Xavier Jared

TwoShay

Two brothers on personal development, philosophy, and being awesome

Four Hour Body Review

Jared,

The 4 hour body is essentially an overview of various ways to hack your body with a chapter about sex thrown in. Tim Ferris rounds up a bunch of experts and theories about getting bigger, smaller, faster, and stronger, throws in a bunch of self experimentation, and summarises it all in book format. At face value it looks like a round up of fad diets, secret exercises, and other bullshit we see everyday flashing away on banner ads, except these ones really work you guys. Some of the content is bordering on exactly that however for the most part this negative impression is the fault of evil marketing companies.

4 Hour Body Cover

Our bullshit detectors have been trained to go haywire at the slightest mention of health or fitness. It’s a shame because for this reason it’s hard to go into the book with a neutral attitude. Tim is fighting an uphill battle and doing so with varying degrees of success. Some chapters failed to convince me that they existed for any reason other than being able to list ‘living longer’ in the contents. Others though left lasting impressions and have changed the way I think about and practise exercise.

The Good

Regardless of the actual content it is the underlying principles and attitudes that Tim employs that I found the most interesting about the book. The three main things I took away from it were:

  1. Measure freakin’ everything
  2. Less time and effort can yield significant results
  3. Jump in and try something for yourself.

(If I was to throw in a fourth for good measure it’d be that Tim has borderline OCD.)

I’m already an advocate of measuring and writing things down. Tim takes it to a whole new level though. In addition to some pretty common fitness metrics, such as body fat levels and rest times between exercises, he steps it up and gets an implant to measure his glucose levels and travels overseas, where medical care is cheaper, and stocks up on every test they have available. There’s a great story in the book about a guy who lost weight by doing nothing but writing stuff down. He’d measure his weight every day, made some sweet graphs with it, and watched the kilograms drop. Just having a visual representation of his goal was enough to change his behaviour.

Tim
Tim getting reading to deliver a CONTENT PUNCH.

Doing less of something on the other hand is something I’ve specifically advised against. It’s a hard pill to swallow when you read that someone works out for only four hours in one month and packs on 15+ kilograms of muscle. This is where the title of the book comes from. An experiment where Tim does two half hour sessions a week for four weeks and puts on some serious muscle mass as a result. There are other examples though thrown in too: Training for sprints by walking, and training for ultra marathons with incredible low mileage. All of these are counter intuitive and it’s this sort of stuff that you normally find washed up celebrities endorsing on midday television. Tim always finds people who are pulling it off though and in most chapters gets some pretty impressive results himself. A key principle to getting these results is finding the small changes and differences you can make that will yield the biggest improvements. By focusing on these you can cut out a lot of wasted time. This mindset is something both Xav and I have adopted since reading the book and it is pretty big shift from our usual approach of just harden up and high ball it.

The Bad

That’s all I’ve got for the pro column. Now for some cons. There are actually quite a number of issues I have with the book.

First I don’t give a shit how many records Tim breaks. He has this habit of throwing in a line about how he set a new record for X activity at gym Y or training under instructor Z. In at least once instance he explicitly states he’s not trying to boast but that just makes it more annoying. It’s like when someone starts a sentence with ‘I’m not racist’ then goes on to tell you about how they just aren’t down with all these black people. I have a theory that because he’s travelling around to get help from experts who deal with people in the top 1% of their fields, it leaves him as the only non professional signing up. It’s going to be a hell of a lot easier for someone like Tim to throw five inches on his vertical leap than a professional NFL player. The learning curve goes straight up. Even if I’m wrong about this it doesn’t excuse the fact that he’s gloating about getting the most injections at some overseas clinic or posting pointless videos online of him swallowing 25 pills at the one time.

Whilst I’m on his writing style I may as well bring up that starting every chapter with the name of a famous person you were with, the trendy city you were in, and the over priced food you were eating, does not make you sound like a trendy journalist. It makes you sound like a wanker. There’s a fair bit of name dropping and general behaviour of this sort. At one point he tries to make a joke about going out with Angelina Jolie, except by that point I was so used to hearing about people he hung around with that I had to read it a few times to figure out he was joking. I’m still not entirely sure and I like to think I’m at least a competently versed comedic styler.

An issue a bit more content relevant is that Tim’s OCD can be a touch selective. The most glaring example is his claim that there is no need to measure what you eat. I can see why he wouldn’t want to. His life style of travelling and eating out would make writing down calories and nutrition information almost impossible. He never mentions this though. Instead he brushes it off by saying basically “I’ve never done it and I’ve never had any problems.” I can’t figure out why someone who is so set on measuring every little recordable detail neglects nutrition. It seems like it’d be right up his alley.

