Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
14 Dec

Setting Yourself Up to Win: A Body By Science Approach

It is with great pleasure that I bring you today’s guest post. As you may know, I’m big on identifying and implementing Primal lifestyle hacks that deliver max results with the least amount of pain, suffering, sacrifice and time as possible. So when someone comes along saying they have a research based approach to fitness that will get you amazing results in just 12 minutes a week I listen up. If you are not yet familiar with authors Doug McGuff and John Little‘s Body By Science read on to get a great overview, and check out the BBS website.

Before we get into it let me point out that I agree with Doug’s position that before you start throwing stones or dragging heavy rocks you should achieve a certain base of level of fitness. That’s why I developed the Primal Blueprint Fitness protocol that scales for all fitness levels, emphasizes injury prevention and prepares people for more natural, functional movement patterns. But, as they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Doug’s methodology is one such way – a way that I encourage you to test in your experiment of one.

Enter Doug McGuff…

When one is first beginning to make the change to a Primal lifestyle, the dietary approach can seem a little intimidating, but the exercise portion can seem hopeless to those who are significantly out-of-shape. Much of the exercise in the Primal approach is a functional activity-based approach. In essence, you are trying to recreate the types of movements and activities that our ancestors might have carried out. In the process of doing so, an exercise effect is achieved as a byproduct of the activity. This is how it occurred in our distant past, and it is what our bodies are evolved to do.

The problem when starting out is that the Primal approach to diet can be challenging because we have suffered metabolic damage that makes it challenging to revert to our genetic default state. There are addictions to overcome, and new metabolic trails to be blazed. This is the beauty of Markʼs 30 day challenges…they help you to navigate through the transition period.

While the dietary changes can be challenging, the challenge of exercise can be almost insurmountable for those just starting out. The one significant problem with a functional approach to exercise, is that it assumes a given level of fitness…a level that may not exist. Further, the activity is simply a re-enactment of what a human should be capable of with an exercise effect occurring as a by-product or side-effect. Also, functional movements (running, crawling, jumping, dragging heavy objects) all involve encountering significant forces. Without an appropriate level of conditioning, these forces can produce injury, and sometimes the injury can be bad enough to permanently sideline any effort at achieving fitness.

Do not get me wrong, these functional activities are an important part of a Primal lifestyle, but they should (in my opinion) be the joyful expression of a body fully capable, not an artificial mimicking of the past as a means of producing an exercise effect. So before trying to throw stones or drag heavy rocks, let us discuss how the beginner can start to establish a degree of fitness that will actually make these activities what they are supposed to be: a joyful expression of a strong body.

Setting Yourself Up to Win Step 1: Decide How Much Time Per Week You Can Honestly Spend on Fitness

Be realistic. Most people shoot themselves down with too much enthusiasm. Donʼt think in the realm of 6 our 8 hours, because you know this will not work out in the long-term. Remember, we are looking for a lifestyle change. If I could convince you that you could make major changes in your fitness with just 2 total hours per week I suspect this would make you feel like this is doable. Once you have some hope, you are on your way. So 2 hours it is….120 minutes out of a whole week. Perfect!

Setting Yourself Up to Win Step 2: Take Your Answer from Step 1 and Divide by 10

Yup. You heard right. Divide 120 minutes by 10 for a grand total of 12 minutes. That is all Iʼm going to give you to get into condition to become a functional human animal. Do not let yourself become skeptical. Do not say to yourself “there is no way 12 minutes is enough”. Simply embrace the fact that there is NO WAY that you will be unable to carve 12 minutes out of your week.

Setting Yourself Up to Win Step 3: Be Willing to Be Shown a Way of Exercising That Is So Hard That 12 Minutes Is All You Can Stand

This is where the catch is. If you do this properly, 12 minutes will be all you can stand. The thought of extending this to 13 minutes will not cross your mind. In fact, within the first 90 seconds you will start to think “how much longer till this is over?”.

Setting Yourself Up to Win Step 4: Do No Other Formal Exercise for the Rest of the Week

Thatʼs right…no other planned exercise. But what if you get antsy and want to work out 2 times per week? Fine, but if you do, it needs to be two 6-minute sessions AND they need to be so hard that 6 minutes is all you can stand. In the initial weeks it is perfectly acceptable if you do nothing else. In fact this is encouraged…up to a point. After 4-12 weeks (depending on your starting level of conditioning) you will get the uncontrollable urge to do something active. When (and only when) this happens, you should cautiously go out and do something. It can be as physically demanding as you like, but it must NOT be formal exercise. This activity should be experienced as PLAY…even if others define it as functional exercise. As you become better conditioned, the active genotype that is deep within your DNA will wake up and it will drive you to be more and more active. Once you are at this level, continue to do  your once a week workout with ever-increasing intensity, progressively improving your strength and metabolic condition. As you become ever more conditioned, then you will be well-protected as you learn the skills of a fully functional human.

How To: Getting Started

Your 12 minutes of exercise should be composed of 4 or 5 movements. These movements should be basic compound movements that require very little skill to perform. You should aim for low skill movements because all of your attention needs to be focused on effort and rapid fatigue not performing a complex movement that requires a lot of concentration. If you have access to a commercial gym, performing these movements on quality machines will allow you even more focus on effort as opposed to the movement. The best equipment available in commercial gyms would be from Med-X or Nautilus. Plate-loaded equipment such as Hammer Strength or Pendulum is also a good choice. Cybex and other common pieces can work as well, but are generally not as good as the ones listed above. The movements to perform are as follows:

  1. Pulldown: A palms up, slightly narrower than shoulder width grip is best. This can also be done as a chin up (weight assisted chin-ups are available at many gyms).
  2. Chest Press: Set up so starting point is hands just below nipple level and not too deep (hands even with the front plane of chest-shoulder and elbows at about 90 degrees).
  3. Compound Row: A pulling motion in the horizontal plane.
  4. Overhead Press: Use a palms facing each other grip as opposed to palms facing forward which externally rotates your upper arm and impinges the shoulder joint.
  5. Leg Press: Starting point should be leg and hip joint at about 90 degrees. An extremely deep starting position is not necessary.

