January 14, 2011
Ever since the book was released in December of 2010, I've received several dozen e-mails from listeners and readers asking me “what I think of” Tim Ferriss's book, The 4-Hour Body. Frankly, this book is compelling and popular enough to where you should probably have a good idea of what it's all about before you rush to grab it for yourself or as a special birthday gift your pimpled nephew.
Maybe you've never heard of The 4 Hour Body. So let's start with this book trailer video…
10 years of experiments…100+ scientists consulted…1 human guinea pig…hold your breath for 5 minutes…lift 500 pounds…run 100 miles…lose 100 pounds…
From the very start, the trailer hints at what this book attempts to be: a how-to manual for just about every feat of physical stamina, strength, sexual endeavor and even sleep. And as such, the book cannot possibly be reviewed as a whole. Because so many topics are covered in The 4-Hour Body it reads more like an encyclopedia or a cookbook, hopping from topic to topic depending on what the reader's fancy may be.
To his credit, Tim Ferriss acknowledges in his introduction that The 4-Hour Body shouldn't be attempted as one long read, but rather as a series of mini-books, broken into each respective chapter. But unfortunately, this does mean that Tim's book could be a huge waste of your time (or money) if you just want to, say, get to the “lose 100 pounds” part. Sure, if you're a female who wants a flat stomach, you'll get 100+ pages of fat-loss tips, but you'll also get slammed with a few hundred more pages on topics like how to make your biceps really big or how to engage in a search-and-attack mission on the pleasurable parts of your female anatomy. But if you don't mind thumbing through a very big book to find the tips that meet your specific needs, The 4 Hour Body could be worth checking out.
The biggest barrier for you to overcome while reading this book, and the biggest problem with the book, is that it is one giant case study of what worked for Timothy Ferriss, one of his friends, and/or a small band of his followers.
In other words, large scale epidemiological or controlled research data is almost completely missing from the book, which means that when Tim tells you “how to sleep 2 hours a day and feel fully rest”, “how to add 50+ pounds to your lifts in 6 months”, or “how to increase fat-loss 300% with a few bags of ice”, he is relying on evidence from stuff he tried on himself, or something somebody he knows says works.
So…if you're anticipating that by using the tips in The 4-Hour Body to get the results attained by a 30-something year old male, but instead you're a post-menopausal female, 15 year old boy, or weekend warrior baby boomer, you may find yourself sorely disappointed. Once again, to his credit, Tim does acknowledge this fact in his book.
So, since The 4 Hour Body is basically a series of mini-books, I'm going to split this into a series of mini-reviews. Here we go.
Part 1: Subtracting Fat
In this section of the book, Tim begins with the “Slow Carb” diet – which is basically a recycled high-protein diet. While the “20 pounds in 30 days” promised by this diet is entirely possible, the reader needs to beware that storage carbohydrate carries about 4 times it's weight in water (meaning much of the initial weight loss is water weight), and that once 6 months has been exceed, there is absolutely no difference in weight loss observed between Atkins, Zone, Ornish, or LEARN diets (if you're a geek, check out the 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association for the data). So high protein diets are wonderful for shedding weight quickly, but good luck holding onto success for life with that one, especially in light of Tim's rule “No Fruit Allowed”.
Tim moves on to strategies that have been common knowledge among fitness professionals for years, but which he graciously brings to the spotlight based on his incredible ability to sell books and get publicity. Strategies such as: if you're going to binge, then exercise first; keeping yourself warm burns more calories; don't let your blood sugar wildly fluctuate.
Despite the “Subtracting Fat” section being pretty much a yawner for any exercise professional or anyone who keeps themselves up-to-date on a website like this one, Tim does have a pretty interesting “PAGG fat loss supplement stack“, which I liked, especially because it 1) has decent research behind it; 2) is cheap; and 3) won't drive your adrenal glands to fatigue.
Overall Grade: 7 of 10
Part 2: Adding Muscle
In the next section of The 4-Hour Body, Tim pulls a complete 180 and turns to teaching you how to eat until you vomit and lift heavy stuff so that you can put on tons of muscle. This entire section read like page-after-page of Flex magazine (a popular bodybuilding rag), with supplement regimens such as NO-Xplode with casein protein and ChromeMate, mixed with everything from kettlebell swings to “five seconds up, five seconds down” lifting to attempting to get 80-120 seconds of “time under tension” for each exercise.
Again, I was perhaps jaded as a fitness professional and ex-bodybuilder as I thumbed through this section, but it was primarily information that has been recycled literally for decades among muscle-heads, and read like a random hodge-podge of muscle building strategies that are not remotely new. However, if you're a dude who wants to get big, and you feel like using about 50 pages of content sandwiched in between 550 other pages, then knock yourself out.
Overall Grade: 3 of 10
Part 3: Improving Sex
I have to admit, I jumped straight to this chapter first. Like many men who have probably picked up The 4-Hour Body while standing in the bookstore for this very reason, I wanted to find out about the “15 Minute Female Orgasm”. In my mind's eye, I could picture romping like a rabbit for hours in bed, until my wife collapsed in one exhausted, incredibly satisfied heap of happiness. But I quickly learned that the entire magic secret primarily involved hand pleasuring, which I personally find a bit dull and impersonal (and so does she, incidentally).
But Tim goes on to present a pretty entertaining “triple your testosterone” chapter. Since I doubled my testosterone in Podcast #81 from this website, I was curious to see how he one-upped me. While I used Bioletics Optimale, magnesium, vitamin D, fish oil and amino acids, he sprung for cold showers, almond and brazil nuts, cod liver oil, butter fat and grass fed steak. I immediately committed to adding in more cold showers, butter and steak.
