Ah, the long-awaited post on Doug McGuff and John Little’s exercise opus – Body By Science. Let me purge a few of the sour tastes out my mouth first, so we can get into the good stuff - because I do think that Body By Science offers your metabolic rehab “patient” the best of all exercise solutions.
My most major complaint is the tremendous overreliance on scientific theory in coming to conclusions, as if science trumps experience and observation, or is infallible and immune to error. Not that the book really relies upon that as a crutch too much when it comes to exercise specifically, but it has that general air of scientific elitism that I find annoying. In my experience, science is the most prone to error, because of how it examines things in isolation (instead of from a broad perspective), different contexts are not accounted for, and time – well, time ruins everything when it comes to science (as short-term changes are often the exact opposite of long-term effects… like calorie-restriction, carb restriction, fat restriction, etc… all of which lower body fat, LDL, blood pressure, triglycerides, blood glucose, and insulin in the short-term, and raise all of those things over the long-term because of the physical and psychological human REACTION to those interventions).
There’s some tater hating in there too, but I’m over that. Most of the carb-hating stems from the misbelief that insulin resistance is a result of ingesting carbohydrate when glycogen reserves are already maxed out, a fallacy that I go into more detail on in 12 Paleo Myths.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s why I think Body By Science, and forms of exercise in that genre - including Slow Burn, Power of 10, and the like, offer what is probably the single best overall type of exercise from a health and body composition perspective. That may seem like a bold claim, and others who fared poorly on this type of exercise only to succeed with programs that are totally out of sync may be facepalming right now, but hear me out…
I have a great deal of experience with all kinds of exercise. Collegiate-level athletics, skiing, skateboarding, wrestling, Standard Weightlifting, Olympic lifting, several forms of yoga, pilates, running, cycling, hiking, high-intensity interval training, and Metabolic Enhancement Training are just a short list of things I’ve toyed around with over the years. Almost all of those activities had an adverse effect on metabolism, particularly the long-duration endurance activities like cycling, running, and hiking. As my research led me increasingly in the direction of metabolism and body temperature increase, and sustainability in approaching the loss of body fat, I gave exercise a little bit of a lashing. Between injury, burnout, time availability, overtraining, metabolic downregulation, muscle loss, enjoyment, cost, required skill level, seasonality, and other factors – about the only activity remaining that is practical for a mass audience is Pilates, maybe. But you don’t see me doing that every day. I find it too boring. And while it may keep me feeling good and lowers pain (from all the damage all the other forms of exercise did to me, haha), it doesn’t have any significant effect on body composition.
What I’m getting at is that Body By Science can significantly increase strength, increase muscle mass, improve fitness, increase bone density, substantially affect appearance, slow down or even reverse some of the natural physical declines with aging… and it can do all of those things without causing injury, without leading to overtraining, without taking up much time, without leading to burnout, there is no special skill or knowledge required to begin doing it, it is safe and effective for everyone… Sounds pretty good right? I truly think it is.
While I have touted similar qualities when it comes to maximum-intensity interval training – what I refer to as “MAXercise,” I personally find it to be much harder, more dangerous in terms of injury (and suppressive to body temperature), and limited in its ability to increase muscle size and strength, or increase bone density like strength training performed in McGuff/Little fashion.
The problem with other forms of weight training is that special form and skill is required for doing it without causing injury. And even doing it correctly can lead to overuse injuries, something that I frequently encounter. I have had a lifelong history with such proneness, having throwing arm problems as a college pitcher so severe as to lose 10 mph on my fastball and have chronic pain severe enough to force me to stop playing at age 19. With severe back problems to go with it at that age from a lovely degenerating spine at that age. Fun!
Plus, other forms of weight training can be daunting in complexity (like Scott Abel’s Metabolic Enhancement Training), long enough in duration to be painfully boring even if you do have the time to do it, and the risk of overtraining is high. All of these concerns are more or less removed in Body By Science.
That’s enough hype I think. Let’s talk about the training itself. While it alone won’t get you onto any podiums at any bodybuilding competitions, I am still going to call it the best form of exercise. Because I define the best form of exercise very differently.
“Our purpose is to give you a program that will have broad applicability and impart a lot of bang for your metabolic buck. It is not intended as an ‘ultimate bodybuilding routine’ for someone who plans to enter a national competition, although this workout program may prove to be superior for that purpose as well.” ~Doug McGuff
The best form of exercise is the type that is metabolically safe and that you are most likely to continue on a regular basis for the rest of your life. A once-weekly 10-minute weight training session that is safe, simple, and productive fits that description. In today’s society, especially amongst those who have a history of a low metabolism, and as you age – not much else qualifies. But I do think that this can be reasonably incorporated into anyone’s lifestyle with predominantly positive outcomes. It can probably even be thrown in from the beginning if you are trying to rehabilitate your metabolism (meaning you can even start doing it while your body temperature is still low).
The exercise is very simple:
- You perform one set of one exercise for each major muscle group – usually 3-5 exercises per workout
- Repetitions should be very slow both up and down with no momentum, 6-12 seconds each way (you don’t want to allow the muscle to briefly rest – you want it under strain throughout the duration to activate all types of muscle fibers)
- Each set should go until you absolutely cannot move the weight another inch, and then you still push as hard as you can, without the weight moving, for a count of 10 seconds – followed by letting the weight down as slowly as possible (it is important to truly fail at moving the weight, which sends a signal to your body that it was presented with something that was truly too strenuous to manage, and it adapts to be better prepared the next time. This is where all the benefits come from).
- Each set should last from 75 to 120 seconds – 90 seconds is a good target… so you should select the weight for each exercise based on which weight causes you to reach this point of failure roughly in this time frame
- There should be as little rest in between exercises as possible, for extra cardiovascular and metabolic benefits
- You perform one workout typically every 7-10 days, depending on recovery time needed (the longer you train, the stronger you get, the more damage you do to your muscle, and the more time you may need to recover)
- You should record the weight you use for each exercise and the total time you are pushing against the weight (the time to failure) to track progress
- It is preferably performed with machines, but free weights can be used as well. A simple home barbell weight set can be sufficient for those with time and financial concerns, or a sex drive that is insufficient to desire going to a public gym to see fit people covered in sweat in tight clothing doing exercises in vulnerable positions while breathing heavily and grunting
Anyway, that’s a pretty good introduction. We will be discussing and breaking this down more in future posts. This type of exercise should be particularly beneficial to the elderly and women, those who have the greatest physiological need for this type of exercise (young people and men have fewer problems with sarcopenia/muscle loss and osteoporosis/osteopenia).
Here is the basic “Big 5″ workout that most people start with, performed by Doug McGuff…