Each of these exercises should be done until you cannot produce any further movement of the weight. You should perform them in a way that keeps the muscle under constant stress. Here are some tips: Start the movement very slowly. Take at least 3 seconds to crack the weight stack and 3 seconds to move the first inch. After moving the first inch, just try to keep the movement going along smoothly. Done properly the cadence from that point should take you 5-10 seconds to complete the lifting phase of the repetition. On a pulling movement, hold the contracted position for 2-3 seconds if it feels harder to do so, if it feels easier to hold, simply begin the lowering portion smoothly. On a pushing movement end the positive about 10-15 degrees before your limbs fully straighten. If you fully straighten your limbs the weight will be resting on a bone-on-bone tower and the muscles will unload and get a respite. When you reach the point of 15 degrees before your joints lock, smoothly reverse direction and lower the weight at about the same speed you lifted it or slightly faster. As you approach the end of the lowering phase…slow down. If the weight stack touches at the bottom of your movement, you should allow the weights to barely touch without completely setting them down. Once you barely touch, you should barely start the next repetition, allowing 3 seconds to cover the first inch, then just try keeping the movement going. By about the third repetition you will be pushing as hard and as fast as you can, but you will only be able to go fast enough to move the weight through the positive in about 7-12 seconds. Once you fail or get stuck, do not heave or jerk in order to get another repetition, simply keep trying to produce movement (even though no movement occurs) for another 5 seconds or so. A properly selected resistance will allow between 4 and 8 repetitions. Once you have gone through this procedure on the first exercise, move briskly to the next exercise. You should not rest any more than 30 seconds between the end of one movement and the start of the next. Ideally, once you become more metabolically conditioned, you will have about 5-10 seconds between movements. If you would like to see this workout on video, it can be seen at Look for the videos of the Big 5 workout. You can also check out the directory section which lists the personal training centers around the world that use the BBS approach. The most ideal way to experience this approach would be under professional instruction. Most facilities do not require a membership. Even a single workout would provide a great benchmark for you to shoot for when on your own.

If you cannot go to a commercial gym, you can get started with simple free-hand exercises that I will describe to you now.

  1. Chin up: This can be done with a chin-up bar that mounts in a door jam, on a sturdy tree branch or rafter board or playground equipment. If you are not strong enough to do chins, you can set the bar height so you can assist with your legs. If this will not work, simply do them negative only by jumping or climbing to the finished position and lowering yourself as slowly as possible.
  2. Pushups: If you are too weak to perform strict marine pushups, do them from your knees. If you are too weak to do them from your knees, then do only the lowering portion, lowering as slowly as possible. If you are strong enough to do classic pushups, do them with a few modifications. First is slow movement. Start the first inch very gradually, taking 3 seconds to move the first inch and then keep smooth movement going. Divide the movement in halves. Do the first half (bottom position to elbows bent at 90 degrees) until complete fatigue. After you have exhausted the bottom half, do the top half until complete fatigue (elbows from 90 degrees to almost complete extension).
  3. Squat: Start first by doing a static wall squat. Place your back against a wall and descend to a seated position where your hip joint and knee joint are both at 90 degrees. Hold this position for as long as possible. You are done when you start to slide down and cannot hold the 90 degree position any longer. Once you are worn out on the static, do a deep knee bend but with the movement divided in half. Do the first half until fatigue (from hips and knees at 90 degrees/thighs parallel to floor, up to the halfway up point where knees are about 45 degrees). Once you canʼt do the bottom half any more, then do the top half of the movement until you canʼt go on. Remember to not straighten your legs completely, but to turn back around when your knees get to about 15 degrees.
  4. Static Lateral Raise: This movement is done using a door frame. Stand with your feet just outside the door frame and bend slightly forward at the waist. Place the backs of your open hands in the opening of the door frame with your elbows slightly bent. You should be positioned like you are going to a lateral raise with dumbbells. With your hands in the door frame, begin to slowly and smoothly press laterally against the frame. Gradually build up to a 50% effort and keep up a 50% effort for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, gradually ramp your effort up to 75% effort and continue for another 30 seconds. After this 30 seconds is up, gradually ramp your effort to 100% and continue for a final 30 seconds. When you first start you will think “this is silly”. However, by the end you will realize that this is probably tougher than anything you could do on a weight machine.

Setting Yourself Up to Win Step 5: Rest, Recuperate and Repeat

Finally, realize that the exercise you have done does not directly produce any physical changes. Rather, it simply stimulates your body to produce an adaptation. For your body to produce the physical change you desire requires rest and time. Simply follow the Primal Blueprint in your diet and lifestyle and wait at least 5-7 days before you perform this workout again. Do not incorporate any other deliberate forms of exercise. Be as active as you like, but keep the intensity low. After 6-8 weeks you will start to develop the urge to become more physically active in ways that are more vigorous and challenging. This will tend to occur lock-step with your increasing strength. At about this time you will notice that you are now performing unexpected feats of strength. A common example is lifting a heavy bag of dog food or cat litter into a shopping cart with one hand and suddenly realizing “hey…did I just do that?”. Once these sort of things begin to happen your active genotype that is locked inside your skeletal muscle will “wake up” and you will have the natural tendency to become very active. It is at this point that you can start to incorporate functional exercise and experience the joy of a body fully capable.

Setting Yourself Up to Win Step 6: Don’t Forget What Got You Here

Functional exercise by its very nature is of higher risk. The forces are higher and less controlled. The exercise that occurs is a byproduct of the activity rather than its direct goal. Despite these realities, it is very tempting to forget what got you here and simply transition to this form of exercise permanently. In my opinion this is the wrong thing to do. At this point you are actually strong and capable enough to bring about forces high enough to exceed your enhanced capabilities and get injured. No matter how good you think you are, it is always best to survive to play another day. The best way to do this is to continue a program that is focused on delivering high intensity and low force as a way of continually improving your condition. By continuing a BBS style condition program once every 7-10 days, you can be assured of maximal strength and conditioning so that you can play and partake in functional movement with the highest level of performance and least risk of injury.

