How to outsmart The 4-Hour Body
A five-pound brick. A weapon. A bookend. 500 pages of fads, according to Men’s Health editor David Zinczenko. The 4-Hour Body is many things. But don’t be fooled by its title. If there’s one thing Tim Ferriss’s radical fitness bible isn’t, it’s a compendium of quick fixes.
Thankfully, if you’re pressed for time—and isn’t that the whole point of 4-Hour Body?—there’s a way to get to the meat of the book without reading much of it.
The 80/20 principle
The 80/20 principle is based on the premise that the most important 80% of something is focused in just 20% of matter. For example: 80% of wealth is concentrated among 20% of the people. You get 80% of your work done in the most effective 20% of your workday. You can be 80% fluent in a language with the most-used 20% of its vocabulary.
Ferris applies the 80/20 principle to productivity. I applied it to reading his book.
If you have the time, read all 40 hours’ worth of his fitness hypotheses. If you don’t, spend 8 hours skimming the book and you’ll still come away with 80% of what you need to know. That critical takeaway? Ferriss’s disregard for fitness rules. Borrowing just a bit of his rebellion will bring you closer to fitness excellence than all his tips and trick combined.
And it doesn’t even matter which 20% you read.
Remember how popular 4-Hour Body was when it came out back in December? Despite its mammoth size and tangle of math and science, it was heralded the “it” stocking stuffer. (Hope they reinforced that nail.)
It was sold out at every bookstore in Salt Lake City. Within days of its release, it was placed on hold by 171 people at my local library. It’s still referenced in every fitness blog on the web.
Why did 4-Hour Body skyrocket to the top of our reading lists? My guess is that it was the lure of the secret. The perfect fitness regimen for our physical conundrums.
My second guess: that only about 10% of the people who bought it actually read it.
Hey, I’ll admit it. When the cinderblock wrapped in blue paper crashed to my doorstep, I panicked. And hid it. By “four hour body,” did Ferriss mean four hours a day? But once the shock over the elephant in my reading queue passed, I read a few pages in. I discovered it wasn’t what I expected.
Ferriss’s laboratory of one
Ferriss, bless his heart, spent countless hours testing and hypothesizing, and countless dollars on pricy gadgets and strange substances. For $20, we get to buy his neatly-packaged guide to productivity.
But just when we think Ferriss has done all the work for us, he makes it clear just how much he dislikes fitness hand-holding. And piggybacking on others’ research.
The fact that most of his methods are kind of ridiculous—comprised of small test samples, random trivia and personal anecdotes—was my first clue: I really don’t think he intends for readers to unconditionally accept his advice. Instead, this book is a manifesto on blazing your own fitness trail.
So are health experts pointless?
Think back to the last time you went to the doctor (chiropractor, dermatologist, etc., etc.) and expected him to completely fix your problem. What happened instead? He asked questions, gave you a list of possible causes and assigned you to try one possible solution. If it didn’t work, you went back in a few weeks to try something else.
And you thought: Really? I couldn’t have done that on my own?
As for Ferriss, he’d much sooner turn his fitness regimen into his own personal lab than run into the arms of generic, unsatisfying “expert” advice again and again. And this is ultimately more productive.
Say you’re wondering if pre-exercise caffeine can prevent your muscles from getting sore. Option A: Spend 3 hours Googling it. Option B: Invest the same amount of time testing it yourself and making discoveries that are unique to your body.
Only when we change the way we think about the body and its limits will we accomplish above-average results. I think this is Ferriss’s point. And an expert who helps you do that is pure gold.
Angry fitness birds
When it comes to fitness advice, be prepared to take some and leave some.
When I write for U.S. News, I sometimes get angry comments from people who’ve tried something and it didn’t work for them. Just imagine how many people have sent hate-mail to Ferriss because they tried to get better sleep by waking up 4.5 hours after sleep onset every night, or who ate grass-fed beef but remained lousy in the sack.
It’s so worth trying some of Ferriss’s off the wall methods, but obsess over them and you’ll get pissed. Learn to trust your body, and the fact that you know it better than anyone else. The human body is just too awesome for there to be a tidy handful of absolute truths. And it’s too awesome for you to let someone else, like Ferriss, have all the fun.
So even if you follow none of his advice, and only skim a chapter or two, his book is worth reading. That rebellious curiosity just rubs off on you.