyday life.”

      I assume then that you don’t lift weights, except for perhaps the deadlift? (unless you are a powerlifter in which case all the powerlifting moves are relevant).

  6. Keith:

    I just noticed that John Little is part of this book as well (though I don’t know to what extent).

    Back almost two years ago when I first stated on this journey, Little’s “Max Contraction” (or the Advanced — can’t recall which) was the first thing I read (an interesting writer too, with diversions into history and philosophy a-la Ayn Rand).

    The idea is simple: intensity and endurance are inversely related, so taking that to the extreme, the highest possible intensity is achieved in the shortest time. To do that, the muscle is contracted to maximum and then loaded and held to failure. One begins at 3 seconds to failure and attempts to work down to 1 second of less failures. And, this is only done once every couple of weeks. Yea, like 12 seconds of exercise every two weeks.

    There’s some pretty compelling photos, such as a small woman on a pec deck holding a contraction with several hundred pounds of weight and 2 150 pound guys standing on the weights.

    I found a local trainer here who does Little’s routine with clients and he told me that he gets twice the results in a 4th of the time as with his full-range motion clients.

    Have not done any of this myself, but it’s certainly interesting.

  7. I started the Big 5 set just 10 weeks ago and do it every 7 days, have had 2 rests from it-14 days between workouts instead of 7

    My bench press has gone from 65kg to 85kg-I am 58 years old-plus I can do chin ups for the first time-around 10 but thats going up too !

    Thanks Doug-brilliant

    • Body By Science is an excellent well written book. While I enjoy all kinds of physical activities my weekly high intensity sessions (less than 20 minutes) are not one of them. Rather they give me the strength and mobility to enjoy the other stuff. Read this book – try it for one month – you will be amazed. I am 59 years old.

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