Sunday, May 06, 2012

Review: The Four Hour Body

I'm of two minds about The Four Hour Body. For one thing, it covers topics that I have yet to see in any real workout book elsewhere. For instance, much has been made of Dave "The Man" Scott's Iron Man triumphs as a vegetarian. This is the only book I've seen that actually talked to Dave Scott, where he reveals that he went back to eating meat after retiring from competition and had improved performance.

The book covers a huge amount of area. From how to lose fat to how to gain muscle, what causes infertility, how to prepare for a marathon on 3 15 minute sessions a week and some strength training, how to eat right, how to get yourself tested.

However, the problem with the book is that none of this is scientifically tested. All the results Feriss has are anecdotal. He admits in the appendix that his recommendations on diet, for instance, suffers from survivorship bias: people who've tried and failed aren't likely to report their failures. This is pretty serious, because his prescriptions are dramatic: for instance, he recommends that you eliminate variety from your diet and stick to eating the same things week in week out, except one day a week when you binge on forbidden foods. The diet recommendations are pretty standard low-carb stuff, which obviously has been shown under some circumstances to work.

He recommends working out as little as possible by relying as much as possible on interval/high-intensity training. Again, this has been shown to work. However, his test case is running a marathon. I've on the other hand, seen a number of cyclists become very strong by pursuing a Feriss-style interval-training program. However, by actually doing so little cycling, they never develop the skills to handle their bikes properly, and then end up with accidents that wouldn't have happened if they had trained traditionally, ramping up their strength by using on-bike time, ensuring that their cycling skills kept pace with their endurance, speed, and strength. Feriss gives a slight nod to this in an unrelated chapter, but I feel that he gives this short shrift.

Then there's the section on sleep, where he pushes the Everyman and Uberman polyphasic sleep cycles. The reality is, I don't think there's ever been a documented case of someone actually managing the Uberman, and it doesn't look like Feriss has even tried these for an extended period of time.

All this makes it seems like I wouldn't recommend the book, but I found it worth reading mostly because of the intense approach Feriss takes. While I'm not willing to take most of his steps (seriously, if you never found a sport you enjoyed and love enough to spend more than 4 hours a week on it, then I feel sorry for you, and this book might be your answer), I found it filled with little titbits that would be interesting, if I could find some way to verify them. I would take most of the book with a large burlap sack of salt (by the middle of the book you're convinced that Feriss has had every ailment known to man, when in reality he's a very healthy 28 year old hyping up his minor ailments as big problems so he can sound good when he "conquers" them), but as entertainment it's kind of fun reading. Just make sure you verify anything he says with a different source before undertaking the drastic changes in lifestyle he recommends.

Finally, stuff that a twenty-something can get away with doing to his body isn't something that a forty-something can get away with. I would be very cautious with his recommendations if you do not fit his profile.
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