Book Review: Body by Science (part 1)

D* put me on to this book: Body by Science: a research-based program for strength training, body building and complete fitness in 12 minutes a week by Doug McGuff, M.D., and John Little.

I’ve made it through to Chapter Four, which is where I think it’ll get really interesting, because it starts to talk about actual exercise!

The first three chapters lay the scientific and research base upon which they build their thesis, which can be summarised in a VERY lay-man’s way as being:

One weekly short high intensity session of prescribed weight training is all the exercise you need to be healthy and fit.

In fact, they go further and suggest that no only do you not need low intensity long duration training (such as running, cycling, tennis, etc), but that in fact you should not do these things because, again to paraphrase:

these repetitive exercises will cause your body to break down and you’ll be crippled with arthritis and die of a heart attack at 50.

Uh! Okay… umm …

Now, they don’t dumb the first three chapters down, and I don’t disagree with the science, even if I can’t pronounce all the words. I agree with the the HIT principle (High Intensity Training). I prescribe interval training to all my clients, it’s a great way to pack in a fat burning workout without spending hours doing it. I also agree that weight training is excellent for so many things: bone density, metabolic function, fat loss, and to improve strength which in turn improves our ease of daily living. Yup, I like weight training. And I like HIT!

I guess the thing that bothers me is not that this isn’t a sound idea, or that they haven’t gone out of their way to prove that it is effective, but that it so strongly rejects the idea of ‘cardio’ and essentially labels it as bad. This premise leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth for two reasons:

  1. I like ‘cardio’! It’s fun! Bouncing around in Attack, doing Aqua, running… these are fun things to do! People like sport, they like to socialise, they like to challenge themselves. These are motivating factors to exercise and that keeps people going back. People should do things they enjoy so they keep doing them! Exercise is not exclusively about optimising health in 12 minutes a week. Well, it might be for some, but not for everyone.
  2. I am not sure that the intensity at which they suggest a person work is suitable for those new to exercise. Although their studies look at “the average” person, and have tried to eliminate genetic anomalies, I am thinking that some of my seniors, those new to exercise, and many weight loss clients would really struggle with this program. However, I admit, I haven’t gotten that far into the book yet, so really can’t make that call now.

One thing I really like about this book is how clearly it demonstrates that the body responds to all load in the same fashion, that the body should be looked at as a whole, rather than separate systems. In other words, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing to challenge the body, once it’s appropriately challenged, the metabolic functions of creating and sustaining energy is the same. The anecdotal evidence to support this is from my efforts in the Most Efficient Workout program. By doing those resistance training exercises in rapid succession, I felt that I was getting a greater ‘cardio’ challenge than muscle-building challenge. My muscles were not fatiguing at the same rate that my heart and lungs had to work to keep up with the work load, but I was definitely getting benefits from working harder and faster than I normally would.

The authors also mention specificity of training: where if you want to be a good cyclist, you will have to cycle, and if you want to be a good swimmer, you’ll have to swim (though they clearly state that certain body types are clearly pre-disposed to being more effective at some forms of exercises than others).  Therefore, so far, the place that their 12 minute system would seem to fall flat for me is that although this weight training program will improve my metabolic function, my muscle strength, will help me burn adipose (fat) tissue, and improve my heart and lung’s capacity under load, it won’t make me a good swimmer, runner, cyclist. So if I want to do a triathlon, I’m going to have to do those things.

In glancing through chapter four, when they discuss the Big Five, their core weight training exercises, I have to admit, I prescribe each of these exercises to almost all of my clients. They do provide a nearly full body range of exercises, they’re compound and therefore are very effective in recruiting lots of muscle fibres. All good so far! Can’t wait to learn more!

Better get reading!

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One response to “Book Review: Body by Science (part 1)

  1. Ah, yes, I also didn't like the way they seemed to imply that I shouldn't do any other exercise. But near the end they have a section for athletes that makes is clear that they're not against doing other things, they just have their opinions about how they should be done.In any case, I kinda enjoyed the way they were so mean to the fitness industry. 🙂 I'm not about to stop what I'm doing, because I think cardio is fun, but I did shift the emphasis of my classes a little toward mixing the cardio up with some strength. And I try to push my classes a more toward exhaustion nowdays.I have also switches from long static stretches to gentle repetitive movement that are somewhere between mobilization and stretches.Oh and of course I agree with them about running, mostly because apparently I can't run worth beans. 🙂 🙂 :-)But yes, overall, while I think most of their advice is sound, I'm not convinced that 12/mins a weeks is enough to keep your cardio system in the kind of shape I like. I wonder what a cardiologist would say…In any case, I figure adding a 12/min week workout to my regular schedule can't hurt!

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