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Book Review: The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss


This post is a review of The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss.  It was originally written in 2010 and published in 2011.  I have previously read and reviewed his first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, which was excellent.  I read The 4-Hour Body because I enjoyed The 4-Hour Workweek so much.  Tim Ferriss is an entrepreneur, angel investor and author.

The 4-Hour Body – Short Review

The strapline to the 4-Hour Body is “An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman”.  In short, it’s a self-help book which teaches you how to lose fat, gain muscle, increase strength and achieve a better overall sense of well being.

Pro’s – The book is very well written, researched and detailed .  The author has clearly put a huge amount of effort into writing this and it shows.  I learned a lot reading it, particularly about diet and I implemented a number of actions with impressive results.  I lost fat (over 16 lbs of it!) and increased my muscle mass (by reducing my body fat by 2%).  Consequently, I genuinely feel like I have an improved sense of well being, so in that sense the book is excellent; it does exactly what it says on the tin!

Con’s – The book is technical.  I frequently found myself Googling things while I was reading it, which slowed down the reading process considerably.  While there is some great advice in the book, I had to read a lot of irrelevant information to find it.  I was interested in what I should be eating, what I should be measuring and any small changes to my lifestyle I could make which will have the maximum impact.  I wasn’t interested in running ultra marathons, bodybuilding or increasing the amount of weight I can bench press.  In this sense, I cannot imagine anyone finding the entire book relevant to them.  The author also comes across as a little arrogant at times.

The 4-Hour Workweek – Long Review

Tim’s previous book – The 4-Hour Workweek – was so successful there was a lot of expectation on him for the follow-up.  All things considered, I think he has done a good job, however, reviews are mixed.  The 4-Hour Workweek immediately made him a victim of his own success.  Cue enormous following.  Cue haters.  I feel for the author in a way; stepping up to bat for a second time is always going to be hard when you’ve smash it out of the ballpark on your first attempt.

A good tip for anyone reading this book (or indeed, any book) is to highlight the parts which are of most interest.  I now do this with every book I read.  I find it extremely effective – you can essentially re-read an entire book in about 15 minutes if you highlight the sections which are of most relevance.  This book lends itself to being highlighted particularly well.

Tim starts out by explaining the importance of using measurements to achieve a goal along with what you should be measuring.  He debunks the whole strategy of counting calories and suggests that you are better recording your body fat percentage.  He then looks into what must be every conceivable method of recording body fat known to man and lists them in order of reliability.  While it may not be the most reliable method, I decided to buy some weighing scales to record mine.  It’s been interesting monitoring my progress.

For me, the ‘jackpot’ in this book was the proposed diet, the Slow Carb Diet.  Ferriss goes into this in great detail but it essentially revolved around removing white carbohydrates like bread, rice and potatoes plus milk and sugars and replacing these protein (low fat chicken, beef, eggs etc), vegetables, beans and pulses.  He suggests avoiding fruit.

The quality of writing in the book high and while it’s predominantly factual, it is also very funny at times.  There is a section in the book (p. 272) when he recites a story about donating sperm.  He finds himself in “the den of clinical sins” watching a DVD.  When it came on the TV it turns out the disc was in the wrong box and the heterosexual pornography he was hoping for had been replaced by “two hairy boys doing something resembling wrestling. But not wrestling.”

After reading the book I took it upon myself to test out some of the suggestions (I am referring to the diet here, not the wrestling!).  I didn’t want to be too stringent on myself so I didn’t stick to it 100% but I did apply it to most meals.  Food-wise, I would have a protein shake when I woke up, then breakfast when I got into the office.  This normally consisted of eggs with vegetables like tomatoes.  For lunch I normally have something like this:

4 Hour Body Recipe - Spinach, King Prawns, Avocado, Salsa, Blueberries and a Nakd Bar

(Blueberries and the Nakd bar aren’t on the Slow Carb Diet plan but I’m adopting a “there or there abouts” approach.  It’s still a hell of a lot healthier than a microwave meal, or a tin of soup with a few pieces of bread and butter, which is the sort of thing I would have eaten previously.)

As a result of changing my eating habits it has made me a lot more conscious of what I am eating.  For example, when I go to a restaurant now, I normally order steak but ask for extra salad in place of chips.  I have done this quite a number of times now and have never been refused.

It’s not just diet, either.  Reading The 4-Hour Body made me think about the type and volume of exercise I was doing.  I do a reasonable amount of exercise through snowboarding, wakeboarding and walking.  A couple of the changes which I have made as a result of reading the book are:

  1. Within a section of the book called Pre Hab (p. 326) Ferriss explains that “the most likely cause of injury is neither weakness nor tightness, but imbalance”.  As a result of this, I am making more of an effort to snowboard and wakeboard in ‘switch’ position (that is, changing your stance so the rear foot becomes your front foot).
  2. According to Occam’s Protocol (p. 197) Ferriss suggests “the objective is to fail, to reach the point where you can no longer move the weight” (there is more to it than this but that gives you the basic premise).  I have been applying this when I’m wakeboarding behind a boat – have a set, go until I fail, rest, repeat.

The results have been impressive.  As I mentioned earlier, I lost 16 lbs and reduced my body fat by 2%.  I look and feel healthier.  I’m definitely a lot more toned and I feel like I’ve lost weight in my face.  I know for a fact that I’m in better shape than I used to be.

So far so good, however, there were a few weaknesses in the book.  For me, the biggest downside was that Ferriss (who had become something of a hero of mine given how much I enjoyed The 4-Hour Workweek) came across as a little arrogant at times.  Most chapters start with a tale about him spending time with a famous sportsperson.  At one point he jokes about having Angelina Jolie as a girlfriend.  This was a little disappointing for me – I respect Tim tremendously – but he does come across like he has a particularly high opinion of himself.

Other weaknesses of the book included that I often found myself googling things whenever the author mentioned people, places, case studies and so on.  This was good and bad – on the one hand it served as proof; everything was there which gave kudos to what Ferriss said – on the other hand it slowed down the reading process.  I was also highlighting the book as I read it, which slowed it down even further.  It may well have been the most time-consuming book I have ever read.  I also have to dispute the “4-Hour” line.  While 4 hours of actually lifting weights may be true, this must be accompanied by giving consideration to everything you’re eating, drinking, buying, cooking, vitamins, minerals, supplements and so on.  So it’s not that simple.  Another minor criticism was the section on medical tourism.  I felt this was irrelevant to UK because we have the NHS (unless, of course, you’re paying to go private).

All in all I would give the book 3 stars.  It was a mixed bag – brilliant in parts – irrelevant in others.  I would describe it more as a personal diary of self-experimentation than “a guide to becoming superhuman”.  I don’t regret reading it and it didn’t put me off reading more by Ferriss.  It’s just not in the same league as his previous book.  Then again, was it ever going to be?