Below is my complete review of The 4 Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss. Fair warning, it is nearly 5,000 words in length.
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The 4 Hour Body:
AN UNCOMMON GUIDE TO RAPID FAT-LOSS, INCREDIBLE SEX, AND BECOMING SUPERHUMAN
Part 1: Harajuku Moment
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear.
— Bene Gesserit from Frank Herbert’s Dune
The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss downloaded to my Kindle last night, and there was no way I could not dive into it right away. This is an embarrassing geek moment in my life, but I happened to stay up past midnight in hopes of getting a first glimpse of the book through the Kindle to prepare myself for he journey ahead. This is a massive volume (nearly 600 pages) of information to go through. At first, I thought of doing one big review once I had finished it, but because it is so big, I think I will break it down into sections.
First Impressions – Chapters 1-3
If you have read The 4 Hour Work Week, the style of writing will be all too familiar to you. If you have never read his book or his blog (I’m not sure how many haven’t come across his work yet), Ferriss’ conversational style will appeal to you. This book is easy to read, and the information will be absorbed into your mind without a lot of re-reading of facts. There are lots of real world examples presented, with plenty of stories to help explain the process of attaining the results in the examples. The book is laid out in different sections that you can skip ahead to if you like. This makes it more of a reference book than his previous book, which may appeal to some people.
In the first chapter (which he posted on his blog), he outlines various groupings of chapters that should be required reading depending on what goal you would like to achieve from reading it (fat loss, muscle gain, strength gain or total well-being). Each chapter also includes optional sections that include more information that is geared towards information geeks like myself. I decided that I would read the book from the beginning to end without jumping around. I do not have a goal set as to what I would like to achieve from reading this book yet, but I am looking for improvement.
As in his previous book, Ferriss introduces us to some concepts that most probably were not aware of. In the first book, I am sure most would agree that they had never come across Pareto’s Law(the 80/20 principle). In this book, Pareto’s Law comes up again, along with some similar concepts, such as Minimum Effective Dose. I do not wish to get into these concepts right now, as I do want to encourage people to read the book and find out from the source. But I will comment on how such introductions to unknown concepts are extremely valuable to the general population.
By bringing up terms like Pareto’s Law or the Minimum Effective Dose, I am transported back to my University classes where I was able to discover terms and theories on my own outside of class, or reminds me of watching a documentary on PBS or Discovery Channel (which, incidentally, Ferriss ends his day with – presumably when he is not testing his sex techniques). I am a big proponent of the idea that the more people know, the better we all are for it. Ferriss introduces me to a concept, and then it is up to me to master it on my own, but it is always in my toolbelt now when I need to pull it out. Pareto’s Law has been used widely, and I am sure the Minimum Effecive Dose, along with the other concepts I will be discovering in the remainder of the book, will be spread widely as well.
The Harajuku Moment (Spoiler Alert) is the term given to a personal tipping point, made popular by Malcolm Gladwell. The example given is of Chad Fowler and his decision to start losing weight. While reading this story, I started to reflect on my own decision to be more conscious of my own body and make a serious effort in being in better shape. I wrote about it here under the title The Paleo Leap back in July, but the true starting point for me was after the birth of my daughter last year.
Most people have New Year’s Resolutions, and the timing of my daughter’s birth could not have worked out better – December 31st. At the time, I was weighing around 245 lbs and out of shape. If it wasn’t for my years of lifting heavy objects during my technical theatre days, or walking frequently in the summer time, it could have been much worse. Years of stressful jobs had taken its toll on me in the form of weight gain. When the scales started inching towards 250, I knew I had to do something; otherwise, I wouldn’t be around for the life of my daughter.
I started to explore different options, and came across the paleo/primal lifestyle. Reading The Primal Blueprint and adhering to the diet it lays out, has most likely saved my life. I weighed myself a few weeks ago, and I came in at 205. 40 pounds shed in just over six months. Can’t really ask for better results than that. I still have a ways to go before I get the look I want, and that is where The 4-Hour Body comes in.
