Five Stars out of Five. Highest recommendation.
STOP. Read this book before you do one more exercise routine.
McGuff is an Emergency physician with an avocation for fitness and John Little is a professional fitness trainer. Body by Science is subtitled “A research-based program for strength training, body-building and complete fitness in 12 minutes a week.” The authors cite empirical studies relating workout regimens and formulate a specific routine to most efficiently build muscle while burning fat.
Many of the principles outlined here are in contradistinction to modern convention about exercise. For example, the authors show that prolonged aerobic activity--such as long distance running-- does little to contribute to overall fitness and almost all runners have chronic injuries that limit their long term well-being. Most individuals can achieve their fitness goals more safely in very little time per week; likewise, most faddish regimens-- Tai Bo, Crossfit, P90X-- do little more than waste your time and can lead to serious injury.
While I am usually skeptical of anybody who purports to know a quick and easy way to achieve a difficult goal, I have to say that this book has extremely useful information about metabolism, biochemistry and muscle kinetics. The authors explain the evolutionary rationale for the exercise routine they advocate and also discuss diet, limiting grains and emphasizing whole foods.
On the savannah, prehistoric man evolved to exert himself in short bursts of highly intense activity: avoiding predatory lions or chasing game. Successful individuals were also able to endure famine and dehydration and certain body habitus were selected. Today, endomorphs who store body fat are often looked upon as less fit than, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, who are ectomorphic with more lean mass. Counterintuitively, however, individuals who have adequate fat stores are able to survive seasonal food shortages better than ectomorphs.
In fact, Stallone and Schwarzenegger are genetic mutants who likely would not do well on the prehistoric savannah. Large muscle mass inefficiently burns calories even at rest and these individuals, while looking fit in modern civilization must consume an inordinate amount of resources to maintain their basal metabolic rate.
The purpose of any exercise routine is not to look like Stallone. First of all, it would be impossible for most of us. McGuff and Little explain the genetics of muscle development and review the specific mutations discovered over the last decade, including myosin light chain kinase and myostatin genes among others.
The kernel of the book is the Big Five workout, encompassing slow movements using the largest muscle groups in the body. The authors liken exercise to a medical prescription, looking for the dose that will give the greatest benefit with minimal side effects. The BIg Five includes latissimus pull-downs, chest press, seated row, seated military press and leg press. The safest, most efficient method is to use Nautilus or other progressive cam machines.
Loss of muscle mass-- sarcopenia-- has deleterious implications as we age, limiting our activity and increasing our risk of injury. Building muscle is all-important to overall fitness, and the authors cite studies that show this regimen not only build muscle but also increase aerobic capacity and flexibility. Complex routines, such as Crossfit, on the other hand, are more likely to lead to injury and other practices like stretching actually can lead to muscle weakness.
The key to the Body by Science workout is to continue each exercise in a slow sustained movement until muscle failure. Done properly, you should feel quite uncomfortable at the end of each exercise. Think Neanderthal running from a Lion. The upside is that nothing builds mass and aerobic capacity as quickly as high intensity exercise ending in muscle failure.
The authors recommend 5-7 days rest between workouts. Youtube videos are available to view by googling “Doug McGuff doing the Big Five” or “Body by Science.” The videos make the routine look deceivingly easy, but with heavy weights and slow sustained muscle contraction your heart rate and respiratory rate elevates.
The review of diet is also important. I have always worked out and would consider myself fit-- able to run 5K’s and lift weights-- but chronically overweight. McGuff and Little are quick to implicate the workout industry in giving false expectations that exercise alone can lead to weight loss. Nope. The fact is that I eat too damn much and no amount of exercise will make up for that.
Personally, I found this book an invaluable and readable review of metabolism, genetics and muscle function. It has changed the way I exercise, reducing my risk of injury and increasing the efficiency of each workout. I still do other things, namely an hour-long highly intense full body aerobic regimen with a trainer, but the Body by Science workout has become a weekly added ritual. I have noticed a significant increase in lean muscle mass, as measured by my trainer, and a generally improved sense of well-being.