Review: Body by Science, by Doug McGuff, MD and John Little

Body by Science, by Doug McGuff, MD and John Little

Body by Science, by Doug McGuff, MD and John Little

If you buy only one book on exercise this year, I recommend Doug McGuff, MD and John Little’s Body by Science. If you buy only two books, I recommend getting a second copy of it because you’re going to want to share it with friends, and if you’re a trainer you’re going to want to keep one at work to show clients.

Body by Science explains the how and why of high intensity training, balancing enough scientific background to convey key principles and concepts without overwhelming the lay reader, and practical in-the-gym how-to. It is well organized, well researched, and well written, and an enjoyable and informative read. Every one of its eleven chapters contains a wealth of information, clearly explained with the assistance of numerous graphs and diagrams.

The chapters include:

  1. Defining Health, Fitness, and Exercise
  2. Global Metabolic Conditioning
  3. The Dose-Response Relationship of Exercise
  4. The Big-Five Workout
  5. The Benefits of the Big-Five Workout
  6. Enhancing the Body’s Response to Exercise
  7. Tweaking the Exercise Stimulus
  8. The Genetic Factor
  9. The Science of Fat Loss
  10. The Ideal Training Programs for Athletes
  11. The Ideal Training Program for Seniors

The book thoroughly and conclusively debunks the belief that aerobics or “cardio” is necessary for cardiovascular fitness or fat loss, and provides scientific explanations for why high intensity strength training is the most effective way to accomplish both of these. For those of you still harboring doubts about this, Body by Science will put them to rest. McGuff and Little also explain why high intensity strength training is the safest and most effective exercise protocol for improving:

  • resting metabolic rate
  • glucose metabolism
  • insulin sensitivity
  • body composition
  • cholesterol levels
  • blood pressure
  • bone mineral density
  • symptoms of arthritis
  • lower-back pain
  • and enhancing flexibility

All of this is backed up by properly performed studies published in reputable, peer-reviewed scientific journals, comprising nearly 30 pages of references contained at the end of the book.

Body by Science goes into great detail on the dose-response relationship of exercise and proves just how little high intensity exercise is actually required for best results – far less than many people believe – also backed up by scientific research and the results of a combined 30 years of supervising and tracking the progress of thousands of trainees through tens of thousands of workouts.

While the book is not heavy on routines – and once you’ll read it you’ll understand why it doesn’t need to be – it offers a solid starting point along with recommendations for variations using different equipment and for more advanced trainees. It also covers advanced high intensity training methods such as static holds, SuperSlow and Max Contraction.

Body by Science also explains the numerous genetic factors determining individual muscular potential and response to exercise, and how this information can be used to fine tune your workouts to get the best results possible. The chapter on genetics also contains an interesting discussion of epigenetics – how high intensity strength training influences the expression of your genes.

Chapter 9, The Science of Fat Loss, destroys numerous myths while explaining how training, diet and other factors combined to produce discriminated fat loss. It further debunks the popular misconception that aerobics or “cardio” are effective or even necessary for fat loss.

Chapters 10 and 11 address the training requirements of athletes and seniors and how the concepts and principles explained in the book should be adapted for those populations, including specific routines for football, hockey, baseball and golf. Chapter 10, The Ideal Training Programs for Athletes, also addresses numerous popular misconceptions about skill training, conditioning, stretching, warming up, and cross-training. Chapter 11, The Ideal Training Programs for Seniors, explains the numerous benefits high intensity strength training has for seniors, including how strength training reverses the effects of aging on the expression of numerous genes.

All in all, Body by Science is one of the best HIT books I’ve read in a long time, and I highly recommend it.

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33 Responses to Review: Body by Science, by Doug McGuff, MD and John Little

  1. Viking Dan December 29, 2008 at 5:07 pm #

    How redundant is it with McGuff’s Ultimate Exercise Bulletin?

  2. Drew Baye December 30, 2008 at 11:31 am #

    Body by Science is an entirely different book than Ultimate Exercise Bulletin 1. While both address some of the same topics, Body by Science covers more ground and provides more specific routine recommendations.

  3. Marc December 30, 2008 at 2:29 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    Thanks for the review. You mention that the routines cover various types of equipment. If I train at home with barbell, dumbbells, squat rack, chin and dip bars will I be able to utilize the routines in this book?

