Body by Science — The Review, Part 1: Initial Impressions

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

~ Thomas Jefferson

Part 1 of this review will concentrate on my overall impression(s) of Body by Science, by Dr. Doug McGuff and John Little. I’ve completed my initial “quick read” of the work, and have thus far thoroughly enjoyed the book.  By way of comparison, I’d say that BBS might be considered the “Good Calories, Bad Calories” of fitness tomes. Not that the book is exhaustive, or written “on a higher level”, but in the fact that it is so heavily backed by documented research. A full 26 pages of reference citations fill the back matter of the work; plenty of “geek food” for folks like me – those of us who like to delve deep and see if we come to the same conclusions as the author.

book01And by and large, I do come to the same conclusions as the authors here. I think where our differences ultimately lay is in the application of the science and techniques described therein; to invoke a metaphor, here (and one that I’m sure I’ve hackneyed to death by now), I think Dr. McGuff would have the techniques described in BBS be the monkey wrench in his workout toolbox – applying the methods described in BBS universally and across the board – where I see these techniques more as a highly specialized tool in a much, much larger workout “tool box”. The underlying science here is spot-on, though, and for anyone wishing to purchase a thorough, nicely-written and well-documented exercise science and/or physiology book, this is it. The book is written for the lay-person, so the underlying science is, in some cases, over-simplified. Ah, but if you’d like to dig a little deeper, you’ve got that 26 pages worth of references to glory in.

I also get the distinct feeling that much was cut from Dr. McGuff’s original manuscript, by all-too-eager editors in their zeal to mold a product with a more vast market appeal. That’s a shame, though, because I know Dr. McGuff has much more to say on the subjects covered in his book. I’d love to get my hands on the original manuscript; it really is too bad that he wasn’t given the license from his publishing house that was given Gary Taubes in his writing of GCBC.  To make my case, here, just check out this interview that Chris, of Conditioning Research, conducted with Dr. McGuff.  The good doctor has plenty more to say, and the more I hear him expound on his notions, the more I am apt to agree with his conclusions.  I also wish that the publishers would have allowed Dr. McGuff, or at least someone very knowlegeable in the proper form/execution of free-weight exercises, stage the photos for this work.  Dr. McGuff has commented to me about his displeasure over that aspect of the book.  This is an unfortunate consequence, though, of the elaborate dance between authors and editors/publishers.

In the forthcoming installments of this review, I’ll look consider the various themes of BBS from my own Paleo/Evolutionary Fitness-leaning perspective.  Expect to see some heavy discussion in the following subject areas:

  1. the efficient absorption of force.
  2. Proprioception
  3. CNS stimulation
  4. the Dose/Response/Recovery continuum.

I’ll note as well, that Dr. McGuff is fully on board with the whole of the Paleo/EF lifestyle approach.  Check out the following two short clips of Dr. McGuff discussing the science of fat loss.

As well, Dr. McGuff is an admirer, as am I, of  Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  It is with the foundation of these two perspectives (Paleo lifestyle, coupled with “randomness”) that he and John Little have put together an absolutely fabulous training book — one that I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone (novice to “old salt”) interested in underlying science of physical culture.

More to come.  If you haven’t yet grabbed a copy of BBS, by all means do so; you certainly won’t be disappointed.  Read-up, and get ready for some in-depth discussion.

In Health,


18 responses to “Body by Science — The Review, Part 1: Initial Impressions

  1. Thanks, g. I’ve edited the post to include part 2 of the clip. Technical difficulties, apparently 🙂

  2. I haven’t watched the videos yet, but I will. Thanks.

    I’m going to try and get my hands on a copy this week so I can join the discussion!

  3. Interesting. I watched a few of his other videos too. He made some good points about recovery and rest.

    However, he doesn’t appear to be especially muscular or fit, unlike Keith. So, is he eating his his own “dogfood”, as they say?

