Tim Ferris’s bestselling book ‘The 4-Hour Body’ includes a chapter called ‘From Geek to Freak’, in which he claims to have gained 34lbs (15.4kg) of muscle in just four weeks, while simultaneously losing 3lbs (1.3kg) of body fat. On top of that he spent just FOUR HOURS IN TOTAL in the gym.
This claim is patently ridiculous and completely out of line with all scientific and anecdotal data and my own experience as a former competitive bodybuilder, personal trainer, body recomposition coach and Bodyscan consultant with about 4000 scans under my belt.
This article by Menno Henselsmans presents multiple recent scientific studies which clearly show a correlation between those performing more sets per week in the gym and those gaining the most muscle mass. One of the studies that led to the fastest muscle growth was by participants performing 45 sets on the triceps alone!
This study also shows that training a muscle three times per week instead of just once, even with the same total number of sets each week, led to significantly better increases in muscle mass and strength. There is plenty of similar research also showing a higher frequency of training leading to better results.
A similar training protocol to Geek to Freak can be found in another “research-based” bestseller, Body by Science.
Anecdotally, I can tell you that Bodyscan customers who follow the ‘less is more’ protocols achieve very low or even ZERO muscle gain, while ‘conventional’ programmes result in more predictable gains of 2-3kg over 12 weeks. I did have one male client who achieved 2-3kg (5-6lb) of lean gain in 12 weeks after following Tim's programme, but he was a complete newbie to any form of resistance training. Novices achieve the biggest gains in the shortest time because their muscles are new to the stimulus.
But I maintain that low-rep regimens certainly do not produce maximal returns, even for newbies, and produce very poor results for those with intermediate experience of weight training or above.
Where are those muscles now, Tim? (pics from his media pack)
If the scientific research and the protocols that successful bodybuilders have been following for decades all point against Tim’s routine, how did he manage to achieve the results he claims?
First of all, Tim is well known for his attention-grabbing, extreme weight-cutting tactics for sports with weight categories and even has an article on his website ‘How to lose 30 pounds [13.6kg] in 24 hours’.
The biggest factor at play in any rapid change in body weight is water.
Over 60% of a muscle cell is water. Therefore with extreme de-hydration and re-hydration tactics, you can potentially gain 15-30lbs (7-14kg) of water weight. When measured by almost any means, this non-fat mass would count as ‘lean mass’ which, if his weight numbers are true, Tim Ferriss has incorrectly (and conveniently) claimed as muscle mass.
In 28 days he would not have gained more than a few pounds of true skeletal muscle mass under his low-volume protocol.
I believe the pictures he presents of himself were achieved with ‘assistance’ and aren’t natural or were done in a much longer time frame with much more volume than he claims.
In the real world, four 1-hour sessions four times a week would be an optimal sweet spot for many. If you are stressed, older, have poor sleep or consume sub-optimal protein or calories, you may want to reduce this to 2-3x per week as you will have lower recovery capabilities.
If none of those apply, you could train 5-6 times per week for optimum results as you’ll be able to recover and therefore benefit from the additional training.
To conclude, the time-tested adage applies: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. If you want high quality information regarding body composition, you should be listening to those who are experts in the field, not an entrepreneur who makes outlandish claims.
Think about it for just a moment. If it was as easy to gain muscle as Tim says it is, every man and woman who weight trains would look like a Greek god(dess)! Looking at his website, Tim looks pretty slim, which makes me wonder, if he can put on muscle so quickly, why does he have so little now?
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