    I also am looking forward to your book.

    Thanks,

    Marc

  4. Drew Baye December 30, 2008 at 3:55 pm #

    Marc,
    You’re welcome. The book includes both machine and free weight versions of the routines. My home set up is similar to yours and I’m performing workouts nearly identical to the football routines in the book.

  5. Jon December 30, 2008 at 11:46 pm #

    I just received Body by Science this afternoon. I have made it rhough the first chapter. This is a nice reminder that health=fitness and fitnesss=health are not always an accurate assumption. Thecatabolic/anabolic explanation and the balance between the two is excellent.

    Answering Marc’s question concerning at home training, yes you can utilize barbells, dumbells, dips, etc.

    So far as I have read this book is well written, and the information is useful.

    Jon Z.

  6. Drew Baye December 31, 2008 at 9:16 am #

    For those of you wondering about overseas orders, although Amazon.co.uk shows Body by Science as not being available in the UK until February 27 you can order it now from the publisher, McGraw Hill at http://www.mhprofessional.com/product.php?isbn=0071597174

  7. Griff December 31, 2008 at 6:20 pm #

    Drew,
    Just got my copy of “Body by Science”. Dr. McGuff is one of my main influences in turning to strength training and away from “aerobics”. Also, if I only saw the bodybuilding stuff I’d never weight train. It’s about long term health and function.
    The info is all gold, but I particularly like the sections on athletics, and the discussion of epigenetics.
    At almost 59, I can still practice arnis and hike vigorously and I owe this to strength training and watching what I eat. Wish I could convince some of my peers.
    Griff

  8. Scott January 18, 2009 at 4:43 pm #

    hey drew…
    i think its important to be open minded about new approaches to fitness and using science to help improve how we apply ourselves, especially when it comes to strength training. Before i actually go buy a book (and i do intend to), i first wonder about taking a step back for a moment and posing this question: I have a hard time “reconciling” any 12 minute training protocol with the following consideration: take a 30-something yr old person who has virtually never seen the inside of a gym and is new to exercise; how does that fitness/training situation compare to the person who has been training intensely with strength and cardio for a LOT of years (maybe a competitive athlete) and requires higher thresholds of volume and general intensity to achieve those more demanding goals they might have.
    Does this book address a question like that? who could disagree that a pitch for 12 minutes a week of exercise sounds not much different than something you might see on the home shopping channel.

  9. Drew Baye January 19, 2009 at 10:53 am #

    Scott,
    Obviously someone who is new to exercise will have different requirements than an experienced trainee or competitive athlete, and competitive athletes may require specific metabolic conditioning for their sport. This is addressed in the book.
    While “12 Minutes A Week” does sound like a typical infomercial pitch, it is important to differentiate between time spent exercising and time in the gym. Most people make very inefficient use of their time in the gym, and someone who is at the gym for an hour or two may actually spend less than 20 minutes performing exercise.
    I currently train about once every five days, alternating between two workouts, each typically consisting of six or fewer exercises. I use a repetition range of 7 to 10 for most exercises, which results in a time under load of about 40 to 60 seconds per exercise. Not including about a one minute rest between exercises, I spend less than six minutes of training time in a single workout. While someone who hasn’t experienced one of these workouts might scoff at this, those who have tried them know why the volume needs to be kept low.

  10. Scott January 19, 2009 at 4:55 pm #

    thanks for that answer…i know it might appear that i am “scoffing” at that training approach, i actually find it fascinating and having worked with static contr training and use its appl’s, i think there are plenty of good questions to be asked; one question is…have YOU, yourself, seen gains in size in strength that are noteworthy, with 12 min’s a week and are you willing to discuss specifics about those results; where can i go to talk to people who have had actual success with this?…btw, we totally agree that a vast majority of people in commercial gyms spend their time very inefficiently.

    scott

  11. Jeff January 20, 2009 at 10:15 am #

    Thank you Drew for taking questions in regard to this book.
    On page 56 it is stated “Optimally, we’re looking for forty-five to ninety seconds for particular set of exercises…”. Above you mention your load time of 40 to 60 seconds. On page 86 it gives an example of reaching failure at six reps, with a cadence of ten seconds up and ten seconds down,adding this up to only a minute and thirty seconds, and a minute and forty seconds. Six reps at twenty seconds each is two minutes. On page 90 a set is described and it states “This whole process ocurred over a span of roughly two minutes”. Then on page 91 it says to keep the exercise under ninety seconds.
    Am I correct then in stating that if an exercise takes me twenty seconds per rep., at a 45 second load time I will have done two reps., and at a 90 second load time four and a half?
    I don’t care about the number of reps, I’m just looking for the optimum load time. Additionally, any detractors will jump on the above to argue contradictions. It would be nice to be able to intellegently reply.
    Thank you for your consideration.