    Also, he seems to favor machines versus free/oly weights. From the interview:

    >>>>>>13. What about explosive training? When we see athletes doing box jumps, bounding or Olympic lifting are we seeing skill conditioning or specific metabolic conditioning? Are things like dumbbell snatches a waste of time?—

    No, they’re not a waste of time. But you do need to consider the risk-to-benefit ratio, especially when there are alternatives that are safer. In my opinion, explosiveness is a matter of capability, intent, and practice. Capability is largely predicated on your muscular strength. Intent is a function of your neurological efficiency. Practice is marrying your capability and intent to a specific skill in which you wish to be explosive. I do not think there is a lot of evidence to suggest that performing a snatch or cleans is going to help a lineman explode any more than just being appropriately strength-trained and then practicing the specific skill in question.

    With regard to safety, I think the dangers may be underestimated because of survivorship bias. Lots of collegiate and professional athletes and coaches advocate this kind of training, but the selective pressure of competition has already identified them as more resilient intrinsically. What we don’t see is what Nassim Taleb calls “the graveyard”- those that have fallen out because of lack of results or injury.

    You can only do kipping pull-ups or clapping pushups so long before you tear the labrum of your shoulder or injure your rotator cuff. Further, these injuries are not always acutely evident. You may tear your labrum in your 20’s and “mysteriously” end up with a frozen shoulder in your 50’s.<<<<<<<

    In my experience, it is the machines that are dangerous, especially when you are locked into a plane of movement that doesn’t correspond to your true bio-mechanics.

    • “Intent is a function of your neurological efficiency.”

      Ah, now this gets down to the real nitty-gritty. Are athletes made better by performing explosive movements, or are athletes better at explosive movements due to their inherent athleticism? I believe it’s a yin-yang kind of thing; a little of both.

  4. Patrik,

    FYI. At 47 years of age, I am 5’9″, 172 lbs at 9-10% body fat. My resting heart rate is about 48. I have posted a 1:31 on the Concept 2 500m row. In the past, I have been as much as 40 pounds overfat…so my condition represents a major transformation. I have acheived this while working as a full-time emergency physician (one of the most stressful jobs imaginable, that rotates shifts around the clock), I run a personal training business, have written 3 books (including Body by Science), and am raising 2 young kids. Looking at some of Keith’s high school pictures posted on this blog, I can fairly confidently say he is playing a better genetic hand than I am. That being so, he has produced an amazing physique while carrying out an incredibly busy life, and running a top-rate blog.

    Body by Science devotes an entire chapter to thinking errors that commonly occur when evaluating fitness advice…and you just committed one of the biggest and most common errors.

    What dog food are you eating?


    Doug McGuff, MD

  5. @Doug

    Thanks for your comment. Your fitness appears to be strong, however, from the pics/video I have seen, this does not come through at all. Proof, at least partially, is in the pudding. (No, I don’t think hyper-hypertrophy ala body-building is fitness.)

    You haven’t posted about how much weight you can move. Keith appears to have a tremendous amount of absolute and relative strength, as well as an impressive musculature. His methods are, in some ways, diametrical opposites of yours e.g. machines vs. free weights.

    Please be explicit in explaining to me which error I have just committed. Yes, some of us have a better genetic profile/ability when it comes to athletic ability and/or potential for hypertrophy. There are even genetic freaks out there who do almost no working out, and are freakishly good athletes/fit/muscular. I played professional water polo with such a person. Scary.

    But that seems like too easy of a cop-out — not to mention the fact, by definition, more people are average, than, say, Keith. Meaning if you are selling a solution, it should probably work well for the average Joe.

    Part of evaluating fitness advice (or any other, financial etc etc) is not only personal performance, but results seen by the person providing/selling you the advice. (One reason I am very skeptical of mainstream healthcare/nutrition advice e.g. lipid hypothesis etc etc — the doctors and nurses providing this advice are, generally, anything but paragons of health.)

    You may be eating your own dogfood, but is it the best dogfood out there?

