Friday, January 14, 2011

Someone more crazy than me

I think it is such a shame that this book has gone for the jugular in marketing terms. I was "recommended" it by Amazon and it was enough for me to read the cover and see that the author had also written a book called "The 4-hour Workweek" to disregard it. By coincidence, a friend whose reading tastes coincide largely with mine, mentioned the book to me the next day and told me to ignore the marketing BS.

The style reminds me very much of Malcolm Gladwell, whose books I have very much enjoyed reading, in that it is peppered with curious (real) characters and anecdotes to illustrate his points. It also shares the objective of Gladwell's books of bringing to the layman interesting bits of research that would otherwise take years to filter into the public domain. But what is most interesting of all, is that he puts his money where is mouth is - that's to say, he actually subjects himself to all the tests and theories, converting himself into a human guinea pig. In parts the book is more of an account of his experiences, like a healthy version of "Super Size Me". As a result, it is relatively "unpreachy" as all he is saying is that he has tried these ideas out and they have worked (or not in some cases) for him. He encourages you to have a critical mind and not to just accept what he says but, at the same time, not to confuse healthy skepticism with laziness or resistance to change.

More than anything else, I am enjoying reading the exploits of someone who takes a similar approach to me, but who is 100 times more connected, 100 times more committed and 100 times more crazy than me. As he says, he has put himself through these tests so that we don't have to. Some of the discoveries he has made I had already come across, like the Paleo diet and Total Immersion Swimming; to me, this lends more credibility to the parts of the book that are totally new. It is also interesting to read his experiences - for example, of learning Total Immersion Swimming - sometimes novices are the best people to explain a new technique as the masters are, by definition, those for whom the most time has passed since they struggled to learn the principles.

The principle which seems to underlie everything in his book is what he calls the Minimum Effective Dose. The idea is that, if you get 80% of the maximum benefit of doing a deadlift, say, by doing only 2 reps, you should only do 2 reps because any more is not only wasteful, but is depriving time and opportunity from doing other things (including doing deadlifts more often). For example, if you overdo it then your muscles will be sore and you won't be able to train as effectively the next day. This is pretty much the same idea that I described in a recent post. It sounds obvious, but the reality is that, as soon as you have completed the second repetition, you think "That was easy, I'll just do a couple more because that will make me even stronger" - the question is, at the cost of what? As the author says, the principle of the Minimum Effective Dose is all very well but the key is to know what the minimum effective dose is. Each of the chapters - that promise to help you lose weight, improve your sex-life and give you superhuman strength - give a prescription of this Minimum Effective Dose. The idea is not, "How to Get a Six-Pack without Lifting a Finger" but finding the most efficient way to achieve your goal. The other key point he makes is the importance of being able to measure whatever it is you are trying to achieve. This is not only encouraging but it is essential in order to be able to determine scientifically what this Minimum Effective Dose is. To give you some idea, the author has subjected himself to weekly blood tests over a period of 10 years (and spent over $250,000 on his "experiments").

Even if you don't have any intention of following his advice, even if you think it is all a load of BS, it still makes very entertaining reading.

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