REVIEW | Focused progress with Body by Science, but integration with proper running methods should be possible

Many major muscle groups in my body are still sore (moderately) forty-eight hours after those “12 minutes.” Significant adaptations are underway. Now I only need the patience to sit back and let those adaptations proceed, day after day, until next week, according to John Little and Doug McGuff, authors of Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want in 12 Minutes a Week.

They argue that 12 minutes a week is not just invented for marketing hype, it is literally the best program they have found for increasing strength and conditioning (and the marketing people at the publisher then of course picked up on it). They make a case for viewing exercise as a form of medicine that can have an optimal dosage range for the effect sought. The high intensity of their program is potent, but optimal, medicine and requires a substantial recovery period during which the body can make the adaptations that are asked of it in those 12 minutes.

Doing this kind of training longer or more often would simply render the body unable to fully adapt to the workout and essentially become a waste of time. I would say that what they are suggesting is that exercise is a conversation with the body. We ask it to adapt, but then we have to give it the time and resources to respond fully to the request. There is individual variation of course, but a week is the typical best recovery time from this workout that has emerged out of practical experience working with large numbers of people using this program over years.

This is a worthwhile volume in a powerful genre that combines good biochemistry knowledge with practical experience in actually training large numbers of human beings in a healthful direction. One of the authors is a physician and both run gyms specializing in the methods they present in the book. They explain the foundations for their program in muscle and energetic biochemistry in appropriate detail and explain the program itself in sufficient detail that one could reasonably start on a version of it after reading the book and accessing the required equipment. They discuss in the final chapters how their program relates to other sports and how it has proven equally good for all ages, especially perhaps, the elderly.

The authors make the case that a short burst of very high-intensity strength training done no more than once a week creates the greatest adaptive response not only in the muscles, but in the entire energy system (so called “cardio”), than any other form of exercise. Thus the cost/benefit picture for this approach is very favorable compared to other forms of exercise if improved health and capabilities are the goal. Moreover, this program should be particularly helpful with body composition due to the way it draws out stored muscle glycogen to greater depths, including in those last-ditch “emergency” muscle fibers that we do not normally access, therefore greatly increasing insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake in muscle cells for days after that single workout.

On the downside, I found the anti-running thread weakly argued. I can sympathize with anti-“running,” wherein “running” is understood in a conventional way, as the authors do, as essentially a practice of chronic mis- and over-training of a basically unhealthy form of movement, that is, heel-strike running performed in highly unnatural "running shoes."

The conventional way, however, is hardly all that is to be said for running. There are other ways to run that are healthier, for example, the running methods described in the Pose Method of Triathlon Techniques, which I have adopted over the past year along with the use of minimalist footwear (I have discovered that SoleRunners work much better for me than the vaunted Vibram FiveFingers). As Pose Method developer Nicholas Romanov argues, running can and should also be approached as a skill sport, rather than a mere “pounding of the pavement,” which is of course horrible. Thus, the authors have made a good case for their own program, but they are much weaker in using that case to undermine certain other approaches and activities with which they are less well-versed.

Intelligent training methods, including those described in the book, could also be applied to develop more healthful and effective running programs. A more refined approach to running could be addressed along with the other "skill sports" in the context that the book provides. The strength methods could also be adapted for running-specific support. The book came out behind the curve of the growing reconception of running as as skill sport with more and less healthful ways of being performed.

Can I combine their insights and their 12-minute strength program with my evolving running program? I have some ideas on how to do it somewhere between Mark Sisson's recent advice on marathon training and a BBS-based running support program, and that is what I intend to attempt in the coming months.