The 12-Minute Workout to Be Fit AND Healthy in 2019. “Body by Science.” – Love Your Work, Episode 160

January 10 2019 – 07:30am

body by science summary reviewTo start off the New Year you can see that we’re covering topics for how to improve oneself – stuff like staying focused or even staying secure in your digital life. This week, I’d like to share with you a Body by Science review and summary. Body by Science is a workout protocol that I’ve been enjoying for staying fit AND healthy – which, as you’ll see, are not the same thing.

I’ve tried many different workout programs, INSANITY, CrossFit, Strongfirst, many others. This is by far the best results for time investment I’ve ever experienced. It’s a workout that only takes about 12 minutes, once a week.

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Now, I know a claim like that makes your BS detectors go off, but hear me out. And as you’ll see, just because it’s only 12 minutes doesn’t mean it’s easy. But I personally find it really enjoyable.

Disclaimer: Always talk to your doctor and fitness professional before starting or changing an exercise routine. Try any of the following at your own risk.

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What is Body by Science?

This workout is from a book called Body By Science, by Dr. Doug McGuff. Dr. McGuff is a medical doctor, and as the name of the book would imply, he takes a science-based approach to training.

He’s designed this protocol based upon existing scientific studies, and he’s tweaked it by testing his methods with his own clients.

If what I say sounds interesting, I highly recommend the book. It has completely changed the way I see exercise. It’s full of counter-intuitive ideas. Buy it on Amazon here.

Why weight training is for everyone

This protocol is a weight-training protocol. I know some people really shy away from weights and building muscle because they think it’s going to make them muscle bound with a freakishly thick neck. First of all, that’s not going to happen unless that’s your genetic predisposition.

Second, Dr. McGuff makes a very compelling case for literally everyone to do resistance training, and to build muscle. He says the extra muscle mass will save your life if you’re in an accident. He also cites studies showing that resistance training, done properly, will improve all aspects of your health, including insulin sensitivity, lower back pain, cholesterol levels, and bone density.

He also presents some counterintuitive ideas, such as exact definitions of fitness, health, and exercise. You can have “fitness” that is detrimental to your “health.” And many “activities” that people generally think of as exercise don’t meet the definition of “exercise” by Dr. McGuff’s standards.

I can’t recommend the book enough, it really helps you understand exercise as a dose, and your results as a response to that dose, so you can get the best results with less time and less unneeded stress or injury to your body.

Basically, even if you don’t want big muscles, even if – actually especially if you’re in your older years – Dr. McGuff believes you should be weight training. I’ve even been trying to convince my parents to try it. Good thing they listen to this podcast.

Okay, now onto the workout.

The five keys of the Body by Science workout protocol

There are five main keys to this protocol (that I identified). Those are:

1. Body by Science calls for Super slow movements

Dr. McGuff recommends that you perform each repetition as slowly as you possibly can, while still moving smoothly – so without stops and starts. That will generally be somewhere between five seconds per positive or per negative, or fifteen seconds per positive or per negative – so the same amount of time for the positive rep as the negative rep.

2. Body by Science calls for total muscle failure

The Body by Science protocol calls for you to go to total muscular failure in each set. And you’re only doing one set per exercise. I’ll get into the technique behind that more in a bit.

3. Measure “Time Under Load”, not reps, on the Body by Science protocol

You’re probably used to strength training protocols calling for a certain number of reps per set. Five reps for strength, eight reps for mass, for example.

The Body by Science protocol calls for you to measure the amount of time you can withstand the weight before reaching total muscle failure. I’ll get into why and how to do that later.

Dr. McGuff recommends that you find a weight with which you’ll reach total muscle failure within somewhere between forty seconds and two and a half minutes.

4. Body by Science calls for minimum rest between sets

The Body by Science protocol is built around the mountain of evidence showing that high-intensity exercise is far more effective per unit of time invested than steady-state training, such as jogging on a treadmill for thirty minutes.

For example, Dr. McGuff cites a McMaster University study that found that, “six minutes of pure, hard exercise once a week could be just as effective as an hour of daily moderate activity.”

So, Body by Science is very high intensity. That’s why you’re going to total muscle failure, and that’s why you’re taking as little rest as possible between sets.

5. Body by Science is a full-body workout

Instead of working one or two muscle groups per workout, with this protocol, you’re doing the entire body.

This helps increase the intensity of the workout, but also – I’ve heard Dr. McGuff say outside of the book – it helps stimulate the release of myokines. Myokines are like hormones released by your muscles that may stimulate growth or reduce inflammation.

I’ve heard Dr. McGuff say that the release of Interleukin 6, for example, exponentiates as a function of the intensity of the exercise, and the amount of muscle mass being stimulated. So, there are variations of the protocol that may split up exercises, but the main workout is high-intensity and full-body.

6. Body by Science calls for maximum rest between workouts

Dr. McGuff describes that most people are overtraining. Overtraining is a long process, and it’s hard to even notice that it’s happening. I know crossfitters often go every day, I used to lift three times a week.

Dr. McGuff recommends you do this 12-minute workout, and then take anywhere from five days to fourteen days rest.

I personally have been adjusting based upon my level of excitement to withstand the intensity of the workout. I was doing once a week, but I found myself dreading the intensity, so now I’m experimenting with nine days.

