Body by Science: A Research-Based Program for Strength Training, Body Building, and Complete Fitness in 12 Minutes a Week by Doug McGuff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
So, I'm going to start this review by adding some perspective. Mine.
A chunky 10 year old, early on I developed an interest in exercise. This interest ultimately manifested itself in a request for some weights that Santa brought me on Christmas. They weren't much, 5-10 pound sand weights. Enough to curl and press and make me feel as if I were doing something.
These weights were soon followed up with a Joanne Greggins exercise tape. We're talking about the late '70s so think thongs, leg warmers, sweat bands and high impact aerobics topped off with a gazzilion hydrants.
I have this vivid memory of aerobizing away as my mother, perpetually entertained by my efforts, sat and watched.
I'm not sure what spurred my interest in exercise. Maybe it was the fact that my mother was not only a Tom-boy, but an accomplished high school athlete. Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that prior to having a growth spurt, I suffered through a chunky period. Whatever, the reason, it happened, and almost four decades later and I'm still going at it.
I joined my first gym at the age of 14. Dr. Lauber's Family Fitness. It was a small generic gym tucked away in a small generic shopping center that specialized in the martial arts but that also offered Nautilus machines, a free-weight room, and a nightly line-up of aerobic and martial arts classes.
A well-developed and muscular 14 year-old girl who was sporting the curves of a woman, I was kind of a novelty, and there were no shortage of male members coaxing me into the free-weight room. Needless to say, it wasn't long before I was completing my first bench press with the bar.
Around the same time, I became friends with another fitness-focused classmate. She was a dancer, but her mother taught aerobics and her brothers and father were power lifters, and at sixteen we both joined a hard-core powerlifting gym called "The Training Center." It was tucked away in an dumpy, otherwise abandoned strip mall, and it attracted a certain type of fitness enthusiasts, big, muscly, sometimes roided-out guy, who was super serious about lifting some very heavy weight. I'll never forget the first time I saw a guy literally crap himself during a lift. Or the time another guy busted his head open on the bar, psyching himself up for a lift.
Ah, those were the days.
As you can imagine, there were few women in the gym which meant my friend and I got a lot of attention. We never had to worry about finding a workout partner. And boy did we work out. We lifted with the big boys (literally and figuratively) and somehow kept up. Super setting till our legs burned so bad, we could barely stand. Leg day. Back and Bi day. Chest, shoulders, and Tri day. Repeat. But it was all good. I learned a lot about lifting, for which I am still thankful.
By age 18 I was teaching aerobics and really any type of fitness class you could imagine. A teenage girl growing into my adult body, cardio seemed necessary to keep me slim and trim, or at least I thought so. Still, I never stopped lifting or lost my passion for the weight room.
Fast forward almost 30 years and I still lift weights on a regular basis. Over the years, when it comes to fitness, I've pretty much taken it, taught it, or at least sampled it. Yoga, kick-boxing, step aerobics, spin, physioball classes, Zumba, Cross-fit, Red Zone. Seriously, the list goes on and on and on.
During the past thirty years, I've also completed a degree in the Nutritional Sciences as well as a professional Masters of Physical Therapy. I've worked as a sport's and orthopedic physical therapist for almost 25 years. I've also worked as a massage therapist and personal trainer, eventually teaching a personal training certification course at a local community college.
So when I read books like this, I do in the context of my lifelong personal experience with fitness, my professional education and training, as well as my observations of patients and peers along the way. I consider the claim being made, look at the research cited, and then ask myself how it fits in with my years of experience and observation.
I can honestly say there's some good stuff here.
Basically, the author(s) offer a science-based approach to training that not only takes less time than most traditional training programs but that also appears to yield superior results.
I agree with the author, that many people approach fitness haphazardly. There is this Rocky Balboa mindset that more must be better, even though we know that this is never true. The reality is that "smarter" will trump "harder" every time.
I also think that the topic of recovery is relevant. I have spent years watching people working against themselves, sometimes to the point of injury.
I totally agree with the sentiment that fitness is not synonymous with health. In fact, I constantly remind my athlete patients that training isn't necessarily about promoting better health. It's about optimal performance, and the two aren't always one and the same.
Finally, I think the "12-minute" once a week work out appeals to the average person who believes that fitness and health require hours and hours in the gym doing burpees.
The authors do discuss how their approach to training factors into sport, which requires a certain level of fitness, but ultimately requires skill that is part genetics, part specific skill-development.
And while they spend a lot of time poo-pooing steady state endurance activities like running, it's more to build a contrast between what people think and what science tells us, I think.
For example, I love to walk. I walk on average 7-10 miles a day. I would argue that it contributes to my health and well-being. What it doesn't necessarily do is tax my system sufficiently to increase my cardiovascular health. But that's not really the goal, at least not for me. Then again, I also lift, sometimes heavy, and tend to focus on the "big five" they outline in the book. Still, after reading this book, I'm going to experiment with their protocols.
All in all, there's a lot here that is scientifically based and that should make any "gym rat" stop and pause. They may enjoy their grueling cross-fit style workouts. They may live for "hard." "Hard" may even be working for them, but that doesn't mean there isn't a better, smarter way.