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Sample: The 4-Hour Body: From Geek to Freak

Ramit Sethi

Tim Ferriss’s new book, The 4-Hour Body, is out, and it is superb.
It’s about hacking the human body, including bulking up, losing weight, engineering the perfect night’s sleep, improving sex, and more. I’ve had it for about 6 weeks now and have been sampling the book extensively.
I like it because instead of spouting off generic advice (“Don’t eat carbs!”) he actually spent years testing virtually every aspect of his diet, sleep, bloodwork, workout regimen, and more.
In fact, a few months ago, he and I were out with a few friends for dinner. After we’d all finished our huge meals — I’m talking big steaks — he goes, “Hey, do you guys mind if I order something else?” He then ordered an entire steak again…literally, I’ve never seen someone eat so much….and then pulled up his shirt to show up some weird glucose monitor he was using to test who-knows-what.
I love testing. And I love anyone who is rigorous enough to put common misconceptions to the test in order to find out what really works.
You guys know that Tim and I are friends, so here’s what I’m doing:


How to Gain 34 Pounds in 28 Days
On July 6, 65-year-old John’s biceps measured 14½” in circumference. Six weeks later, his biceps measured a full ¾” larger at 15¼”.
It seems like magic, but it wasn’t.
He reduced his workouts from three per week to two per week.  It was all planned.  Progressive reduction.
You see, most of the conventional wisdom about muscular growth is just dead wrong.

Prelude: On Being Genetically Screwed

I come from a family of lightly muscled males. The only exception is a dramatic bubble butt on my mom’s side. Not a bad look if you’re a Brazilian woman.
In August 2009, to confirm the obvious, I mailed DNA samples to the Gist Sports Profile laboratory in Australia for testing of the ACTN3 gene, which codes proteins for fast- twitch muscle fiber.  Fast-twitch muscle fibers have the greatest potential for growth, whereas slow-twitch fibers have the least potential.

It turns out that both of my chromosomes (one from Mammy and one from Pappy Ferriss) contain the R577X variant of the ACTN3 gene, a mutation that results in a complete deficiency of our most desired ACTN3.  This variant, amusingly called a “nonsense allele,” is found in more than a billion humans worldwide.
Sad Christmas.
The cover letter from Gist Sports began with the following headline, which, in good humor, lacks an exclamation point:

Congratulations Tim Ferriss. Your Genetic Advantage: Endurance Sports.

This is a diplomatic way of telling me (1) I’m not likely to win an Olympic gold medal in sprinting, and (2) I am not genetically pre-programmed to gain a lot of muscular mass.
I hadn’t won the fast-twitch lottery for bodybuilding, and chances are that you haven’t either. Looking at family photos, this result wasn’t surprising.  What is surprising is how well you can override genetics.
I have gained more than 20 pounds of fat- free mass within four weeks on at least four occasions, the most recent in 2005. Two of these experiments were done in 1995 and 1996 at Princeton University, where Matt Brzycki, then Coordinator of Health Fitness, Strength and Conditioning, nicknamed me “Growth.”
This chapter details the exact methods I used in 2005 to gain 34 pounds of fat- free mass in 28 days.
For the ladies not interested in becoming the Hulk, if you follow a Slow-Carb Diet and reduce rest periods between exercises to 30 seconds, this exact workout protocol can help you lose 10–20 pounds of fat in the same 28-day time span.


I weighed 152 pounds throughout high school, but after training in tango in Buenos Aires in 2005, I had withered to 146 pounds. I remedied the situation with a 28-day schedule based primarily on the work of Arthur Jones, Mike Mentzer, and Ken Hutchins.
Before-and-after measurements, including underwater hydrostatic weightings, were taken by Dr. Peggy Plato at the Human Performance Laboratory at San Jose State University. Though this ridiculous experiment might seem unhealthy, I tracked blood variables and dropped my total cholesterol count from 222 to 147 without the use of statins (see pre-bed supplementation).
Here are the results:

Age: 27 (in 2005)

Weight before: 146 lbs

Weight after: 177 lbs (183 lbs three days later)

Bodyfat percentage before: 16.72%

Bodyfat percentage after: 12.23%

Total muscle gained: 34 lbs

Total fat-loss: 3 lbs

Time elapsed: 4 weeks

To put 34 pounds in perspective, below is exactly one pound of lean grass-fed beef sirloin next to my fist.