Grab a Copy of Body By Science and Start Your Own BBS Self-Experiment Today!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Mark,

    BBS sounds like a great program. I’ve done some other programs which are similar in that they are based around functional moves and are so intense that you cannot sustain the workout for more than 10-12 minutes. These types of workouts are time-efficient and great for boosting your metabolism.


    Alykhan wrote on December 14th, 2011
  2. The static wall squat and static lateral raise described in the article are clearly isometric exercises.

    Applying the intensity protocol described for the static lateral raise, why not do the other movements – pull ups and pushups – isometrically?

    You could also increase the intensity of the static wall squat by doing them with one leg.

    palo wrote on December 14th, 2011
    • That’s a good point. Look how much isometric and slow work gymnasts do-and they are JACKED!

      I’m a bit skeptical, but this is a very good point…

      Rick wrote on December 14th, 2011
      • Something tells me the gymnasts with the huge shoulders and six packs will do more than 12 minutes a week.

        Mark wrote on December 15th, 2011
        • Not to mention that gymnists that you see on TV are genetically tuned differently than the average joe; so being “jacked” is essentially in their DNA. (with effort applied of course)

          Brad wrote on December 15th, 2011
        • That’s very true, but you can’t deny the possibility of effectiveness though I don’t think. Elite powerlifters spend a lot more time than I do strength training. That does not mean that my strength training workouts are not effective.

          Rick wrote on December 15th, 2011
  3. I’d love to try this but would feel more comfortable with a trainer. Unfortunately, the closest one in the directory is 45 minutes away and that seems kind of far for a 20 minute workout…but it is only once or twice a week…

    Nicole wrote on December 14th, 2011
  4. Must say I am very disappointed with Dr. Mcguff. After posting a couple of times on his “Body by Science” site asking about this type of training and muscle growth I finally thought he was leaving my comment up–today I checked and I can’t find it (obviously deleted). He should have atleast enough courtesy to post the comment whether he himself responded to it or not. Its a fair question. When things like this happen you have to question why? What are they afraid of? Maybe this doesn’t produce much muscle after all compared to the “pumper” routines out there. I’m just trying to research this stuff…I hope Dr. Mcguff will reconsider and post my comment.

    mcgragor wrote on December 14th, 2011
    • He may not be snubbing you. I attempted to post my BBS WOW on his site once and it never got posted either.

      Sonia wrote on December 14th, 2011
      • A lot of people can’t seem to post there. The regulars send their comments to Ed Garbe and he posts it for them.

        garymar wrote on December 14th, 2011
    • I’ve had comments not go up there several times — not censorship, just a flawed site/anti-spam design.

      Christoph Dollis wrote on January 1st, 2012
  5. Hey NSWN I am a SS & Medx Certified instructor as well as the 1992 South Florida Overall BB Champion(Mind you not that was with chemical enhancement;but I was not the only one taking them).Yes this program will produce visible & physiological changes better than any other.I will get more tone,more fit,& along with a Paleo diet extremely ripped.I am now 48 am five foot three inches tall,I weight 135(been drug free since 1994) & am think dense & have striations thru out my muscular body.Do the Body by Science workout it is the best in the world.The contradictory information on this blog comes from uninformed or worst yet misinformed individuals & in some cases worst than that,they don’t have a clue!

    Bert Vila wrote on December 14th, 2011
    • Thanks!

      NSWM wrote on December 14th, 2011
  6. This reminds me of one of the workout protocols in Tim Ferriss’ book. “From Geek to Freak”, he calls it. :) His way consists of doing just two exercises in each workout in a 5/5 cadence.

    Neha wrote on December 14th, 2011
    • Tim recommended 4-7 compound exercises per workout, twice per week.

      Christoph Dollis wrote on January 1st, 2012
  7. I read this a while ago, and I found it excellent in its explanations and the way it backed up its methodology. 😀 Definitely worth a full read, everyone.

    Audrey H wrote on December 14th, 2011
  8. I’m confused. In the beginning of this article it makes it sound like BBS is a stepping stone to more formal, intense programs of functional fitness. But at the end of the article, it makes it sound like you shouldn’t go back to “functional fitness.” I thought the primal blueprint was functional. Anyone else confused or is it just me?? Do we just stick to BBS or PBF or do we go on to more advanced programs??? Crossfit anyone?

    Jered wrote on December 14th, 2011
    • McGuff is presenting this as an alternative to formal programs such as Crossfit or even the PB fitness protocol.

      What he’s saying is use this as your formal program, and then do physical play when you feel like it, which may include many primal-type activities and even sports.

      Clearly, if one is a sportsman or solider or similar, one must still keep up with their skill training, which may include a heavy physical component — in which case, McGuff advises you to reduce your formal “exercise” (strength training) component still further, which he outlines in his book.

      So you COULD use the primal diet plus BBS to gain a baseline of fitness, then do crossfit (and it would be better than starting crossfit completely untrained), but for various reasons, including both time and safety, McGuff recommends BBS-style training, and other physical activities for play, sport, or work, as required and desired.

      Christoph Dollis wrote on January 1st, 2012
  9. @All,

    Thanks to Mark for allowing me to guest post here. Thanks for all of you comments. Kudos to MDA readers for being open to novel ideas. For those that are doubters, I can only say that I would not want you to take anything just on my say-so. If you are so inclined, give it a try and see for yourself.

    We have been training clients in this fashion since 1997. We have made many tweaks to the process along the way, but nothing has made as big a difference as incorporating the Primal Blueprint with our clients. I am truly a “workout guy”, but I’m here to tell ya’….you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet. However, proper exercise can really act synergistically with a Primal diet.


