During a recent trip north (see "Paleo on the Road"), which ironically took me to the "Deep South", I brought along some road-trip reading materials that included a copy of Tim Ferriss' "The 4-Hour Body". Having previously read "The 4-Hour Work Week", I was eager to see Ferriss apply his self-promoting but ultimately compelling style to the world of diet and fitness.
I was not disappointed.
Chapters like "Building the Perfect Posterior (or Losing 100+ Pounds)" and "How to Lose 20 Pounds in 30 Days Without Exercise" hook you with seemingly ridiculous claims, but the subsequent exposition goes a long way towards exonerating the blatant showmanship. Ferriss smartly intersperses interviews and information from some of the worlds top experts, coaches and athletes, such as legendary strength coach Charles Polquin and ultra-marathon wunderkind Scott Jurek, with his own off-the-wall anecdotes and self-experiments.
Currently in the middle of my own self-experiment, I decided to incorporate some of Ferris' findings into my mass building program. Namely, the utilization of cold-therapy to stimulate brown adipose tissue (fat that burns fat) and minimum effective dose (MED) exercise protocols. (Note: I am only incorporating some of what he advocates because, unlike Tim Ferriss, I work 40+ hours a week and am neither a bachelor nor do I intend to become one.)
In the chapter appropriately called "Ice Age - Mastering Temperature to Manipulate Weight" Ferriss tells the story of Ray Cronise. Cronise, who was a NASA scientist with a weight problem, became intrigued by the notion that Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps could eat 12,000 calories per day without any apparent accumulation of bodyfat. Cronise then set out to uncover the secrets behind Phelps' superhuman consumption.
After crunching the numbers, Cronise noticed that even after adjusting for a 3,000 calorie RMR (resting metabolic rate) and 3-4 hours of hard swimming each day (860 kcal/hour at competitive intensity) Phelps was still accruing a huge surplus of unaccounted for calories. Staring at his computer screen, Cronise realized that the metabolic effects of being submerged in cold water was possibly the X factor that gave Phelps the ability to eat three fried egg sandwiches (with cheese, fried onions, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise), an omelet, a bowl of oatmeal, three slices of french toast, three chocolate chip pancakes, and two cups of coffee...for breakfast (click this link to see a picture of what that much food looks like).
Cronise then set about a torturous regiment of ice baths, cold water submersion, ice water chugging, etc. with the result being over 20lbs of weight loss that he has since maintained. Ferriss himself underwent a similar regiment with similar results. His analysis of the available data seems to point towards shivering (GLUT-4 activation and fatty acid mobilization), increased adiponectin and muscle tissue glucose uptake, stimulation of brown adipose tissue thermogenesis, and immunostimulation as the mechanisms by which fat loss is facilitated. The human-popsicle routine also didn't seem to be necessary, since noticeable benefits (fat loss and lean tissue preservation) take place at much lower levels of cold exposure.
My cold-therapy regiment:
- 30-min with cold pack on the back of neck/trapezius area in the morning at night.
- Showering with cold water daily (starting with warm and transitioning to cold)
- Drinking a glass of ice water immediately upon waking
Shaped by our "no pain no gain" cultural conception of exercise, most of us "know" what is "needed" in order to get results. Grueling, grunting, grinding workouts that leave us beaten and broken... and you need to do this everyday if you really want to get into shape. What many top athletes and experts know, however, is that there is a certain amount of exercise, the MED, that gets the job done. More than this MED taxes our ability to recover before our next workout or training session and will eventually lead to stagnation and injury.
The fact that our ability to recover from exercise, not our ability to incur damage during exercise (the actual thing that we are doing whenever we work out) is the limiting factor is not new information. Anabolic steroids exert much of their effect by rapidly accelerating the recovery process, allowing athletes, bodybuilders, everyday folks to work out hard, every day, and make incredible gains. However, the following point made by Doug McGuff MD is what finally brought this point home for me.
"Building muscle is actually a much slower process than healing a wound from a burn (which typically takes one to two weeks). A burn heals from the ectodermal germ line, where the healing rate is relatively faster, because epithelial cells turn over quickly. If you scratch your cornea, for instance, it's generally going to be healed in 8-12 hours. Muscle tissue, in contrast, heals from the mesodermal germ line, where the healing reate is typically significantly slower. All in all -- when you separate all the emotion and positive feedback that people derive from the training experience -- solid biological data indicate that the optimal training for the vast majority of the population is no more than once a week."
Bottom line, while it might improve your street cred, constantly working out hard isn't improving your results.
I am interested in results.
My MED Exercise Regiment:
- Three days a week of big compound exercises (Day 1: Squat, Day 2: Bench/Weighted Pull-ups, Day 3: Deadlifts/Cleans). Never training to failure (leaving 1-2 reps "in the bank"), resting 5 min between sets (I use this as an opportunity to practice single leg balancing which has been shown to improve sleep quality), limit time under tension to less than 10 seconds per lift and finish workouts feeling stronger than prior to workout.
- Tabata protocol (20 second sprint followed by 10 second rest for 6-8 cycles) and 6 minute (or less) metabolic circuits for aerobic conditioning.
- Pre-hab once per week (Single leg RDL, Cable pulley chops, Turkish Get-ups) in addition to daily foam rolling, stretching (Yoga), relaxation (Tai Chi), and a full day of rest each week (usually Sunday)
Till next time!