I am at the section of the book that describes the diet we should be following on this journey. The diet is less restrictive than the Primal Blueprint diet, but follows the same basic guidelines: no processed carbs, no white carbs (rice, bread, potatoes), more meat, more vegetables, no/little fruit. It does allow for legumes (lentils, chickpeas), which the Primal Blueprint wants people to avoid, as well. There is also one free day a week for people to eat whatever they want. The Primal Blueprint sets up a 80/20 rule – adhere to the diet 80% of the time, and allow the other 20% to be less restrictive. If I translated the one day of the week into a percentile, it comes to 14%. In a way, I guess, it is more restrictive.
In the coming days, I will finish the diet section and possibly do a complete analysis comparing the two diets together if there are some major differences. The next section is about adding muscle, which I am interested in doing more of in the coming months. If the above is of interest to you, but not enough to convince you to dive into the book, here are some other items of interest that Timothy Ferriss has been involved with in the past week in the lead-up to the launch:
- Keen On… Tim Ferriss: How To Turn Your Body Into A Startup (TCTV): Interview at TechCrunch with Andrew Keen for TechCrunchTV. Ferriss discusses the book, the 15 minute female orgasm, and the body as a startup. Good stuff there.
- The 4-Hour Body: How Do You Follow Up A #1 Bestseller Without Repeating Yourself?: Timothy Ferriss explains the book, and also how he came to the decision to release it on December 14th.
- Live Q&A with Timothy Ferriss: a live event Timothy Ferriss hosted with questions coming in from Facebook. Pretty informative.
- Tim Ferriss Wants to Hack Your Body: An interview with Wired Magazine. The video interviews above provide more information, but this is a quick read for people on the go.
- Video interview with Timothy Ferriss: I posted a video of an interview Timothy Ferriss had with Rise to the Top in my post. The discussion is mainly centered around The 4 Hour Body, but there is a lot of other good discussion to be found.
- The 4 Hour Body: Finally, the Official Site for The 4 Hour Body.
Part 2: The Devil is in the Details
It’s Day 2 with The 4 Hour Body (Part 1 here), and everywhere I look, Tim Ferriss is popping up. Tonight, there was a segment on Nightline (ABC) about the book. I also came across another video interview on ZenHabits, and a fascinating interview with 37Signalsabout how he used their products to organize the book’s creation. Almost every interview I have come across has highlighted a different part of the book, and it’s incredible the amount of information Tim Ferriss can pull out of his head when asked a question. The other thing of interest about all of these interviews and promotional materials is that it was all planned out very thoroughly.
Tim Ferriss wrote about the challenges he was going to face with the release of this book: the holiday season competition, competing against The Guiness Book of World Records, and the lack of traditional media coverage that he otherwise may have received if the book had been published earlier or later (read about it at The Huffington Post). In order to drive up the sales heading into the new year (“New Year, New You” as he puts it), he was going to have to do things differently. Being Different is as much a motto for Timothy Ferris as Think Different was for Apple. I was blown away with the buildup to this book launch: the NYC party, the $4,000,000 in giveaways, and constant drum beating of buy 3+ copies and get special gifts. This does not include the contest that was held earlier in the year to find the best advertisements to put across the web – graphic or textual. Currently, there is a contest for the person that promotes the book the best this week. This is all a new experience for me as this is the first major book launch that I have pre-ordered and have followed the buildup from announcement to launch. It has been an all-out blitzkrieg of promotion, media, rocking YouTube videos, and more. I was thinking of all this when I started to get into the meat of the first third of the book: the diet section.
No “Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away” Slogans Here
As I mentioned in the first part of this review, the diet Ferriss suggests, The Slow-Carb Diet, is a modification of the paleo/Primal diet that I have been following for the last half of this year. Outlined in five simple rules, this is a diet that takes some adjustments to be successful at. With the first rule being “Avoid ‘White’ Carbohydrates,” it is most likely the toughest rule to get over.