    As far as MY dogfood, I enjoy a tasty homemade mix of Paleo/hyperlipid with Crossfit. I am always looking to tweak it and tune my approach. Be it trying intermittent fasting, allowing for more carbs post-workout, allowing for more recovery than CrossFit normally recommends, etc etc To be frank, some of what you recommend appears to make sense, but some is hard to reconcile with what I have seen in your pics/videos as well as what my experience and common sense dictate e.g. your proclivity for using machines.


  6. Keith,
    I follow your blog and your always insightful comments on Art’s private blog. My first time commenting on your wonderful site, been reading it and being inspired by it for quite some time though. I have been reading BBS, as well, about half way through it. Your GCBS comparison is quite apt. My reading progression over the last few months has been GCBS (a 2 month slow reading odyssey b/c I kept putting the book down every 3 pages or so to let my brain absorb it all), and then for the last 4 weeks I’ve been juggling BBS and The Protein Power Life Plan by Dr. Eades. I’ve enjoyed juggling these 2 books rather than reading 1 straight through for some reason.

    I was just doing straight EF hierarchical type sets, then I intertwined my workouts with some Crossfit, but with my work I’m traveling a lot to the US and overseas so my randomness is preprogrammed. The biggest thing about eating paleo and doing once a week weight/crossfit workouts perhaps with a sprint session on a different day that week if I’m lucky, is that if my work doesn’t allow me to workout on THAT DAY, I don’t beat myself up about it. I like your workout posts, because you stress how you just threw something together for when time and opportunity meet up in your busy schedule.

    All your points about BBS are spot on. To use your analogy a bit, I think the knowledge and techniques that McGuff lays out are great tools, among other tools for your tool chest. The reason I like McGuff so much is that he’s immodest about his knowledge, he explains the science about his way, tells you why he recommends this way, but doesn’t demand that it is THE WAY. So, my take on BBS is it’s a great addition to my knowledge (I really liked the beginning about the forest, the height of trees and standard deviations, that imagery has really stuck with me, I’m a geek, too!!!) and has provided great tools for working out. I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t follow a certain plan, it doesn’t have to be that way, and McGuff would be the first one to agree with you on that point.

    Well, Keith, thanks again for sharing your thoughts. Over the last few months I’ve really benefited from them.
    Best Regards,

  7. oops, I meant to say that Dr. McGuff was MODEST, meaning not boastful, I didn’t meant to type IMMODEST. Tip of the hat, Doc McGuff!

    • I think the first thing one needs to consider when choosing and/or custom-building an exercise program is the anticipated (hoped-for) result of the program. In other words, know thyself, know thy goals. Included within the “know thyself” dictate is a knowledge of – in as much as practical, empirical experience will lend — and an unbiased acceptance of your recovery ability and genetic limitations. In my experience, no one program “works” for every subset of trainee seeking a similar goal. To be sure, some broad programs are statistically better than others at producing a stated outcome for a particular subset of trainee, but it’s imperative that the individual trainee and/or coach have enough “training savvy” to know when best to shift gears, shift modalities. Even the best of programs will not continue to produce results forever.

      I kind of went off on a tangent, there; the point I wanted to make was that I have no doubt whatsoever in the efficacy of the BBS protocol for effectively engaging the fast twitch (especially the important type II’s) and eliciting a positive, post workout hormonal cascade. This can be accomplished safely and with a minimum time investment. I think Doug’s point is that he’s put together a fitness program that rates high on the three-dimensional risk-efficiency-reward scale. Some folks, however (and this is where Doug and I might be at odds) are willing to gamble a bit in the risk and/or efficiency planes for the chance to enhance our “reward” outcome (however we choose to define “reward”). Some sports/endeavors will inherently demand more risk from the athlete, both in competition and in training. This is a long-winded way of saying, if you’re an average office worker who just wants to “get fit”, do you really need to incur the added “risk” of mimicking a professional athlete’s off-season training program? It is my opinion that athletic ability is genetic; athletic prowess, through, is trained. Know your limitations, state your goals, and track your progress. Continually adjust your assessments in light of current knowledge. With this information, then, choose the best available tool to further your progress toward the defined goal.