    I could not find you question on my blog. Perhaps you should post it here. As a pre-emptive note: your muscular response to BBS or any other adequate resistance training protocol is almost entirely determined by genetic elements. We discuss this at length in BBS. Contrary to what many say, the genetic issue is not a cop-out, it is simply a fact….not good marketing, but definitely a fact.

    Doug McGuff, MD wrote on December 14th, 2011
    • Dr. Mcguff,

      I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt as to why my post didn’t make it on your website-I appreciate that you responded here and have given me an opportunity.

      You said-
      “your muscular response to BBS or any other adequate resistance training protocol is almost entirely determined by genetic elements”

      I couldn’t agree more-I’ve studied McRobert, Hutchins, Darden, Hahn, Jones, etc…

      BUT, this muscular response is “linked” to the ability to gain weight and put weight on the bar. The argument is always train hard, eat well, and allow adequate rest. Every workout if you can ad a rep here or a few lbs there, you know you are doing well and thus if the argument is correct you are gaining muscle.

      My point is, that I and (many others) have done this and for the most part were very, very successful. I had a good 2 year run back in the 90’s where I was either adding weight to the bar or adding reps virtually every workout. I did a version of superslow part of the time and it translated over to being stronger in my regular rep speed cadence. I generally did 5 reps and only 1 set to failure over and over and I got stronger and stronger.

      Thing is, I got bigger but it was mainly fatter. After dieting down I hardly even looked like I lifted weights and yet I could move mountains.

      Okay, and here is the paradox-fast forward to me now in my early 40’s with health issues. No way could I move that kind of weight today. My recovery ability is horrible and I have myalgia tendon issues. I would be in great pain if I tried to go heavy-even going slower 10/10 cadence (which I tried) caused issues.

      So I did an experiment…

      I started training last July and I ate enough to gain weight. My Bw was around 165 or so (I wasn’t fat, but din’t look good at all). I used “wussy” grandma weights-Example, started with just the bar (35lb squats) I worked out once every 4th or 5th day and mainly did squats, pulldowns, and chest flies. Reps were fast cadence (1-2 seconds) and I did very high reps (15-35) for one or two work sets stopping WELL short of failure. Lets just say to see me train was a joke-no way could you get any muscle doing this. But it was better than nothing and I love to lift weights-so I persevered.

      I dieted down from 185lb starting last Christmas. I now weigh around 158 lbs, but body composition has changed. Man breast are now pecs, I can see my abs and there is a 6 pack. I can see that vein running up the bicep that I only wished I had back in the day. I finally for the first time really saw some muscle gain and I did very little to get it.

      So outside of being abreviated, how on earth could I have gained more muscle in my 40’s using light weights for high not to failure reps as compared to doing very heavy weights to total failure (almost getting sick many workouts) and getting strong as heck, but have hardly anything to show for it?

      I guess in some ways my gains contradict not only your protocal but any mass building protocal and the p90x kill yourself for 1 hour a day folks.

      Anyway, sorry for long response, but I wanted to give enough detail to adequately exlain my position.

      mcgragor wrote on December 15th, 2011
      • I would look forward to Dr. McGuff’s contemplation and thought on this comment.

        Christoph Dollis wrote on January 1st, 2012
      • hey mcgragor,

        i’ve struggled for muscle mass since I started working out 2-3 years. any chance I could contact you via email or something and get a little more information from you on what you did.

        from what you wrote, it just seems like you bulked up with food, worked out a little, and then cut down…which worked wonders.

        steve wrote on July 21st, 2012
  10. I’ve been doing BBS for about eight weeks now. I’m 46 and I’ve done all kinds of exercise programs over the years. I had been sedentary for at least 10 months when I started. I have to say that I can really feel my muscles getting harder and despite a generous layer of fat on my legs, I can see the muscle development when I flex. I am using a trainer because I don’t think I could achieve the kind of failure described in the book on my own. There is an intense mental discipline involved in this that is unlike anything I’ve dealt with before.

    As far as weight loss goes, what and how much a person eats is going to trump exercise.

    Sonia wrote on December 14th, 2011
  11. I do five minutes a week. Today’s workout was 5:06. Kettlebell snatches, eight each side. rest. Two-handed kettlebell swings, sixteen. rest. Do that three times, so it’s six ‘events’ of about forty seconds each in my case, with a rest of ten seconds in between.

    Slow, isolated exercises, and to failure? No, haven’t done that for years. Full-body power is what my body craves, but anything you do is better than doing nothing.

    Moshen wrote on December 14th, 2011
  12. I did weight training at the gym, with a trainer, 3x per week for an hour, for seven years before I gave it up last summer. After the first three years, I went from having the physique of an 11 year old to having the physique of a 15 year old in decent shape. But, it was nothing but plateau after that, and I’ve spent the last six months doing little to no exercise because I have zero motivation.

    I now have a high-end home gym and some dumbells, and I’m not using them. But, I can do all 5 of those exercises with that gym, and 12 minutes a week is surely better than no minutes a week. So, I’ll give it a try.

    Alexander wrote on December 14th, 2011
  13. I am fortunate enough to live in Doug’s hometown, and we met by chance. My wife and I (mid to late 40s) decided it was time to get in shape after learning of Doug’s gym here in town. We tried the workout and it literally kicks your butt (in 12 minutes!). After 4 workouts I felt better than I had in 15 years, but no weight loss (5’7″ 175 lbs.). I asked Doug, “why am I not losing weight?” to which he replied “you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.” Well, after Doug’s BBS and Mark’s PB, I’m here to tell you I’m down 25 lbs. after 7 months (I’d like to lose another 10 and am steadily losing a pound every 2 weeks or so) and feel better than I did 25 years ago. Went from a 42 jacket to a 38 (my college size) and a 34 inch waist to a 31.5. Haven’t had grain for the last 6 months, nor do I crave them, and my sweet tooth is almost gone (same some dark chocolate every once in a while!). People can’t believe I’ve been able to do this with age 50 knocking at the door. Is this an answer to serious body-builders? Probably not. Is it a way to build strength and muscle for the “average” person. It is for me.