  12. Drew Baye January 20, 2009 at 1:01 pm #

    Scott,

    I’ve had good results with all types of HIT, but usually seem to gain faster and have a “fuller” look to my muscles when doing more abbreviated routines. I’m currently the biggest I’ve ever been while keeping a 32″ waist (currently about 192).

  13. Drew Baye January 20, 2009 at 1:03 pm #

    Jeff,
    The 45 to 90 second range is an average. The optimum load time will vary from individual to individual, with some doing better with a higher, and some a lower time depending on various genetic factors.

  14. Jeff January 20, 2009 at 2:57 pm #

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my questions. I wish it was printed in the book the way you wrote it above.

  15. Eric March 21, 2009 at 11:26 am #

    When exactly does a person know when to increase their weight and how do you determine what your ideal TUL is for your genotype?

    • Drew Baye March 22, 2009 at 8:18 pm #

      The ideal repetition range or time under load usually starts to become apparent during the first few weeks of training after the trainee starts working to failure on all their exercises. This requires a bit of trial and error, however there are a few methods for determining this, which I discuss in my book. It’s a bit involved and I don’t have the time at present to get into it here. I will post an excerpt from the book on this when it gets closer to completion.

  16. Eric March 24, 2009 at 11:22 am #

    I’ve read through the book twice, some parts three times. But to me alot is left open to interpretation. I’ve trained HIT style on and off for 10 yrs and am now 42 yrs old. I like the ideas proposed in the book just wish they were more specific on their application. Or it could be that i’m just retarded and don’t get it.

    • Drew Baye April 24, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

      Eric,

      Which aspects of the application were you wondering about? Specific method of performing the recommended exercises, exercise selection, general workout performance? Let me know specifically what you want to know about the application and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

  17. Eric March 24, 2009 at 10:19 pm #

    Not trying to Hijack this thread but I would like some advice. As I mentioned earlier I am 42, a high school head football coach and in pretty good shape for my age. I have found that at my age recuperation after workouts is a must. I recently completed my sixth week doing max ot and had some strength gains but boy did I pay the price in my shoulders and knees. To the point of not being able to sleep at night. My question is regarding the Body for Science workout for older individuals like myself. I still love to be in the gym and feel I can still add muscle. I am becoming increasingly aware that I simply can’t handle heavy volume even the max ot way. I researced tom venutos fit over 40 but have not read it. Do I need to adjust the body by science workout in any way to see gains? Thanks

    • Drew Baye April 24, 2010 at 10:29 pm #

      Eric,

      The workouts in Body by Science are more geared towards safe and time efficient improvement in general fitness and strength gains, rather than bodybuilding. They will work for bodybuilding, but I think some people might do better adding a few more exercises and using a little higher volume and frequency at first. I also do not recommend moving quite as slowly as they do, however some people find the very slow repetitions a little easier on the joints.

  18. Bruce September 2, 2009 at 5:08 pm #

    I have the book and I agree with the main ideas intellectually, however, there is not one impressive , muscular physique pictured in the entire book. If this method of training can truly produce a bodybuilder type look Dr. McGuff failed to show one.

    • Drew Baye September 7, 2009 at 10:03 pm #

      Bruce,

      While the Body by Science program is effective for bodybuilders, the book was meant more for the general public. There are competitive bodybuilders using similar training programs.

  19. Farhad Ghorbani December 5, 2009 at 11:27 am #

    I have read both Max Contraction books by John Little where he recommends a 1-6 second hold for all exercises. However, on pg 155 of Body by Science, where the author(I’m assuming it’s John Little) is discussing Max Contraction protocol, it states “The time under load for the exercises above should be approximately sixty to ninety seconds (or whatever ideal time signature is for the individual trainee…”

    I am missing something here? So should the hold time be 1-6 seconds for 60-90 seconds?