I’ve heard Dr. McGuff say that the better-conditioned you are, the longer the rest you’ll need. I personally have some health problems that lengthen my recovery time, so for me that’s a factor.

Body by Science calls for machines over free weights

Dr. McGuff recommends machines because they reduce the chance of injury. He especially favors nautilus machines because they are engineered to follow the strength curve of your muscles within the movement. For example, people tend to be weaker in a certain part of the chest press movement, and the machine gives you a lower load during that part of the movement.

Most modern machines have some kind of strength curve management on them – nautilus was just the first to really master it. This is helpful for achieving maximum muscle fatigue, and makes it so you can go to complete failure without a workout partner, and with much less risk of injury.

If you’ve heard that machines are no good – that free weights are better, Dr. McGuff claims that the research doesn’t support that. Consult the book if you want to know more.

The core Body by Science movements

There are two basic groups of movements with which you can start the Body by Science protocol. I started with three movements, and worked up to five.

The core three movements are:

Once you get the hang of the protocol, you can add in two more movements:

You’re going to do all of the movements you choose in a particular sequence, with as little rest as possible. This can be a challenge in a crowded gym, so that’s one limitation of the protocol. I personally have the flexibility to go when the gym isn’t very busy, so I run into a problem only rarely.

The recommended order is just as I read them for the three core movements: Pull Down, Chest Press, Leg Press. If you’re doing five movements, the recommended order changes up a little bit. It’s Upright Row, Chest Press, Pull Down, Shoulder Press, and ending in Leg Press. You want Leg Press to be last because that’s the most draining movement.

Execution and record-keeping is key in Body by Science

This workout only takes about 12 minutes if you’re doing five movements. But it does take some disciplined planning, and some disciplined record-keeping, so that takes a little extra time at first.

Here’s how I do that. When I go to a new gym, I take some time to look around, and see what equipment is available. I try out each machine, and I write down in my phone exactly what settings I need to adjust to fit my body on each machine. Then, I plan out what weight I want to try on each machine.

I also plan out how I’m going to move throughout the gym. I look at where each machine is, and mentally rehearse the workout. I look at each machine in the order I’ll be using it, and I’ll envision how I’m going to move from one machine to the next.

Once I’ve done a workout at a given gym, I can just copy and paste the previous workout in my notes, and make adjustments accordingly.

How to keep time in Body by Science

Keeping track of time is a must for following this protocol. That’s how you measure progress. Again, you’re measuring time under load, trying to achieve total failure within a minute or two.

Dr. McGuff says the optimal range is somewhere between forty-five and ninety seconds. I personally started shooting for ninety seconds, but lately I’m going for two minutes because it just feels like I’m hitting the muscle better in my current state of conditioning.

Here’s how I actually keep track of time: I keep the stopwatch running on my iPhone’s Timer app. When I finish a movement, I hit the “Lap” button. Right before I start the next movement, I hit the “Lap” button again.

When I’m all done, I want to come up with two numbers: How long was my total workout, and how long was I under load – or how long was I pushing weight. So, I add up the length of time of I spent in each movement to get the total time under load.

I then subtract that time under load from my total workout time – now I’ve got my total rest time. I then divide that total rest time by four – four rests to do five exercises. Now I have my average rest time, or the average amount of time I was resting between sets. So if I had 120 seconds of total rest time, that would divide by four to thirty seconds average rest.

Yes, it takes some extra mental energy and discipline, but you have to do it so you can know if you need to change weights, or to change the amount of rest between workouts – and to see yourself getting stronger and better-conditioned. If you can stay under load for a longer period of time on a certain lift, you’ve gotten stronger. If everything is the exact same, except that you took less rest between sets, you’ve also gotten stronger.

By the way, some machines, like the machines in my gym in Medellin, have timers built in, which is amazing. When I’m at that gym, I only use the stopwatch for the total time, and rely on the timers for recording my time under load for each movement.

What constitutes total muscle failure?

One of the keys of this protocol is to reach total muscle failure. What exactly is failure? Some people will stop when it gets hard. Dr. McGuff stresses that you have to push past your psychological stopping point. He warns that you may feel a sense of panic pushing that hard.

He also recommends that when you can’t do any more positive reps, and you reach a point where you can’t push the weight any further, to then hold it in place for as long as you can, before allowing it to lower as your muscles fatigue further. If you have a partner, you can also get a forced rep in there if you’re already really well-conditioned.

Remember, you’re going super slow, and trying to achieve failure within a minute or two. So you have to throw your ego out the window. This is not like most training protocols. The right weight for you will be far below what you usually train with. Your muscles don’t care, all that matters is that you’re reaching maximum fatigue in the right muscle fibers. You’re also greatly reducing your chance of injury. This protocol is designed to do both of those things for you.


There you have it. The standard is to do this workout once a week. You may have to experiment, which is far easier to do if you’re keeping good records.

I’ve really enjoyed the Body by Science protocol. If you decide to try it (under the counsel of your doctor and fitness professional) I hope it works for you. Again, if you want more details on the science behind this protocol, you can get the book on Amazon.

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Theme music: Dorena “At Sea”, from the album About Everything And More. By Arrangement with Deep Elm Records. Listen on Spotify »

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