    Read the book, look at the research (most VERY recent-since 2007), and give it a try with a trainer. You need someone there to help you over the psychological barrier when you start to fail. And although it takes 20 or 30 seconds for me to get off the leg press, you can walk and drive within a few minutes!

    Grok on everybody…and peace! We’ve all made the decision to buck conventional wisdom, and this may be a big part of the bucking!

    Mark wrote on December 14th, 2011
    • where do you find trainers willing to do this with you? seems the one’s in a gym have their own agenda or styles. will they agree with this type of workout? the gym in my town seems to have a mix of styles, but nothing I have seen resembles anyone doing these types of workouts, looks like mostly power lifting and circuit stuff.

      tcseacliff wrote on December 15th, 2011
  14. My husband and I have also been on a similar program with a trainer and weight machines for the last 7 months, and that is also how we were introduced to Primal Blueprint. Since changing our diet and exercising 12-20 minutes once per week we have each lost 25 lbs. and increased our strength immensely. Before that we were doing nothing. The time commitment issue was big for us with two young children, and my husband running his own business. He certainly doesn’t have time for an hour a day at the gym, nor do either of us have the desire to waste so much time when it is unnecessary to achieve outstanding results.

    Maggie wrote on December 14th, 2011
  15. I’m disappointed in this post. While I wouldn’t expect everyone on this site to follow CrossFit or MovNat or Dan John or Mark Rippetoe or Primal Blue Print Fitness, I actually have valued the Mark’s Daily Apple view on fitness up until this errant departure.

    Seriously, a website dedicated to Primal nutrition and lifestyle is advocating machines in a commercial gym?? Sorry, this won’t pass as a great post.

    I’ll still read the RSS feed every day but if this becomes the norm I’ll need to reevaluate.

    Mark S.,

    Please tell us this guy is a friend and he needed some exposure and you’re just doing him a favor. Let’s stick with the core of the Primal / Paleo universe.

    Full disclosure: I owned a CrossFit gym for 4 years and have a 30+ year history of fitness (swimming, water polo, military, CrossFit)



    Tank wrote on December 14th, 2011
    • I know from army basic and infantry training that military PT and exercises get you fit — and cause injuries. I’ve heard similar from crossfit.

      That isn’t to say they don’t have value — it’s to say they’re risky. If one doesn’t have a hardy enough constitution, or if one simply has an unlucky accident, they can cause permanent or temporary disability.

      McGuff’s approach is to do the safest possible hard work in the minimum amount of time, then get on with life. Will this work to be a SEAL or Delta Force operator? I dare say it wouldn’t. But is it helpful for the average person with time pressures who wants to eat healthy to lose fat, exercise to get in shape with much reduced chance of overuse or outright trauma injuries, and have time left over to devote to more pleasurable (for them — you may disagree) life pursuits?


      And nothing Dr. McGuff is saying precludes swimming and other activities for fun and increased stamina once one has safely built a baseline of muscular and cardiovascular fitness.

      Christoph Dollis wrote on January 1st, 2012
  16. Hi there

    I am new to all this so I have a heap of questions. I have been reading alot about peak 8 type exercises that use fast twitch muscle fibres and is the only type of exercise (interval type I mean) to make Human growth hormone. Do you believe in this type of exercise not just strength work and if so how do you work this into your strength trainiing

    lara wrote on December 14th, 2011
  17. I’ve been following Doug’s BBS for about a year and a half now and the results are just amazing. I’m way stronger than I’ve ever been in my life- I started unable to do a pullup and now I use 55 pounds to weigh myself down for reps. That it’s been accomplished in roughly 15 minutes a week is icing on the cake. Every time I had tried to lift before this I would go for about a month and then just stop for whatever reason. Now I can’t wait to get back.

    For people who are skeptical, I would say to just give it a serious try for at least a month- one halfhearted week won’t really tell you much ( you can even pretend that you’re taking a break by training this way for a month). My ah-ha moment came at an airport when I had to sprint up 3 flights of stairs with my suitcase. I hit the top and was barely breathing heavily- that never happened before even when I could run for hours on end.

    I think most of us are comfortable with the notion that conventionally dietary wisdom is wrong, well this is simply saying that much of conventional exercise wisdom is wrong as well.

    Karl wrote on December 14th, 2011
    • That was exactly my a-ha moment too!!!Running up the Rosslyn escalator here in DC and sprinting down the road (in full winter weather gear and heavy purse in tow) to catch a bus to get home to my kid. I sat on the bus and realized I wasn’t out of breath like I would have been a few months prior.

      At the end of the day – the most important benefit I get from this is the needed strength for daily activities (bringing in the groceries, moving furniture, carrying an overly-full basket of laundry up and down 2 flights of stairs, etc.). Pretty useful as a single mom.

      Holly J. wrote on December 15th, 2011
  18. I’m a fat (280#) old (57) lady who has been very sedentary for many years. (Doing four hours of water aerobics a week for 3-4 years did little to help.) When I found BBS, I cut down from an hour with 12 machines and not-very heavy weights, to doing Doug’s Big Five (plus the ab machine and ‘back’ machine cause I enjoy them).

    Wow. Amazing. Yeah, I staggered when I finished, and had to sit for a few minutes before dragging myself down the stairs, but I felt SO good, and kept feeling good — and astonished my husband after just a couple weeks by saying on a Sunday “I can’t WAIT for tomorrow! I wanna go lift weights!” (Monday was weightlifting day.) I dropped the water aerobics (my play time, really) to twice a week — but added some serious (short) sprints to it: thank you very much Mark Sisson!