Majority of the cultures of the world feast on breads or grains of some form (tortillas, naan, rice, etc) and our world is full of various offerings that are too easy to go for (crackers, chips, cookies). Even for me, someone who does not indulge in a lot of sweets, it was a slow process of cutting down to one piece of toast in the morning instead of two, and cutting down on the amount of rice at night with a stir-fry. Eventually, I did get there.
Another part that may be difficult to get around is the lack of fruit in the diet. This is a common thing with the paleo/primal diets, but is even more against the grain than eliminating grains is (pun intended). Once you have cleaned up your system, you will start to be acutely aware of how sensitive your body is to certain foods. It seems to me that our body adapts and accepts some of the bad things we eat as normal, so when the body stops receiving those items, there is a period of re-adjustment back to a clean slate. Once that item hits your stomach again, watch out. At first, I noticed this effect with milk and other dairy products. My stomach was almost always upset after I even had a few slices of cheese. If I had eaten an ice cream cone as a treat, it made me suffer through the night until it had all been eliminated. Now, I’ve become more aware of the effects of bread and other carbohydrates on my system. I can almost predict when I will have a sugar crash if I treat myself to a chocolate bar.
Ferriss uses the phrase “the devil is in the details,” in a title of a section about the effects of cold temperatures to the body, and more specifically, burning off fat. I think the phrase applies aptly to the majority of the diet section, because the smallest things really do matter the most. Whether it is the foods you cut out of your diet, or the supplements you take, or following a regime of cold treatments or standardized eating times, they all add up to major improvements. As he states in his promotional video above: 2.5% effort for 95% of the results. All that being said, the two combine into an overwhelming force.
When you are faced with a blitzkrieg of small details that truly do matter, it can be tough to take it all in. Some of the paragraphs about the various supplements are daunting to myself to comprehend at times, and I think the book’s primary strength (so far) is when the information is laid out in an easy to read, comprehensible style. If the book was completely a reference guidebook, some of the meatier sections would be fine, but the combination of the two give the book a different feel compared to most. He does recommend skipping certain sections in order to get the most valuable information in and not get too overwhelmed. It was a recommendation I did not listen to at the start, but I might follow through with it during the sections when it gets biology/chemistry heavy.
As for implementing the suggestions for a Slow-Carb Diet, I am in the planning stages of a transition. I am not one for jumping into things without some guidelines and a clear plan. Ferriss suggests starting with a change with the breakfast meal, as it will have the biggest impact on your goals overall. In the summer months, I was eating a lot more eggs than I am now, and that is when I had the biggest weight loss. Needless to say, I bought two dozen last night to get me jump started again.
The rest of the cupboard space is getting cleaned out and restocked this coming weekend to take the Slow-Carb Diet head-on. I am looking forward to exploring beans and other legumes again, as that was a restriction that the Primal Blueprint advised against. The Muscle section is coming up now. A new section to read and plan for; and surely, by the time I finish it, I will have come across several more interviews and promotions.
Part 3: Occam’s Protocol, Sex, and Trojan Horses
It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.
— William of Occam (c. 1288-1348) “Occam’s Razor”
Getting through The 4 Hour Body book can be a daunting challenge. As I mentioned before, this book is massive at over 600 pages. A portion of that is the index in the back, but a nonfiction book of 500 pages is still quite lengthy. Because of the length of the book, this last part of the review is a bit over due. Nearly a month after the first parts were published, I have been taking my time to read through the final chapters, and take the pulse of the internet in terms of reception of the book.
Occam is one of Ferriss’ favourite people to bring up and form his theories around. In short, Occam is used to get results by doing only what is required of you to do. It means not doing ten different exercises in a gym session, and lowering the number of repetitions done and increasing the length of time for a repetition. Everything that Ferriss writes about Occam’s protocol is interesting and helpful. It compares very well to some of the other popular fitness routines available, namely the always popular CrossFit program and the new Primal Blueprint Fitness program.
