4-Hour Body: Occam’s Protocol and the Minimum Effective Dose

In mid-2016 when Lisa suggested that I might consider adding weightlifting to my 30-minutes of daily cardio, I couldn’t see a way to make it work into my schedule.

After reading The 4-Hour Body, however, I had new inspiration to give it a try.

As Tim Ferriss explained the concept of a Minimum Effective Dose of weightlifting (as well as other interventions), it made sense to me.

To add muscle…do the least necessary to trigger local (specific muscles) and systemic (hormonal) growth mechanisms

Tim Ferris, The 4-Hour Body

The idea is that you need to stress your muscles for a relatively short period (he said about 80 seconds) to trigger an adaptation response.

More than that is not only wasteful, but may even be harmful.

Ferris also describes what he calls “Occam’s Protocol” which involves two alternating every other day between two daily weight-training workout that take about 20 minutes each.

I adapted it for my purposes, using equipment available at the YMCA:

  • Incline press (one set…increasing weight when I could do seven reps)
  • Pull down (same approach on reps and going up in weight)
  • 10 myostatic crunches (using a Bosu ball for full range of motion)
  • 10 Cat Vomits (gotta get the book for a description of that one!)
  • 25 minutes of cardio on the Precor elliptical machine

Later, instead of the incline press on a weight machine, I started doing a dumbbell chest fly (although probably not with very good form.) Still, it was my first real work with free weights.

I didn’t lift every day, because I knew days off for recovery were important. And I still wasn’t doing leg work, because I didn’t like the feel of the leg press machine and I had tight hamstrings. I figured the elliptical training was enough.

And I was still making it all fit in 30 minutes a day.

Still, by starting to add some muscle I was beginning body recomposition. The number on the scale wasn’t going down as quickly, but I was becoming fitter. And adding muscle meant my basal metabolic rate would increase.

See the whole series about my health journey. Follow along on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

4-Hour Body: The Slow Carb Diet

Because of my interest in productivity sparked by David Allen and GTD, I also had encountered The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. And while I really liked my job and wasn’t looking to Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich, I found lots of his life hacks helpful.

What I really appreciated about his approach is his relentless desire to get the absolute best results from the minimum effort.

So given my newfound interest in a total body makeover (and Lisa’s frustration with the Trim Healthy Mama Plan), I checked out The 4-Hour Body.

This book is the result of Ferriss’ constant self-experimentation and measurement of results, to the point of eating two different ways on consecutive weekends, and weighing the resulting excrement. Or buying an ultrasound device that enabled him to make precise body fat measurements.

I figured I could learn from his experiments and recommendations.

So Lisa and I tried what Ferris calls The Slow-Carb Diet – Better Fat-Loss Through Simplicity. It’s all summed up in five simple rules.

  • Rule #1: Avoid “White” Carbohydrates – bread, rice, cereal, potatoes, pasta, etc. Cauliflower is the only exception.
  • Rule #2: Eat the same few meals over and over again. Mix and match from three groups that include proteins (eggs or meat), legumes (beans), and vegetables (spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans.)
  • Rule #3: Don’t Drink Calories. No milk, soft drinks or fruit juice. Limit cream in coffee to two tablespoons.
  • Rule #4: Don’t Eat Fruit. Heads of dietitians everywhere are exploding at that one. As Tim says, though, my northern European ancestors didn’t get fruit in the winter, and yet here I am today.
  • Rule #5: Take One Day Off Per Week. On “cheat day” you can (and should) forget Rules 1-4, and eat whatever you want. Maybe even eat until you’re feeling a little sick.

We found the idea of a cheat day extremely helpful. Tim says it’s good for jolting your system, and preventing your body getting into caloric deprivation mode, which slows your metabolism.

But just from a psychological perspective it’s also great. As he says, when you go “on a diet” you will eventually binge. Why not schedule it in advance? Then you aren’t demoralized by failure.

Also, it makes it easier to comply during the week when you know you have cheat day coming. If you say, “I can never have ice cream again!” it seems onerous. Saying, “I can’t have ice cream now, but I can on Sunday!” is doable.

Tim also recommended getting at least 30g of protein within 30 minutes of waking in the morning. Lisa doesn’t like eggs, so she typically got hers from a protein shake.

For me, at least six days a week, I would scramble these together in a skillet for breakfast :

  • 3-4 eggs
  • 3 strips of chopped bacon or some diced ham
  • A handful of spinach
  • 1/2 cup of black beans

After this was cooked and on my plate, I typically topped it with salsa.

Lisa had a harder time with this diet because, unlike the Trim Healthy Mama Plan, there wasn’t a cookbook to help with dinner planning.

But while she only lost a pound per month with the other diet, she lost 10 pounds in three months on the Slow Carb Diet.

I continued to lose weight, about 10 pounds, during this time. But it was probably 15 pounds of fat loss, offset by muscle gain.

In my next post I’ll share what I learned about building muscle through this book , and how that got me started for the first time on a weight-training regimen.

See the whole series about my health journey. Follow along on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.