Overall Grade: 7 of 10
Part 4: Perfecting Sleep
If you have difficulty sleeping, this is a must-read part of The 4 Hour Body, and probably one of the more comprehensive treatises on tricks and tools to help you get to sleep faster and sleep better. I breezed through this section quickly, since I'm usually out like a rock as soon as my head hits the pillow, but actually garnered advice from this section that I've dished out to my clients, like using a Zeo Personal Sleep Coach system or travel humidifier, or sleeping in a “half military crawl position”.
Some sections are a bit unreal, such as “becoming uberman”, in which you learn how you can sleep as little as 2 hours, as long as you take 6 extremely precisely timed 20 minute naps through the day. Some of you may remember me talking about that strategy in Podcast #110, and I think the same think about it now as I did then: a bit unrealistic for the average person. Tim also mentions some common sleep supplements such as melatonin, and some less common supplements, such as California poppy extract (the latter of which I tried after reading the book and experienced some pretty vivid dreaming cycles).
Overall Grade: 8 of 10
Part 5: Reversing Injuries
In “How To Recover Like Wolverine From X-Men” and “Ironman Lightning Speed Recovery Secrets” I thought I'd cover this topic extensively, but Tim Ferriss took it one step further in The 4-Hour Body. Tim, who is apparently one chronically injured guy, did platelet rich plasma injections, stem cell injections, then moved on to functional movement screens, Feldenkrais, Pilates, Tai Chi, Yoga, Egoscue, Acupuncture, Active-release Technique, topical testosterone patches, DMSO, Arnica, intramuscular and subcutaneous injections. Some of this stuff you probably know about, but some you almost surely don't.
If you're into traditional and fringe recovery techniques, this part of the chapter is a pretty entertaining read, but remember that this is the stuff that worked for Tim and his specific injuries, and may not necessarily work for you. Regardless, I'm a recovery hacking junkie, so I dug the read.
Overall Grade: 8 of 10
Part 6: Running Faster and Farther
For this section of The 4-Hour Body, Tim taps into some very respectable fitness and human performance professionals such as Charlie Francis and Joe DeFranco to find out how to improve his vertical jump and 40 yard dash, then goes after some more endurance related endeavours, such as making grand plans to run a 50K (although I'm not sure if he ever actually did that). For the latter, he taps into Brian MacKenzie of Crossfit Endurance fame, and comes out with more of a high-intensity interval training program, which I really enjoyed seeing, and which would be beneficial for any of you wanting to run really far but not spend a lot of time preparing to do it.
As an endurance and triathlon coach, I approached the “run farther” section of this chapter with a great deal of criticism, but came out the other side agreeing with 99% of what was written, from injury prevention to training protocols. It was nice to see Tim going outside the norm of simply approaching things from a traditional aerobic standpoint.
Overall Grade: 9 of 10
Part 7: Getting Stronger
Although it is true that there is a distinct difference between “adding muscle” and “getting stronger”, I felt that these two sections of The 4-Hour Body could have easily been combined. This very short section basically covers heavy deadlifts, sprinting and bench pressing techniques, and the only earth-shattering element is the fact that a champion sprint coach trains his athletes with a ton of underdistance at race speed, and it's very surprising how fast a sprinter can be trained to go with a very limited amount of training.
Overall Grade: 4 of 10
Part 8: From Swimming to Swinging
If you are A) someone who is just getting into swimming or B) you want to hit a baseball farther, then this section of The 4 Hour Body is probably for you. The swimming section is basically a commercial for Total Immersion style swimming and how it changed Tim's life, and the swinging section is a demonstration of some mildy interested baseball hitting tips.
But just when I thought the final section of the book was going to end with a disappointing thud, Tim threw in a couple extra chapters (in the Swimming to Swinging?) section, entitled “How To Hold Your Breath Longer Than Houdini” and “Living Forever”. If you are someone who likes to see how far you can swim underwater in a pool, then the former has some neat tricks in it, but if you want to live a really long time, most of the tips in the latter seem to suggest that you'll need to be miserable if you want to do (very low calorie diet, anyone?).
Overall Grade: 5 of 10
But that ain't all, folks. With almost 100 pages of Appendices & Extras, there's a few goodies thrown in at the end, such as slow carb diet recipes and stuff you could eat the day before having sex to increase your performance (I suggest you think twice about implementing these protocols if you have genetic cardiovascular disease, or don't like steak and eggs).
Final note: many of the “bonus” links at the end of each chapter of The 4-Hour Body simply didn't seem to work or went to the wrong websites. I didn't mind this too much, although it was slightly bothersome to click on a link for a motivational speech and get a baseball hitting instructional video instead.
So ultimately, is Tim Ferriss's The 4 Hour Body worth reading? Yes. Will it change your life in the way that the video trailer suggests? Probably not. But it packs a good punch of entertainment, with some very cool snippets and personal anecdotes from Tim thrown it. Frankly, I'd buy any book from Tim, just for the ride.
Ben Greenfield's Final Grade for Tim Ferris's 4-Hour Body: 7 of 10
Of course, if you've read the 4-Hour Body, then you've probably got some 4 Hour Body reviews of your own! If you want to see what others think of your opinions, then leave your comments or thoughts below. And feel free to leave questions about anything I didn't address. Finally, Tim Ferriss *did* come on for a special cold and fat loss interview on Podcast #130: Tim Ferriss and Ray Cronise Explain How To Manipulate Your Body’s Temperature To Burn More Fat.” , so you can learn more there.