  8. Keith, thanks for the further feedback on this subject. You were very clear in your initial posting and this subsequent posting, both complement each other quite well. It is indeed refreshing to see a site such as yours with such open minded discussion among people that have slightly different perspectives but yet may commune with each other to each other’s benefit. And compared with an Ornish (regarding diet) or a Cooper (regarding exercise), you and McGuff are nearly identical twins with slight differences. Thank you to both of you gentlemen for such enlightening discussion, I really benefit from it.

    By the way, it’s really been a McGuff week for me. I’m past the half way point in his book, read his interview on Conditioning Research blog, and just listened to Jimmy Moore’s interview of McGuff. Quite the book junket you’ve been doing as of late Dr. McGuff. Well done.

  9. Zach,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I am glad you have found some useful information in BBS.


    Your points on the “three dimensional risk-efficiency-reward scale” are a perfect description of my philosophy. You also perfectly characterized the difference between your approach, and that advocated in BBS. I could not have come up with a better description. Thanks!

    Doug McGuff

  10. How do I find a trainer in my area that is knowledgeable of the BBS program? I’m currently in process of reading the book and know I will need direction/supervision while attempting the training. I live near Indianapolis, IN.

    • Susannah,
      Contact Bo Railey at Exercise Inc.; they have locations in Brownsburg, Avon and Zionsville. If those locations don’t work for you, I’m sure that the Exercise Inc. team can recommend someone nearer you. Good luck!

  11. Well everything he said we already kinda knew except one big portion – the actual time you need to spend working out.
    So, I already knew that lean meats, whole foods no refined sugars and breads are generally accepted as good.
    I also knew that high intensity workouts are better than the waste of time treadmill. However, I have a very hard time believing from is book that one 12 minute workout per week is enough to see gains.
    I don’t care how hard it is, I just don’t think you can hit all the muscles effectively in that short of a time. I think it will probably keep you in shape kinda, but if you are serious about weight training you need to workout at least 3 hours a week.
    Tell me what you think.

  12. I’ve skimmed through the book a little bit, and read some of his articles which are over my head. From what I can gather about his philosophies, he believes you can do better passing fitness tests by practicing specifically for the fitness test, compared to doing more. This bothers me because he makes it sound like being able to do 100 pushups for a 50 pushup test will make you do worse on a 50 pushup test, and that the better way would be to only do 50 pushups.

    One more thing to be addressed. I was asking this trainer about training for Special Forces. He told me to do his 12 minute exercises once a week, and practice for the test to be accepted into training. part of the test to get in is swim 500 yards in between 9 and 12 minutes. During training they will make you swim 1-2+ mile Ocean swims almost daily. Being able to swim 500 yards and pass the test does not mean I can swim 2 miles in the ocean.

    Surely a Marine, Navy Seal, or Army Ranger cannot maintain their required fitness from 12 minutes of exercise a week.

    • Nor do I, and knowing Doug, I can tell you that this isn’t his take either. More extreme fitness levels call for more extreme training practices. this is the health vs performance dilemma, brother.

  13. I just saw Dr. McGuff’s lectures on youtube and was totally fascinated. I plan on buying “Body By Science” this weekend and reading it. I have just started Paleo prior to discoving Dr. McGuff. I have done the whole clean eating, workout hard with a trainer 5-6 times a week, lots of cardio post workout or fasted, etc and basically made some progress over a very very long period of time. I am going to try Dr. McGuff’s techniques and see what kind of results occur. The “bodybuilder” approach (5-6 hours of hard training a week) didn’t seem to work for me that well so it’s time for a new direction.

    Being a woman, I wonder if and how female hormones play into the fat loss equation. I am hoping the BBS covers this.

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