Thursday, March 25, 2010

My New Exercise Routine: Body By Science

By Hoyt Chang

OEvolve member Hoyt Chang reports on his rationale for starting intense resistance training, and particularly training according to the "Body By Science"-protocol, and also how a typical exercise feels. Brief and infrequent episodes of particularly intense exercise are integral to achieving the full benefits of a paleo diet. /Christian

Recently I read Body By Science by Doug McGuff and John Little. It was so amazing that I went to http://www.bodybyscience.net/ and watched all of their videos, read High Intensity Training by Mike Mentzer and John Little, and now I'm re-reading BBS.

BBS blasts away many of the fallacies of conventional wisdom regarding health, fitness, and exercise. Reading it, I re-discovered the pleasure of specialized and applied science that I had forgotten since graduate school. I believe that McGuff provides a revolutionary, scientific framework for studying exercise, a field largely filled with misconceptions. BBS provides the ideal high intensity training routine: a brief once-a-week workout, and the scientifically proven benefits are tremendous: muscle gain, better fat loss, control of cholesterol levels, superior workout of the cardiovascular system, improved bone mineral density, etc. The list just goes on and on. A reversal of the aging process was even cited. I was motivated to run down to the gym: there was no way I could let myself not test it out first hand.

Now, I have been sedentary since high school, when I played soccer and tennis. I currently weigh 104 lbs. I'm all skin and bones. For the first two weeks of working out, I pretty much didn't know what I was doing. I had to get familiar with the exercise machines as well as my own body. But now I think I'm getting the hang of BBS' high intensity training.

It works like this. Say I'm setting in a chest press machine. I'm using weights slightly heavier than my previous training session. I complete one rep. Nice and slow, everything is smooth. I've expended a lot of effort and I'm starting to feel it. I complete another rep and another. Now I'm getting really tired. I wish I'm not sitting in this machine. I wish I was doing easy, low intensity exercise like jogging or biking. But I think about the benefits that are waiting for me. I focus on the challenge in front of me and on keeping the motion smooth as I complete another rep and another. At this point my legs are shaking, my heart is racing, and I'm panting as though I just ran five miles. I try the impossible: I try to do another rep. I push and every inch of my body is screaming at me to stop. The weights go halfway up, and I push and I push, but the weights are stopped. This is positive muscle failure. I keep pushing, in an effort to keep the weights still, but they start to drop. This is holding muscle failure. The weights keep dropping, and they are dropping faster, despite all my efforts to hold it. This is negative muscle failure. The weights hit the bottom and it's over.

In fact, today I fasted and did four such high intensity exercises: squats, standing calf raises, bicep pull-downs, and chest presses. (Training to failure is much easier on machines than free weights.) The whole thing took about 20 minutes, but my whole body is extremely exhausted and I'm extremely hungry. My legs were shaking uncontrollably. This was very annoying, and hopefully after a few more sessions the shaking will go away. Afterward, I ate a delicious Paleo meal consisting of rib-eye steak, scrambled eggs, spinach, and whole milk with cream.

Training to muscular failure is necessary to provide a sufficiently high stimulus to trigger a positive adaptive response. As a mechanical engineer, I don't like the term “failure” because it suggests something is broken, but everyone uses it so I guess I will too. BBS calls training to failure a “serious 'threat' to your body” and a “profound metabolic experience” without which there would be little or no adaptive response. My DNA doesn't know I was in a gym moving weights up and down. For all it knew, from an evolutionary standpoint, I was fighting for my life against a mountain lion, and having survived this trauma, it will overcompensate in case it happens again.

[Christian's comment: There is some debate about the benefits of "training to failure" (for instance, Art De Vany doesn't train to failure), but the point is that the body needs a serious enough stimulus to maximise its adaptive response.]

Now, some people people don't do high intensity training because of this “pain.” But I don't call it pain. I call it effort, severe discomfort, total exhaustion, or “the combination of holy sacrament, Indian torture, and sexual ecstasy” to quote The Fountainhead. If that wording is too much for you, then “effort” should suffice. As with everything else in life, it's “no effort, no gain” not “no pain, no gain.”

With such an intense stimulus, a recovery period of about one week is necessary. Next week I will fight a bigger mountain lion, and an even bigger one the week after that.

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