    Then, this past July, Michael, died at only 60, (he had only just started to go primal {sigh}) from heat-stroke-related heart attack after mowing. In my shock and numbness, I stopped going to the Y, and started trying to take over his manufacturing business. I’ve damaged a nerve in my thumb (which is finally, slowly, getting better) and my carpal tunnel (same hand) comes and goes. (Interestingly, it seems related to wheat intake, and amazingly to whether or not I’ve taken my T3-only thyroid pill!) I SOOOOO want to go back and start BBS weight-lifting again, but I’m afraid of injuring myself.

    Can’t afford a trainer, can’t afford to get hurt (I threw my back out once, I’m assuming from a bad position), but really want to get back to it. Any good advice, anyone, on how to restart and avoid injury? Or maybe just some strengthening words to *get* (re-)started?

    Doug, if you’re reading — your book fundamentally changed my life, and I want that back, but I can’t risk not being able to work in the company (my only support). The manufacturing involves a lot of hand and wrist manipulation, so I need to baby my wrist (and, of course, it’s my writing and ‘mouse’ hand too).

    Sorry this is so long, but Doug’s essay really makes me want to feel like that again!

    Elenor wrote on December 14th, 2011
  19. There is a good friendly Body by Science group on facebook

    Got questions, join and ask there.

    Christoffer wrote on December 15th, 2011
  20. I hate gyms, and I also hate doing weight stuff to “failure” because it hurts so much!! I hate failing :) (I can run fast, though). Because of this, I’m an uber-weakling. I read through all these comments (phew) but no one posted the questions I had, which are all practical. Are there any pictures of the proper positioning for the four at-home exercises? I’m having a hard time visualizing the one with the doorway (lateral raise). How high are your arms supposed to be? And if you don’t have a chinup bar, is there some other way to do the chin up (or for me, the negative since I can’t do a chinup)? And with the squat, what does he mean by “turn back around when you get to 15 degrees?” What, for another squat? I thought you did it to failure! Are there reps here? Geez. And without a wall behind you, there’s no way you can do 90 degrees for both hips and knees, you’ll fall on your butt. It’s just mass and gravity. The hip/torso angle must be smaller than 90.
    I’d love some answers.. until then I’ll just keep doing my girlie knee pushups (I can do 50!!)

    Gydle wrote on December 15th, 2011
  21. Dr. Joseph Mercola interviews Doug McGuff, MD to help us understand this highly beneficial form of exercise “High Intensity Exercise”.

    John Tatore wrote on December 15th, 2011
  22. Any programme will work for someone starting from scratch so it’s not suprising to see people getting results, albeit they sound pretty modest.

    But what about the hamstrings and the lower back? They are neglected in the routing prescribed for gym users.

    The leg press is the only leg exercise recommended and this is totally quad dominant (and inferior to all varieties of squats) Where’s the concentric hamstring exercise (leg curls, dead lifts??)

    Variety and balance are key to healthy long term weight lifting, and this approach is lacking in both areas. I foresee injuries due to imbalances.

    If it sounds too good to be true it probably is! Spend an extra 20 minutes in the gym and vary your routine every 3 to 4 weeks, and exercise ALL muscles.

    Mark wrote on December 15th, 2011
  23. I’ll give this a try, it looks like it will make a good addition to my weekly climbing session. Yes climbing is exercise but I do it because it’s fun!

    I’m still rather overweight (5’8″ 200lb-ish) but after a month and a half of weekly climbing I can haul my spare tire up an f6+!
    I will not quit the climbing to do this though – the climbing is for fun.

    Ian wrote on December 15th, 2011
  24. Elanor,

    You’ve already done it once, so you know exactly what to do to get back where you were. The good news: it will come back quickly.

    WRT to your carpal tunnel and thumb injury, without knowing any particulars, this is most likely due to some sort of repetitive injury. The most common culprit is the computer mouse. It is very unlikely that working out would cause or aggravate this problem. Make certain your computer station is set up optimally (standing desk) and you have an ergonomic mouse. Alternate hands on the mouse so that your dominate or injured hand does not get too much exposure.

    Get back in there! You can quickly become a conditioned and strong fat lady….then in a few months you can be a conditioned, strong, not fat lady.


    Thanks for your post. Mark is a client who has had amazing results combining BBS and the Primal Blueprint. His wife also comes and has made an amazing transformation. Mark is the Band Director at Clemson University, so he is constantly in the public eye. This football season (as compared to last), people did not even recognize him…his transformation was that dramatic.

    His wife also comes. She started out already quite lean. As a consequence her results were immediately visible. However, it was her strength that really stood out. This Summer her son was on a knee board being pulled behind a boat when he got dragged under and tangled in the tow rope so that he could not surface. Jani jumped in the lake and was able to push him to the surface. She told me “before BBS I don’t think I would have had the strength to save him”. THAT my friends is “functional”.

    Doug McGuff, MD wrote on December 15th, 2011
    • Superhuman.

      Tim wrote on December 16th, 2011
    • Thank you, Doug, for the suggestions and (needed) pep talk; I AM going to the weight room Monday!

      Actually I injured the thumb-nerve (I think it was a crushing/pinching injury) working in the company (tapping screw holes in gauges {eye roll}. Has to be done by hand to control the speed or the plastic melts… I’ve since bought some better tools that help without hurting). And it IS barely better: the dead spot at the tip of my thumb is starting to get a little feeling back.

      Thank you — and anyone considering Doug’ BBS — do do DO! I can’t tell you how fantastic it made me feel, and how much (and how quickly!) it made me WANT to go lift weights…

      Elenor wrote on December 16th, 2011
  25. Funny how desperately the proponents bash the sceptics… I didn’t say it doesn’t work. My main gripe with the concept is that it is by no means new. Also, HIT (which it is) was originally intended as a bodybuilding protocol which IMO goes against primal ideas about functionality. If you do leg presses, you neglect stabilisers in your hips and core which you would engange if you squatted. Mark once recommended 5×5 as a strength training protocol and these two are complete opposites. Again, it does serve certain purposes, but it isn’t a)new b)extremely functional.

    And NO, I have no intention of reading the book… I don’t care enough to do so.