Occam could have been put into use when it comes to the criticism found across the web, too. Several writers go at length to be critical of the book. The NY Times review, by Dwight Garner, was fairly negative in its tone, but it does not look like they did the research about the Slow Carb Diet and why it works for so many people. For example, he writes:
Mr. Ferriss makes difficult things seem very easy. But that line from the old Tom Waits song applies here: “The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away.” Mr. Ferriss, for example, makes a big deal about how, on his diet, you’re encouraged to go wild one day a week, eating whatever garbage makes you happy. “Welcome to Utopia,” he says. Everybody ready to dig in?
There is a very good reason to allow people a cheat day, or some sort of permission to indulge in foods that are normally discouraged in a diet. By giving people that option, it wipes away any guilty feelings they may have if they do cheat, or they will find it increasingly difficult to stick to a diet. Surrounded by temptation, people will generally give in to those temptations – especially with food. The Primal Blueprint allows people to cheat on 20% of their diet, so this concept is nothing new.
Penelope Trunk writes negatively about Timothy Ferriss every now and then (Tim Ferriss diet, 5 Time management tricks I learned from years of hating Tim Ferriss) and appears to be very jealous of his success. Here is her snarky comment about the book:
Now, with the diet book, Tim tells us how we can take out all the emotional and mental health benefits of fitness and understanding your own body. But look. I have a better plan. You can get plastic surgery, and you can take Creatine, and you can use diuretics, and you will get the physical fitness results Tim promises in LESS than four hours a week. I should write a book.
None of these reviews and criticisms of The 4 Hour Body are very helpful for someone who is wanting to decide whether to buy it or not. I hope my review will be helpful in the end, whether you decide to purchase the book or not.
Ferriss should have heeded the advice given by Occam himself, however. This book is chock full of information that appears redundant at times as it is repeated earlier in the book, or contradicts other sections. This book would have been a much easier read if the sections were pared down to only the Slow Carb Diet, Occam’s Protocol, and the Running Faster and Farther chapters. Some of the chapters go by so quickly, they probably would have been better utilized as a blog post or extra content through the website (i.e. swinging like Babe Ruth, holding your breath longer than Houdini, perfecting sleep, etc). By the end, I felt like out of a 600 page book, maybe half of it was actually useful to me.
Garner puts it perfectly in his review:
Mr. Ferriss offers advice about so many disparate things — not simply losing weight and building muscle and improving sex and living forever, but learning to hold your breath longer than Houdini (!) and hit baseballs like Babe Ruth (!!) — that paging through “The 4-Hour Body” is like reading the sprawling menu in a dubious diner, quite certain the only thing you’d dare order is the turkey club.
There are some certain highlights of the book that I would like to mention though.
Becoming The Hulk
There are two common, perceived problems with today’s men: some men are too scrawny, others are too fat. There is also one thing almost all men want to be: stronger and bigger. Ferriss really zeroes in on this aspect of gaining muscle, as there are several sections highlighting it: From Geek to Freak (How to Gain 34 Pounds in 28 days), Occam’s Protocol, Injury Proofing Your Body, Effortless Superhuman, and Eating the Elephant (How to Add 100 Pounds to Your Bench Press). Of course, these sections are not grouped together for easy consumption. If you focused on the sections for muscle building, you will be doing a lot of page flipping to come to the proper chapters. A minor inconvenience when reading the hardcover book, but more of a nuisance if reading on a Kindle.
The techniques he outlines in the book will be recognizable to anyone that has picked up a fitness magazine in the past few years. They focus on compound movements that involve more muscles rather than focusing on small movements that only work one or two muscles. He does mention the kettlebell swing as the only exercise you really need to use to give your body a sufficient work out. I do agree that the exercise will work out your body, but I think it needs to be supplemented with at least a pushup-like exercise (to work the chest) and a pulling exercise (to work the back). I have yet to read about anyone following the one exercise only program. The reviews of Occam’s Protocol (which is the main workout program listed) are starting to come out through comments on Ferriss’ blog. Perhaps in another month or two, I will pull out some of the comments to see how people are progressing.
Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby
The tagline for the book is: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman. The chapters about sex (The 15 Minute Female Orgasm) are smaller in scope to the fat loss and becoming superhuman portions, but are the most useful ones. Everything else in the book requires money of some kind (buying different foods, supplement pills, extra books, exercise equipment, etc). The sex portion only requires a willing partner to give it a go.
