Saturday, February 5, 2011

More on Timothy Ferriss's "Four-Hour Body"

The picture above is Tim Ferriss - he looks as though he was born to sell stuff - which is probably why Wired voted him, in 2008, the “greatest self-promoter in the world.”

I began my last commentary about Ferriss's newest book with this observation:

I'm sure it's a not a coincidence that the book is called The Four Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman (you know, since he's the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated). I mean, geez, who doesn't want to be superhuman AND have incredible sex.

I then debunked the math around his claims for how he gained 34 pounds of muscle in 28 days, without steroids, and in four hours of total gym time. Uh, yeah, sure, you betcha.

He had some tricks that he does not really disclose. Here is the lowdown from Christian Finn in his review of the book:

Is it even possible to gain 34 pounds of muscle in 28 days?

Well, that really depends on how you define the term "muscle."

Tim has previously described how he arrived at a Sanshou (Chinese kickboxing) contest weighing 187 pounds, dropped 22 pounds (down to 165) in time to be weighed in, before adding 28 pounds to compete the next morning at 193 pounds.

In other words, Ferriss was able to gain 28 pounds of “fat-free mass” in just 12 hours. This was done by manipulating fluid and glycogen levels in his body with the use of water, glycerol, carbohydrate and creatine.

Something else to consider is the fact that Ferriss was re-building some of the muscle he'd lost during tango training in Buenos Aires. When he started his experiment, Ferris weighed just 146 pounds, which is around 30 pounds lighter than his regular weight.

Why does this matter? A phenomenon known as "muscle memory" means that re-building lost muscle is a lot easier than gaining it in the first place.

When you take all of this into account, a 34-pound gain over 28 days doesn’t seem quite so unbelievable. But if you leave muscle memory and fluid manipulation OUT of the picture, the idea that you can gain 34 pounds of muscle in 28 days is total BS.

Even in a study where they used untrained guys in their late teens and early twenties, who have a relatively easy time building muscle, gains in lean mass averaged only 12 pounds over a 10-week period [1].

Another piece he leaves out is the truth behind the Colorado Experiment - Arthur Jones' famous marketing ploy for his Nautilus fitness equipment - in which Casey Viator supposedly gained incredible amounts of weight - 63.21 pounds of muscle (while losing 17.93 pounds of fat). According to Bill Starr (a famous strength coach), Viator was taking steroids the whole time and sneaking extra workouts at the local YMCA:

What the public didn’t know was that Casey was taking steroids the whole time without telling Arthur and he was also sneaking out to a local YMCA to train with some real weights. I know this because Casey told me so.

If it sounds too good to be true - it most likely is too good to be true.

Since I posted the Google Tech Talk video, I had a chance to read large portions of the book (he does not recommend that everyone read the whole book, only a few mandatory parts). There is a lot of basically sound stuff in the book, and a lot of claims that I find sketchy, such as the ones above.

A lot of his nutrition and supplement advice is useful - and none of it is particularly innovative or new. You can find most of it in Men's Health or some other mainstream magazine - the rest is freely available on the internet.

Outside of the exercise and nutrition stuff - which is my area of knowledge - the rest of the book often seems like adolescent wishful thinking, and it reads as purely silly sometimes. I don't think that is what he was aiming for in this 500+ page book.

Here are some other reviews of the book you might find interesting:

WebMD offers a solid look at the book from a sound medical perspective and consults experts (which Ferriss is not) - like all fads, there is some good and some bad.

The New York Times implies that he is full of himself (and some other things) without being so bold about it - too bad, good reviews do not imply, they state.

1 comment:

Berkeley Jean said...

After I read the book I did a bit of head scratching too.

I thought that it was quite ironic that in a book with lots of highly visible over-promising that (IMHO) Tim under-researched and under delivered on his sex chapters. I read the book, he talks about these people who demonstrated an orgasm that lasts three hour orgasm in 1976 and then he goes and takes a lesson on how to arrive at an orgasm after 15 minutes. I googled the 1976 folks - they are still out there, still teaching, still demonstrating - they only show an an hour these days. So I figure, hey, I'll check this out. It was quite impressive, much more than what Tim is talking about.