If you’ve read this blog for an extended period of time, or if you know me personally, you know that I’ve followed Tim Ferriss for a few years. I read his first book, The Four-Hour Work Week, and regularly read his blog which contains excerpts from his books, as well as dialogues between Tim and his readers in the comment sections. You may also know then that I have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with him. Mostly due to the cycle of reading something, wanting it to work and getting all hyped up for it, and then when I am just tired of hearing him talk about his success, it turns to hate.
Given all this history, there was no way I wouldn’t pre-order his new book The Four-Hour Body and read it immediately. The book came out just before the holidays so it made for good timing with my travel plans to read on the plane.
I’m going to review this book from a few different perspectives. Despite the fact that Tim has a loyal following already, this book is clearly targeted at all Americans, most of which fail at diets, fail at exercising, and are usually the ones suckered into the next infomercial that promises them results without effort. I think that is one of the reasons why Tim went with this title of the book. After I tell someone the name of the book, the next thing I have to do is explain the title. Obviously the main reason the title was chosen is because of the familiarity with The Four-Hour Work Week, which was a New York Times best seller, but mass appeal isn’t a bad secondary reason. I’d actually be curious to know what Tim would have named the book if he hadn’t had the success of his first book already. We may never know.
For most of this review I will be coming from the position of an “average guy.” If I wasn’t already doing Crossfit and following a mostly Paleo diet already, would I be jumping to follow this books protocols to a “T”? Then I will also come at things from the perspective of a Crossfitter. There will be things I agree with, and disagree with, but they are interesting for sure. The same goes with the Paleo perspective. There are many diet suggestions that Tim makes that fly in the face of Paleo, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things we can’t extract from it. An example of this is adding cinnamon to your coffee. I’ll go more into that later.
I changed my mind. What I wrote above was my plan, but as I started writing I realized that there was just too much content in the book to keep going over back and forth from multiple angles. Instead I am going to extract a lot of what I feel are the relevant highlights of the book. Then I will probably make an additional post in the next few days that is more along the lines of “cliff notes for crossfitters,” which will serve the purpose of saving time for those who don’t want to read this entire review.
- The Foundation
I mentioned that I wondered what Tim would have called this book if he hadn’t had the success of his first book. My next question to him in an interview would be if he would have taken the time to write this book if he hadn’t already had so much of the research done? The foundation of the book is Tim’s extensive data collection that he began at age 18, documenting every workout he did ever since.
The next step up the pyramid is the expertise of his sources, some of the leading weightlifting and athletic coaches in the world. As a data fiend myself, I have an appreciation for the methods used in this book to not only test, but also measure the results. What may be one of the most interesting thing about this book, is that Tim shares his methods with the reader, allowing them to execute the same methods themselves. Whether its a decision of how to measure body fat, or what to look for in blood tests, the book covers it.
- Minimum Effective Dose
I think the most popular take away from the book will be the concept of Minimum Effective Dose (MED). The reason? People hate to waste time/effort/energy and MED is all about doing the least amount of work will still achieving the desired result. The example in the book makes this easy to understand. In order to boil water, you have to heat it to 212 degrees fahrenheit. If you tried to heat it to 250, it wouldn’t be any “more boiled”, it would just be wasted heat energy. That’s the concept in a nutshell, now how do you convert that to a) losing fat, b) gaining muscle, c) both. Throughout the book, instructions are delivered in a MED format which takes a lot of the guess work or individualization out of the equation. Whether your goals are general, like losing fat, or specfic, like adding 100 pounds to your bench press, a MED exists and can be determined for you. Any work you do above and beyond the MED, is wasted and in most cases will hurt your recovery times, which in turn slows your progress towards your goal.
- PAGG Stack
The PAGG stack was an interesting “bonus” that came out of this book for me. It’s not something that I was expecting to be in the book, but I am really happy to have discovered it. I’ll write more on this in detail in late February or March because I’d like to incorporate the results of my using the stack in a detailed post. First off, what is a stack? A stack is simply a group of supplements that are taken together with the idea that the combination of them have greater effects than taking them individually and separately. When it comes to stacks there is one that has been around forever and by far the most popular, ECA. ECA stands for ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin. The reason ECA is successful has to do with a lot of chemistry, but can be summed up by saying 1 ingredient increases fat burning at a chemical level, the second one prolongs the fat burning, and the 3rd one tells your body to allow this to happen. Sadly, this stack consists of mostly stimulants, that taken over time can have adverse effects on the body. There have been reports that link it to heart attacks and stroke. Tim experienced extreme sinus infections and blockage when he was researching the stack for the book. He set out to find a stack that was completely stimulant free, enter PAGG.