    Also, shouldn’t the individaul muscle type determine the individual TUL?

    Thanks.

    • Drew Baye December 5, 2009 at 7:16 pm #

      Farhad,

      Max Contraction is an advanced bodybuilding method, focused purely on stimulating strength and size increases, while the high intensity training methods described in Body by Science are meant for a more general audience and improvements in total conditioning and fitness.

      Individual TULs will vary somewhat with either protocol, but more with the longer sets. The guidelines in either book should be considered starting points from which individuals should make adjustments based on how their bodies respond.

  20. Gail May 27, 2010 at 8:31 pm #

    Appreciate the review. I have ordered the book. I am one of those seniors that wants to benefit from this training and want to be sure I am doing it correctly but cannot find a source of Body By Science trainers. Can you please help me with that? I live in Skippack, PA. Thanks.

  21. Ryan June 18, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    I have read some HIT books, such as the new HIT by Ellington Darden. I’m wondering if this book is all that different, and worth buying since I already have Darden’s book. What kind of principles are presented that are new, different, or beneficial?

    • Drew Baye August 20, 2010 at 10:03 am #

      Ryan,

      Body by Science goes into a lot more detail on the dose-response relationship of exercise and recovery, global metabolic conditioning, and several other topics. While Ellington’s books are more geared towards bodybuilding, Body by Science is geared more towards overall health and fitness. One big difference is the nutritional philosophy; Ellington recommends a higher carb, lower fat diet while Doug McGuff recommends a lower carb, higher fat “paleo” diet.

  22. Greg December 14, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    I teach college biology, and I was just given a copy of Dr. McGuff’s book by a student. I wanted to know if the weight-training community thought it was effective and safe for amateurs like myself. I’m not trying to add strength or size so much as “tone up” and control blood chemistry (lipid metabolism foremost). Thanks for hosting this discussion; it’s cleared up a lot of my questions.

    One unresolved issue in McGuff’s book — at least for people like me, who have limited training or experience in weight-training — is the selection of initial weights for the “big 5″ exercises. Can you point me to a good reference for selecting the amount of weight to use?

    I tried McGuff’s workout this morning and found, for example, that my usual leg-press maximum weight (from my 3rd set, 185 lbs) was not sufficient to cause positive failure. I don’t want to risk tearing up my knees and hips, though, by adding too much more weight. I had the same problem with the overhead pull-downs.

    Thanks to anyone who can offer a suggestion.

    As for bloodstream lipid control, I’m hoping this boosts HDL:LDL ratios and lowers bloodstream triglycerides as Dr. McGuff says it will. Does anyone here have any experience with that? I’m a scientist, so I’ll run the experiment and then collect my own data…genetics is a serious factor here, I suspect.

    • Drew Baye December 15, 2010 at 10:45 pm #

      Greg,

      The Body by Science program is both very safe and very effective even for amateurs if done correctly. I’ve trained hundreds of people using the same principles including everyone from professional football players to octogenarians with very good results and no injuries.

      As for weight selection my recommendation is to start with a weight that is only moderately challenging for the prescribed time and increase the weights gradually so by the time they become more challenging you’ve had plenty of time to rehearse proper form. A few specific things to focus on are reversing directly smoothly, maintaining a neutral head and neck position (looking straight forwards, chin slightly down) and breathing continuously to avoid val salva’s maneuver.

      As for cholesterol, in a letter to a SuperSlow trainer, Philip Alexander, MD, Chief of Medical Staff, College Station Medical Center, Texas A&M University College of Medicine wrote, “We here are now following 29 patients on this high intensity (Superslow) protocol (17 minutes in the gym every 5th day), and 28 of the 29 have more than doubled their HDL’s, mostly from the low 20′s to the mid/high 50′s.”

      I have also had several clients report improvements in HDL:LDL ratios after training, along with improvements in various other measures of health.

  23. Zaid March 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    Hi drew,

    I’m a soccer player and i did an operation for my ACL, so now i’m in the last phase of rehab. which concentrate on building quads. And hamstrings.

    Do you think this book could help me?

    Also how about if i begin playing back with the team, how can i use this book in my team training?

    • Drew Baye March 23, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

      Zaid,

      Yes. I’ve used the same principles working with a few people recovering from ACL injuries and the book discusses training for athletes in different sports.

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