Saturday, March 19, 2011

Review of the “The 4-Hour Body” by Timothy Ferriss

The 4-Hour Body is a book largely about the author’s exploration into power of self-experimentation.  Contained within this book are many powerful concepts that are, in my opinion, far more important than results he achieved or the specific methods he used to achieve those results.

Important to Keep in Mind
It is important for the reader to remember some things when reading this book.
  • This book is based primarily on one man’s experience with self-experimentation, and given the same circumstances the reader’s mileage may vary considerably.  For example, in chapter ‘Reversing “Permanent” Injuries’, the author talks about how effective Active-Release Technique (ART) was for the problems he was addressing.  If I had written this book, I would have written about how INEFFECTIVE Active-Release Technique was for my problems. My point is that his experience should not necessarily be considered normal or a baseline for the reader.
  • The author has more access to people working on the cutting edge of physical training, physical therapy, diet, medicine and so forth than does the average person.  So it is probably not realistic to expect the same level of results he achieved. 
  • It is my impression that the author has a tendency to make everything sound easier than it really is. That is not to say that he is reporting his experiences inaccurately, but his life bares little resemblance to the work-a-day lives of the average person. So he is not nearly as distracted from his goals as most people would be. 

The Most Important Chapters 
The most important chapters in this book are probably some the least read and the most overlooked. However,  the chapters that everyone should read, and reread, are the following.
  • The Minimal Effective Dose: From Microwaves to Fat-Loss - Page 17
  •  Rules that Change Rules: Everything Popular is Wrong – Page 21
  • The Value of Self-Experimentation – Page 484
  • Spotting Bad Science 101: How Not to Trick Yourself – Page 491
  • Spotting Bad Science 102: So You Have a Pill – Page 501
These chapters alone are worth the price of admission.  If you read this book, do not skip these chapters. The concepts presented could literally change your life. At a minimum, they may lead you reevaluate some of your current conceptions and misconceptions.

The Limitations of Science
While reading this book I felt as if the author and I were kindred spirits when it comes to the limitations of science and the need to look beyond pure science to achieve certain goals. We also seem to have a very similar take on the use and abuse of science by the popular media, the general public, and unfortunately the scientific community.
Here are some important concepts in the book in regard to the limitations of science.
  • Science does not have all the answers. It simply gives us the best way to find the answers, but the scientific process is slow, and it is slowed down even more by the personal ambitions and the personal failings of scientist who do research.
  • Not all science is good science, and it is not wise to put too much stock in specific studies or the conclusions from those studies. Particularly as they are reported in the popular media or sometimes even in scientific journals.
  • Almost by definition, our scientific knowledge on most subjects is incomplete.  Often it becomes necessary to fill in the gaps of scientific knowledge with experience and personal observation.  The author offers a very practical and pragmatic way to gain that experience via application of self-experimentation.

The Minimum Effective Dose
Another very powerful concept the author discusses is the idea of “minimal effective dose”.  As a running coach, I constantly see examples of people who are wasting hours and hours every week doing training that is both ineffective and inefficient.  No matter what your goal is, there is a point at which the doing more of the same thing offers diminishing returns.  It is important to look for that point, and to know when it might be more effective to put your efforts elsewhere.

Define, Measure, and Track
When pursing a goal, it is important to define the goal, and to find a relevant way to measure your progress, and then to religiously record and analyze your progress.

The Take Away
This is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time, and I highly recommend it. As a resource, this book should be used as a starting point. It will give the reader a place to begin and methodology in which to move forward on goals regarding physical training, physical therapy, diet,  and improving technique and performance.  However do not limit yourself by the author’s results and what worked for him.

In an upcoming post I plan to discuss the chapter in the book specifically devoted to running, which, in my opinion, was the most disappointing chapter in the book, but more on that later.

Further Reading
If you are interested in some of my previous posts devoted to the use and abuse of science here are some links that you may find interesting. 

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