“I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through.  Listen to this music.”


I’ve posted previously (here, here, here and here – all complete with plenty of fantastic TTP reader input and comments), my thoughts on Dr. Doug McGuff’s Body By Science methodology.  Today I’d like to offer another take on Dr. McGuff’s methodology, this by way of TTP reader Jerry Borrero (aka, the IronDisciple), who blogs on Paleo/Primal nutrition, Girevoy Sport, and all things Physical Culture-related.  Check out Jerry’s work over at ironmonastery.wordpress.com.  What follows here, in italics, are Jerry’s thoughts, with my spotty comments set apart via normal font.   Enjoy; and thanks, Jerry, for the thoughtful input.

The premise of the whole book is counter intuitive, at least to my mind.  I’ve always thought if I ever felt frustrated with my lack of progress it was because I needed to do MORE work, not less.  And from reading material from Ross Enamait and some personal experimentation, I’ve been of the opinion that we need LESS rest than the muscle mags prescribe, not more.  I personally do SOME form of vigorous exercise almost everyday of the week, with maybe one day completely off at any one time.  The knee jerk reaction after reading the well laid out argument made in the book is to toss my current workout regimen out the window because I’m apparently overtraining myself.

After the panic subsided here are some observations:

It seems that the authors are stating that all qualities of the muscle can be adequately addressed using their HIT protocol.  Max strength, Explosive Strength, etc.  Am I understanding that correctly?  The book seems to imply that there is no need for periodization although it never comes out and states this directly.

The authors refer to building all the different types of muscle fibers sequentially, but never goes into the different forms of hypertrophy (sarcoplasmic vs. myofibrillar).  Based on the fact that the stimulus is high intensity/short duration it would seem to favor myofibrillar, and maybe that’s why the subject is never broached, but whenever I think of a program aimed primarily at hypertrophy, I automatically think of sarcoplasmic.

The authors also advocate using primarily Nautilus machines for the full “Big Five” workout, but I’ve always understood that since machines only allow for one plane of motion that the stabilizer muscles don’t get developed.  Is this not accurate?  This is never really mentioned in the book.  Also, what is your take on the abbreviated and simplified program.  Is this really enough to target the body in its entirety?

I’ve taken a look at your workouts and noticed that you haven’t entirely subscribed to the prescribed BBS workout.  You’re still performing multiple workouts during the week, and utilizing a variety of different exercises.  I’m assuming the increased frequency is due to not going to absolute failure on your sets and from experimentation into what works for you and what doesn’t.

Just a quick interjection, here.  Although I agree with Dr. McGuff on the debilitating, cumulative effect of certain exercise protocols, I go about mitigating that damage a bit differently.  I do prefer to workout more frequently (3 to 5 bouts per week – usually) – each workout, though, is auto-regulated (a little more about auto-regulation here and here), so I rarely find myself in an overtrained hole to have to scamper out of.  From previous discussions with Dr. McGuff, though, I realize that his concerns lay not only with the frequency of exercise, but with the type of exercise selected.  Olympic lifts and their derivatives, plyometics, ballistic/explosive movements and the like are discouraged under the BBS methodology.  My take is that each trainee’s goals must be evaluated vis-a-vis his abilities and current condition, and a proper fitness program must be must then be individualized for that particular trainee.  For some trainees, a BBS-like protocol would work wonderfully – for others, though (myself included, I suspect), it’s just not an adequate, year-round stimulus.  I emphasis year-round here, because there may be periods within my training cycle where a BBS-like protocol would be just what the doctor ordered.  Constant re-evaluation of one’s circumstance is key, here.  If BBS is a viable option (and for many, it will be), then by all means utilize it.  My workouts are constantly morphing, and are the direct result of 30+ years of on-going, n=1 experimentation in relation to my goals, and in consideration of my current strengths weaknesses.  This, in my mind, is as it should be.  A “workout protocol”, like the organism that protocol is directed toward, should be a thing of continual re-invention (i.e., intelligent n=1).  BBS methodologies, then,ought to be seen as another useful tool to be used toward that end.

While the idea of a scientific approach to exercise that allows all my exercise to be done in a quick 10 minute burst once a week intrigues me, part of me wants to plug my ears and scream until the idea passes.  I’ve grown to enjoy snatches, clean and jerks, sprints, planche progressions, etc. and I’d be sad to realize these are all obsolete/unnecessary. That all being said, once my upcoming Girevoy Sport competition is finished (my first!) I plan to “empty my cup” and toss out all my concerns and give the BBS approach a try.  I’ll stay on the program for as long as I benefit from it with tweaks along the way if necessary.