I don’t think I want to go line by line with the details of each of the four ingredients of the PAGG stack, because I think it would be fairly boring for most readers, but rest assured, the details are all in the book. The ingredients, which you can all of at whole foods, gnc, etc, are Policosanol, Alpha-lipoic acid, Green tea extract, Garlic extract. The stack is taken four times a day, with breakfast, lunch, dinner and before bed. Like I said, I want to hold off on writing more about this until I am done with my 30 days, but things seem pretty good so far.
Possibly more popular than MED, for those that don’t exercise, will be the diet that Tim suggests as a means of losing 20 pounds in 30 days without exercise. This probably won’t seem that relevant for Crossfitters who exercise regularly, but for those on the Zone diet, I think what Tim suggests would be fairly compatible. The diet is based on a few simple principles:
#1 Avoid “White” carbs (sounds like little starch and no sugar)
#2 Eat the same few meals over and over again (sounds like weigh and measure your foods / spoiler: it isn’t)
#3 Don’t drink your calories (duh)
#4 Don’t eat fruit (some fruit)
#5 Take one day off per week (hmmm)
The big difference between this and the Zone is that Tim is anti-measurement. The big difference between this and Paleo diets is that Tim is very pro-legume. That said, there are enough similarities in the diets that they could work in conjunction with each other. You can replace the legumes with more vegetables for a more paleo-style approach. You could measure all the meals and avoid the cheat day for a more Zone-style approach. However, Tim is fairly adamant both in the book and on his blog, that the diet is successful AS IS, and that changing it around can lead to less than optimum results.
- Tips and Tricks
These things don’t really fall into one particular category, but I found them all interesting and, more importantly, compatible with my current diet and lifestyle. Most of these are fairly easy to try and relatively low risk. You can try them, if you get results, great, if not, it didn’t cost you much. There are many more in the book than I have listed here. These are just a few.
#1 Add cinnamon to your coffee. The science behind this is that it can reduce the glycemic index of meals. I’ve added a teaspoon (the print version says tablespoon, but Tim corrected on his blog that it’s a teaspoon) to my morning coffee. Since I drink it black with no sugar, adding cinnamon to it wasn’t challenging, and I would think that is the case for most people reading this.
#2 Have some grapefruit juice with your coffee. Grapefruit contains naringin which can extend the effects of caffeine in your system. I have a small glass, or sometimes just take a swig from the bottle. I’d be careful not to over do it, and make sure you don’t get some kind with extra sugar or corn syrup added.
#3 Fat burning fat. For years there have been rumors of brown adipose tissue, one of the two types of fat cells, of being able to burn fat. A lot of them turn out to be red herrings, and adults don’t have a large amount of BAT anyway. What Tim has discovered, or claims to, is that cold temperature stimulates our BAT tissue (think goose bumps). I’m skipping over the details, but he went through some painful ice bath experiments to discover, that just icing your upper back for 30 minutes in the evening can have similar (not quite as effective) results.
There is A LOT of information in this book. There is a lot of data behind it all, either from Tim’s own research, or from experts in their fields. One thing I can tell you is that the book is not designed to be read from front to back. As Tim suggests, and I agree, after reading the first few sections, you should then jump to the sections that is of most interest or relevant to you and your goals. There are seven different chapters on losing weight and/or fat. There are 14 chapters on getting stronger and/or performing better athletically.
I’d recommend this book for a few different types of people. Are you someone who is over weight and/or out of shape? I’d recommend this book for you. You are probably more overweight and out of shape than you give yourself credit for, and this book could really jump start your way back to health. Are you someone who works out, but has stopped making progress or hit a plateau with your strength or speed? I would definitely recommend this book for you. There are a lot of very specific protocols and routines from some of the world’s most highly-respected coaches. Try following some of them and see if it works for you. Are you somewhere in between these two types of people? There is so much information in this book, that there is a good chance it would be useful to you.
I probably wouldn’t recommend it as much to someone who is already on their own routine. If you are getting results with what you are doing, I wouldn’t want to divert you away from that. If you are following a program like Wendler’s 5-3-1, or Louie Simmon’s conjugate method, then you are probably above the learnings in this book. That said, you still may get some entertainment out of the chapters on how to give a woman a 15 minute orgasm or how to improve your sleep.
The Four-Hour Body is available at Amazon, and in all major book stores around the country.