The chapters have some of the more interesting stories shared and you also meet some people that you will rarely come across in your daily lives. Tallulah Sulis (the “female ejaculation expert”), Nina Hartley (Professor Sex), and Violet Blue (the sex pundit). This section is probably the most difficult to fully review on a site like this. There are several techniques illustrated for coitus and to help a woman achieve orgasm more easily, as well as, some steps men can take to produce more testosterone and have “sex like a wolverine.”
Without getting into too much detail here, all I will say is a lot of what he suggests does work.
Very well, in fact.
In the final chapter, before reaching the appendices, Ferriss mentions how, ” this book is a Trojan horse full of unexpected transfers.” It’s a very good assessment of the book. After staying true to one protocol, you will find benefits occur in other areas of your health and life.
After following the paleo/Primal diet for six months now, I can attest to how much more energetic I feel without eating a lot of the food others are feasting on. Before, I could devour a small pizza on my own, but now I feel incredibly bloated after even two slices. I feel sluggish after eating a few pieces of bread, too. Feeling more energetic transfers into how I feel around the house and helps me be more productive overall. It certainly helps with waking up in the mornings with my daughter. After nights of maybe five hours of sleep, I find myself waking up with her easily – without drinking pots of coffee. A handful of almonds in the morning is more beneficial than a cup of coffee in the end.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of information to take in with this book, and not all of it will be useful to you. The chapters about the Slow Carb Diet will benefit the most people if they can make the transition into it completely and stick to one cheat day a week. The fitness regimes can be discovered online easily enough, as can information about improving your sleep.
What this book does offer is a quick and easy read to touch on a lot of related subject areas. Within a week of sitting down to read this book, you can easily plan out a diet to follow, and a simple exercise routine to help sculp the body you would like to achieve. In addition, the book is a highly entertaining read as the language is simple and straight forward. The books reads more like a conversation between you and Ferriss with several people dropping in to provide their two cents.
Is It Worth It?
Ultimately, that is the question everyone thinks of when they have a book or other product in their hands. These days, books are more than just a book. They are a portal to a whole library of information with books having dedicated web pages with additional resources (Excel spreadsheets, extra articles, discounts for products, and so forth). The 4 Hour Work Week website has a lot of extra information available to the people who have purchased the book. In The 4 Hour Body, there are mentions of extra content being available on the website and a dedicated forum for readers, but that is not the case yet. There is no mention of when, or if, it will actually appear, which is disappointing.
The resources located within the book’s content will provide you the extra information you may be looking for in the end. If you are looking for a quick read and are willing to hunt for some juicy stuff, The 4 Hour Body is the way to go. If you are looking for a more polished book with access to extra information and a thriving community, I would suggest The Primal Blueprint. In addition to that book, the author Mark Sisson has a blog updated daily (Ferriss’ blog is updated around once or twice a week) about the primal movement (complete with recipes), a cookbook that can be purchased, a free eBook about fitness programs, and additional products for sale. The Primal Blueprint focuses entirely on health and diet, though.
In the end, The 4 Hour Body is an excellent introduction to many subjects and will help you transform your body through some simple programs. With a price of under $15.00 online, you will be hard pressed to find another resource that provides so much for so little.
I compiled some resources for people to get a jump start following a 4 Hour Body or Primal Lifestyle. I personally switch between a 30 pound and 40 pound kettle bell depending on the exercise (I prefer to do more one-arm kettlebell swings then the two-arm). The Primal Blueprint Recipe Book is real tasty and easy to prepare, and the DVD was useful for me in the start of my program. Alternatively, there is the Paleo Recipe Book, which includes a meal planner, recipe book, and a spices and herb guidebook.
Also, consider signing up the The 4 Hour Body Newsletter which will provide you even more resources on a bi-weekly basis. For an example of items to expect, check out a preview of my favourite workout, the Spartacus Workout.
And, finally, I compiled a list of all the free chapters available online for your reading pleasure. The 4 Hour Body – Free Chapters.