One Pound Steak

Imagine 34 of those placed on you. It’s no small addition.
Here are some select stats on the four-week change (September 21 to October 23), using combined measurements from Dr. Plato and Brooks Brothers:

  • Suit size: 40 short to 44 regular (measured at Brooks Brothers at Santana Row in San Jose)
  • Neck: 15.8″ to 18″
  • Chest: 37.5″ to 43″
  • Shoulders: 43″ to 52″
  • Thigh: 21.5″ to 25.5″
  • Calf: 13.5″ to 14.9″
  • Upper arm: 12″ to 14.6″
  • Forearm: 10.8″ to 12″
  • Waist: 29.5″ to 33.1″
  • Hips (ass at widest): 34″ to 38.23″ (J. Lo, eat your heart out)

Oh, and I forgot to mention, all of this was done with two 30-minute workouts per week, for a total of 4 hours of gym time.

How Did I Do It?

First, I followed a simple supplement regimen:

Morning: NO-Xplode (2 scoops), Slo-Niacin (or timed-release niacinamide, 500 mg)

Each meal: ChromeMate (chromium polynicotinate, not picolinate, 200 mcg), alpha-lipoic acid (200 mg)

Pre-workout: BodyQUICK (2 capsules 30 mins. prior)

Post-workout: Micellean (30 g micellar casein protein)

Prior to bed: policosanol (23 mg), ChromeMate (200 mcg), alpha-lipoic acid (200 mg), Slo-Niacin (500 mg)

No anabolics were used.

From a training standpoint, there were four basic principles that made it happen, all of which will be expanded upon in the next chapter:
Follow Arthur Jones’s general recommendation of one- set- to- failure (i.e., reaching the point where you can no longer move the weight) for 80–120 seconds of total time under tension per exercise. Take at least three minutes of rest between exercises.
Perform every repetition with a 5/5 cadence (five seconds up, five seconds down) to eliminate momentum and ensure constant load.
Focus on 2–10 exercises per workout (including at least one multi- joint exercise for pressing, pulling, and leg movements). I chose to exercise my entire body each workout to elicit a heightened hormonal response (testosterone, growth hormone, IGF-1, etc.).
Here is the sequence I used during this experiment (“+” = superset, which means no rest between exercises):

  • Pullover + Yates’s bent row
  • Shoulder- width leg press
  • Pec-deck + weighted dips
  • Leg curl
  • Reverse thick-bar curl (purchase cut 2″ piping from Home Depot If needed, which you can then slide plates onto)
  • Seated calf raises
  • Manual neck resistance
  • Machine crunches

All of these exercises can be found at
This is described at length in the next chapter, which describes the most reductionist and refined approach to overriding stubborn genetics: Occam’s Protocol.
Occam’s Protocol is what I suggest almost all trainees start with for mass gains.


The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey ( World- class strength coach Charles Poliquin introduced me to this outstanding book. It is the best anatomy book for nonmedical students that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve looked at them all. Get it.
“Strength Training Methods and the Work of Arthur Jones,” D. Smith, S. Bruce-Low, and J. E. Ponline, Journal of Exercise Physiology ( This research review compares single- set and multiple- set strength gains. The authors incorporate 112 sources to answer the question: are multiple sets really better than single sets? For muscular growth, it’s hard to beat the economy of single sets. For pure strength with little weight gain (see “Effortless Superhuman”), different approaches are more effective.
“Cartman and Weight Gain 4000” ( Inspirational weight-gain video from our friends at South Park. Good pre-dinner motivation for overfeeding.
Arthur Jones Collection ( This site, compiled by Brian Johnston, is a collection of the writing and photographs of the legendary Arthur Jones, including the original Nautilus Bulletins, “The Future of Exercise,” and unpublished works.

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