    Till wrote on December 15th, 2011
    • So what? don’t read the book then.

      So it’s not new, not to you! However to some on here reading this for the first time it is!!!

      BBS slots in with functional to me. lift heavy things, sprint once in a while and play, seems to be what Doug McGuff is suggesting. Being primal is eating right, exercising (or not it’s your choice), playing and enjoying life. Holy cow squat if you want instead of leg presses IT’S YOUR CHOICE.

      Your main gripe is it’s not new? Is that it? That’s all you’re concerned with? You must be bored.

      archimedes wrote on August 20th, 2014
  26. More and more I have found that body weight exercises like pullups and squats make up the core of my exercise routine. Makes keeping up while I’m on the road much easier.

    John wrote on December 15th, 2011
  27. i’m curious enought o give it a try, but i had a question or two.

    1. can i continue to go on walks/hikes?
    2. how much weight are you supposed to start with, or how do you figure out how much weight to start with?
    3. for a begininer should you get a trainer, or is this something you really can do on your own?

    thanks in advance!

    amarie84 wrote on December 15th, 2011
    • 1. Yes you can go on walks and hikes.
      2. This will be easier to figure out if you are already doing these exercises, if not it will be trial and error. If you don’t get 4-8 reps, you’re using to much weight. Body weight wise I did a lot less repetitions than I thought I would do.
      3. Depends on your fitness level and experience. If you’re experienced you probably don’t need one, although it would be wise to have a friend watch the stop watch. If you’re inexperienced, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a good trainer show you proper technique.

      Jordan wrote on December 28th, 2011
  28. Do you have a video or diagrams/pictures showing the door frame exercise?
    I can’t visualize how this works.

    Also, what can you substitute if you don’t have a chin-up bar?


    Kamila Harkavy wrote on December 15th, 2011
  29. Got some good videos of Doug and Drew talking about training 😀

    You find them here :

    Doug –
    Drew –

    Good demo video of HIT training with drew

    Thanks for the videos : The 21 Convention

    Christoffer wrote on December 15th, 2011
  30. I started SuperSlow with a trainer (to ensure I was doing it correctly) Feb 14 of this year in San Jose. I have gone from leg pressing 165 to 255 – lost 15 lbs (130 lbs to 115)- and went from a size 14 to a 4. Working out this way creates lean/long muscles, not the bulk of typical weight lifting. I tried “regular” exercise, but could not get smaller, even with Paleo eating, so I love SuperSlow. My boyfriend had been a traditional weight lifter. When he switched to SuperSlow, he began getting stronger and he prefers the new look of his muscles. Yes, it is difficult to walk and steer a car after the workout. I usually have to rest awhile and recover before managing to open my car door. I still walk/hike and my boyfriend uses Yoga to stretch.

    Dulcey wrote on December 15th, 2011
  31. Always thought that the “workout 3 days a week/rest in between” was the gospel truth but now I’m going to have to rethink it.

    John wrote on December 15th, 2011
  32. It is amazing to see how vehement people can be in their opposition to a concept without bothering to trying to understand it.

    1- Dr. Mcguff never claimed genesis of these concepts was completely orginal.

    2- He didn’t come up with the catchy idea of “the 12 minute workout” then back engineer a program to fit it. He came to it through years observation and research.

    3- The basic concepts are really not that radical. He simply suggests that you remove that which is superfluious from your workout, rest adequitely and eat real food.

    4- If you doubt one can become extremely strong using these concepts watch a Doug Holland video on Youtube.

    Shaun wrote on December 15th, 2011
  33. Great Posts!!

    Just to weigh in here. I’ve worked for Doug at UE for over 5 years. When I first started I too was a skeptic.
    During the hiringn process he made two comments…”try it yourself for 6 months”…and “listen to the clients”
    Well, it didn’t take 6 months for me to see incredible strength gains over my convential workout protocol that I had used for over 30 years.
    And it certainly didn’t take 6 months for the 100+ clients to let me know how this protocol and UE had changed their lives.
    But on the downside, we have many friends in this area that came to find out where I was working. And in the beginning I would explain very excitedly how fantastic the program was.
    And to almost a person, I would get nothing but pushback on how it just couldn’t work. And sometimes it actually became argumentative.
    So I learned to avoid this potential conflict by, when asked, simply getting it down to 25 words or less and then saying “if you want to know more, come try it” and then I walk away.
    Because I hate to say this, but in my minds eye, if you haven’t tried it but still feel you’re qualified to put it down…that’s stupid…and you can’t fix stupid.

    Ed Garbe wrote on December 15th, 2011
  34. Kamila,

    For static lateral raise you just want to push against an immovable object with your arms 45 degrees from your side. You can do this with a doorframe or even a belt or a towel wrapped around your hands (you just have to lean forward slightly so the belt or towel clears your thighs).

    I do not have a chin up bar, but a tree branch from the tree at the end of my driveway serves me well. Wal-Mart sells door frame chin-up bars (“The Perfect Chin-Up” is a great choice).


    Thanks for your input. He is on the payroll, so his comments may be biased. Seriously though, Ed is now in his mid 60’s and is stronger than he has been at any point in his life. He is a poster child for what being in your 60’s should be. His wife Barb has also made an amazing transformation combining BBS and the Primal Blueprint.

    Doug McGuff, MD wrote on December 15th, 2011
  35. Seems like a typical debate about exercise protocols – lots of people with strong opinions based on their own personal experience and reading, which they want to generalize to everyone else, regardless of circumstances.

    First thing to acknowledge is that not everybody has the same goals for a strength program. A 20 year old kid whose primary goal in life is to get big, and loves being a gym rat may think nothing of spending 2 hours a day at the gym. (He might even have the recovery capacity to hit it hard 6 days a week without resorting to steroids.)

    But if you are a middle aged working professional, making a lot of money in a high stress job, with a tight schedule, and a family, then a little more thought has to be given to the time efficiency of the workouts that you do. (McGuff, by the way, is an MD, works as an ER physician; I think that is his primary profession.)