The worst part about this is that instead of measuring food he advises people to just high ball it (for muscle gain anyways) and this shits in the face of everything he bases the book around. He harps on about the minimum required dosage to achieve the required result and I found this to be one of the most interesting parts of the book. Eating until you’re on the verge of vomiting does not sound like a minimum dosage.

I have a theory about this part too though. Counting calories is a massive time sink. It takes heaps of preparation and is not a sustainable way to live. That’s perfectly ok when you are just screwing around with your body for a month, which is what Tim seems to be all about, but when you are trying to sell a wonder diet (hint: it’s the Atkins diet) you really don’t want to include stuff like that in it.

A Deadlift

Another beef I have is that a few of the exercises in this book are actually quite difficult to execute properly. Tim obviously comes from a sporting and fitness background and I thought he could have perhaps spent a bit more time saying some of the things he was doing aren’t easy. The whole appeal of the 4 hour body experiment is that you are only working out for 30 minutes twice a week. I lifted weights for over a year and am pretty active in general. Working out with a 5 second cadence (taking 5 secs for both the positive and negative parts of a lift) is absolutely grueling. And when the aim is to hit failure (the point where you are physically incapable of lifting anymore) it becomes borderline torture. To work out with this intensity on big lifts such as the Deadlift or Yates Row isn’t just mentally tough, there’s a fair amount of training required before you can activate the correct muscles and do the lift with proper form. My best lift is the Dead lift and I can feel my lower back in pain just thinking about doing a set of them to proper failure.

Occasionally I found myself wanting longer explanations of the science, or even a single short one, but this is only a minor point. The book isn’t meant to be a tome of knowledge so going easy on the science side of things is forgivable. It’d be nice to know though why eating 200g+ of protein a day is a good idea for getting mega-huge or how a single kettle bell exercise somehow turns you into a fitness model. I’m perfectly capable of trekking down to a library myself and finding the answers to these questions though. I’ve heard they’ve got free Internet there.

The Sex

I’m almost positive this chapter exists so the front cover can have the word “SEX” on it. I’m OK with that though. We’ve written some stuff to try and drive traffic. When it’s done right you get high quality content with a catchy title, when it’s done badly you get rubbish content hidden in list format.

This chapter falls somewhere in the middle. Catchy title (SEX YOU GUYS!!!) and below average content. Ferris goes about learning the art of sexing in his usual manner: OCD backed with heaps of time and money. It’s entertaining to read about him travelling around to chat to sex experts, pornstars, and mums who paid said pornstars to have sex with their sons (actually happens). It gets a little creepy though when he starts joking about finding willing participants for him to experiment on.

Tim Again
I’m going to keep staring until you say yes.

He reveals the secret angles you should be using and even recommends some pillows that will help set things up. There is also a whole section on how to rub up girl parts for 15 minutes and I can’t quite figure out why. I don’t need help setting up awkward situations. A sterile, emotionless, long exercise that has no end result (exactly what you think it means) isn’t something my bachelor arsenal needs.

Let’s say I wanted to put some of these protips into practise. Assuming I passed the conversation about bringing a protractor into the bedroom I’ve still got a few problems. I’ve only got so many hands and if I’m using them to measure angles and use a stop watch I’ve pretty much ran out. Unlike Tim I haven’t taken a class at Sex Insitute but I’m fairly certain I need to be doing something else with them.

Closing Thoughts

About half way through the book Tim was describing how he finishes the day with a glass of red in front of the discovery channel. That’s when it dawned on me: this book wasn’t written for me. I would have caught on much sooner if I’d skipped straight to his chapter on vegetarianism/veganism, or his light hearted approach to describing the living hell science is putting monkeys through in order to unlock secrets about longer life. These are areas where we are at polar opposites. My views in these areas make me an outlier by mainstream standards, but it’s the mainstream that is his audience.

The book is written for a culture of gym memberships, egg whites, and whey protein, so even when a chapter resonates with me, it is written from a different perspective. To give just one example there was some great nutrition advice on eating more veggies, except it was all frozen veggies (the modern man has no time for food preparation) and it was Tim Ferris approved that you could chase this down with a can of diet coke.

I can’t critique an action movie for having a love story though. As much as I would have liked a 300 page science dump on exactly how his 4 hour body trick works, that just isn’t what this book is about. A few chapters desperately needed expansion and some should have just been cut entirely, but as an introduction even those served their purpose. Xav and I both own a copy, read it cover to cover, and talked about it for a week so I guess that for our first TwoShay book review it scores a perfect 2 out of 2.

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