Thanks for taking the time to commit these thoughts to the written word, Jerry.  There’s another aspect of this debate, though, that rarely gets much air time –  what I’m alluding to here is the mental aspect (benefits, boost, what have you) of frequent, strenuous exercise.  And for more on that…

The Exercise – Anxiety Correlation

photo credit: Hljod.Huskona

This study (PubMed link, here) begins to quantify what I’ve felt intuitively for years: there’s something about proper exercise (including proper intensity and duration) that makes one impervious to stress – whether that stress is mental or physical.  And this is another reason I prefer more frequent bouts of exercise – still high in intensity, and short in duration – but more frequent than what is called for under a BBS-like methodology.

If I go more than a couple days with no strenuous physical activity, I begin to get antsy (and a bit hard to be around, or so I’m told).  I wonder if this is the brain’s way of saying, “hey, bud – get off your ass and do your part to keep our defenses tuned-up”.  It’s an interesting concept, and one that I hope will be explored in the near future, in further depth.

In health,



  1. Hi Keith,

    “If I go more than a couple days with no strenuous physical activity, I begin to get antsy (and a bit hard to be around, or so I’m told). I wonder if this is the brain’s way of saying, “hey, bud – get off your ass and do your part to keep our defenses tuned-up”.

    The above is true for me also.
    I look forward to reading more about your thoughts as to the why.
    I have thought about it in the past and in talking to one of my friends who finds it hard to get off his ass…we started talking about our younger days. He told me he never moved much when he was young, I on the other hand never stopped moving. Always playing outside, playing soccer in the neighborhood, riding my bike, pushing karts, playing ball etc etc. Do you think part of the “concept” has a link to this? Did we develop some neuro-pathways early on perhaps?

    Have a great weekend.


  2. What compels a guy like Damien Walters to perform a backflip on a narrow wall bordering a precipice? What makes someone want to swim the Channel? Why walk to the Poles? My mate used to do a lot of hard and bold ropeless climbing (soloing). He said it was a statement of self-awareness, not a statement of ego/bravado.

    The point being that all these pursuits can and will lead to strength gains and muscle growth. BBS leads to gains but does so safely and with minimal volumes – but as the above demonstrates, there are myraid reasons to do physical stuff.

    We are evolved to move. Every mammal is programmed to play. We had to hunt big, dangerous animals for food, so is it any wonder we see the emergence of extreme sports? Any wonder childhood games involve chasing and fighting?

    Ever get chased my a dog or a thug? Ever had a fight or been mugged? The exhiliration of a ‘close shave’ or of combat can be intoxicating and make you feel really alive.

    Doug McGuff infers some of this when he talks of telling clients to rest and yet they feel invigorated by his diet and training advice to go off and ‘do stuff’ despite his calls for them to rest.

    There are many things to gain from undertaking demanding physical pursuits. So yeah – if time is short and you are so inclined, then use BBS to effectively and safely train – but understand that it is simply a tool in the box and that as a movement-inclined species, you are pretty well adapted to mix it with ‘work’ regularly – with a few caveats;

    Can you spot when you overtrain? Do you remain injury free? Are you satisfied with your gains? If the answer to these questions are “yes” then carry on!

  3. To a certain extent, we do things because we enjoy them. I often use sheer boredom as a barometer for when I should shake up my workout program just as much as I use physical cues.

    I plan to give the BBS protocol an honest shot and will stick with it as much as possible as long as I continue to progress, but I can see myself changing things up out of the mental need for something new.

    Thanks for posting the comments btw, and for your answers/thoughts on the subject!

  4. Keith, Jerry,

    Thanks for featuring BBS on your blog again. Asclepius responded more articulately than I could, so I will defer to him for the most part. Also, my interview at Conditioning Research also covers these topics in Great detail.

    WRT a couple specific points. The book does not distinguish between sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy because I found much mention of this in the coaching vernacular, but no reliable scientific studies to support the notion that these are separate entities that are produced by differing protocols. Rather, one seems to support the other, and leaning towards one or the other may be more related to genotype than protocol.

    WRT the volume/recovery issue, this is also likely related to genetic factors. Those such as Keith (or Ross) tending to be on the more gifted end of the recovery spectrum.

    For Keith and Jerry, I would suggest that you have found a protocol that you like and are having good results with. I am not out to change what you are doing if it is working, you are not getting injured and the variation keeps you in the game. So much of this is like the old Life cereal commercial….”Mikey likes it, he really likes it!” that to debate it is pointless.

    Rest assured however, that if you every get in a very busy or hectic patch in your life and you want to revert to a BBS-like protocol, the scientific evidence says that you can do so with great success.

    Doug McGuff

    • Thanks for your contribution to this ongoing discussion, Doug. I appreciate your stance on the subject, as well – here’s the science, do with it what you will – so refreshing in the age of guru, “my way is the only way”, hucksterism/sensationalism.


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