    Likewise, if you are past 60, and are mainly interested in maintaining functional strength into your retirement years, then your priorities are likely biased toward avoiding injury, and working within your more limited recovery capacity.

    Exercise protocols like HIT seem to be tailored more toward time constrained people who want to develop sufficient strength and conditioning to maintain health while minimizing the time investment.

    Superslow is a variation of HIT that was developed by a guy who was working with elderly people with severe osteoporosis. His challenge was to build up their strength without overloading fragile bones, and this is what he came up with. That history suggests that such protocols might be more suitable for those who place a higher premium on safety and injury avoidance.

    Whether or not HIT and SuperSlow are suitable for those with aspirations to be elite or professional athletes, or a champion body builder is of only passing curiosity to me; I don’t have a dog in that particular hunt…

    Speaking just for myself: Even when I was young, I found out that working out 3x’s per week with weights just didn’t feel that good. I’d be fresh for the first workout, then flat during the second, and burned out for the 3rd. As I got older, I generally settled into a twice per week schedule.

    Lately, I’ve scaled it back to one hard weight session (heavier weights, to failure), and one easy session (circuit training, higher reps, light weights, like a cross fit MetCon). This approach probably says something about my own natural limits in terms of recovery capacity. Others might be able to go flat out 5 or 6 times a week for an hour and a half and not end up with over training issues. Good for you! I ain’t you!!

    While I do get some cardiovascular benefits from my two weight training sessions, I also throw in a couple more traditional cardio workouts just to help keep my blood sugar stable: Once a week, I do a 20 minute workout with wind sprints on a stationary bike (High Intensity Intervals), and once a week I do an easy 20 minute run. So overall, my exercise program takes less than 2 hours a week, all at home with no travel time.

    Years ago, I did belong to a Nautilus facility, and did the circuit using the prescribed exercise cadence. If I pushed I hard, and didn’t rest between machines, I could pretty well burn myself out in 20 or 25 minutes. I felt like I was getting a pretty good workout, and it did help my strength. But it wasn’t magic – I didn’t turn into Arnold S. or Clay Matthews.

    When I have the chance to workout on machines these days, I still like to take the same approach – pick weights that are challenging to do for 8-12 reps to failure, using a fairly slow and controlled movement. I can pretty much fry myself in about 30 minutes, and that is about all that I really want or need.

    One thing that I have changed when I do machine exercises: I now pretty much avoid the single joint isolation machines. For me, at least, those kinds of machines seem to have a tendency to cause joint and tendon issues, once the weights get heavy. So I prefer compound movements.

    Mostly, though, I workout at home with free weights and body weight exercises. I’ve found that an HIT approach is harder to do under those circumstances, because control of the weight becomes an issue as you fatigue, and because of sticking points in the exercise. So at home, I find it takes more exercises and a longer time to ‘fry’ my muscles. My typical approach it to doing a series of supersets, each targeting a particular muscle group. Within each superset, I just do one set of each exercise, and to failure if there are no safety contraints. As an example, my “push” superset would be: dumb bell bench, following immediately by weighted dips, and then push ups until I can’t life myself off the floor, even from my knees.

    In general, I find that when I do shorter, more intense exercise routines, I’m more likely to do them regularly, and it seems like I suffer less overuse injuries. I’ve settled in on a weekly routine that leaves me feeling good, keeps me in reasonable shape, offers quite a bit of flexibility, and doesn’t chew up vast amounts of time.

    My advice to others: Try a lot of things, stick with the things that work for you and leave you feeling good. Avoid things that cause injury, or leave you feeling burned out. Don’t get dogmatic or fanatic about any particular system or approach.

    Craig wrote on December 15th, 2011
  36. This looks almost like a typical bodybuilder routine. Plus he is saying: “If you can use machines, do it” – that’s total BS. Didn’t he say earlier “Oh, well this is how you’ll become a functional human animal again” ? I think he did!
    So how are machines functional and natural!?

    Tim wrote on December 16th, 2011
    • Machines provide resistance. Working hard against resistance, resting, and eating properly, build muscle. This allows you to be more functional.

      Barbells by the way aren’t “natural”, any more than shoes are, even “five-fingers” (made of synthetics), nor even chin-up bars.

      Christoph Dollis wrote on January 1st, 2012
  37. Craig,

    Good post.

    My opinion only!!

    My takeaway from it is you need to do what works for you…physically and mentally.
    HIT is certainly not for everyone. It is certainly not fun and can be borderline painful (the burn)…and there is no “social” time that some folks enjoy about a gym.
    The endorphin rush only happens once a week instead of 2-3 times.
    And for some folks it is mentally challenging since the brain tends to push-back due to the intensity of the program.
    At UE we don’t advertise much for one simple reason…when folks come in from referrals thay have an idea of what it’s about and what they can expect…and they’re hearing from an outside source that what seems preposterous to many is in reality not so.
    So you’re right…folks need to do what they feel is appropriate for them. IMO any exercise is good exercise…we just feel some is better than others.
    Plus the economy can’t afford to have Curves fold!
    BTW…some folks have had problems posting on the BBS site. If what you’re posting doesn’t go up, e-mail your post to me at and usually I can get it posted.
    Thanks and hope everyone has a wonderful and safe holiday!


    Ed Garbe wrote on December 16th, 2011
    • Yeah, there’s tons of WordPress blogs where I have no difficulty posting — I’ve had LOTS of trouble posting at BBS, which is regrettable. That was part of why I haven’t commented for months. It also made me mad, until I figured out it was technical, and angers other readers as you see.

      Somehow or another, by adjusting your spam filter or whatever (Askimet is GREAT), you folks should fix that! Would also save you some time personally, despite your kind offer to help posters out.

      Christoph Dollis wrote on January 1st, 2012
      • Great comment. May your fastball always be straight and true, and your curveball never so.

        Christoph Dollis wrote on January 1st, 2012

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