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Thursday, April 4, 2013

A critique of 'Body for Life'

"Tom, what do you think of Bill Phillps' 'Body for Life' program?  I've heard some mixed things and was curious what you might think of it."  - Joe P.  Leesburg, Ga.

Well Joe, thanks for the question.

The Body for Life program, and the subsequent challenge, is one of those mixed things out there.  Some people worship it, while others despise it.  For those of you unfamiliar with the program, it's a 12-week challenge that incorporates weight lifting, cardio training, and diet with a "cheat" day thrown in as part of an overall attempt at transforming your body.

The book itself contains pictures of people's transformations, and tales of the winners of the Body for Life Challenge

However, there are a few issues with the program.  I say this not as someone who just is looking at it from the outside, but as someone who's actually completed a challenge.

1.  The lifting plan

The workout plan itself isn't bad.  It uses a pyramid set principle and working to failure on the last set.  While there are mixed opinions on whether or not that is a good thing, I do know that it's possible to see gains in strength with this principle.  In fact, that was one thing I did see during my challenge.  My beginning lifts weren't even a mild warm-up by the end.

2.   The cardio plan

The cardio plan ran on a similar principle to the lifting plan.  Honestly, I wasn't impressed.

What the workout calls for is a relatively slow build to a peak, with an increase in intensity every minute building to a peak every four minutes.  However, I didn't see much in the way of improvement. 

That said, the principle isn't that different from high intensity interval training, so I suspect it will create results for a lot of people.  However, if you have a specific goal that doesn't involve losing fat, I doubt it will do a whole lot...but Body for Life cardio is far, far better than no cardio.

3.  The diet plan

The diet plan is what, in my opinion, kills the body for life program.  Now, when this program was first created, it contained much of what was "conventional wisdom".  However, things are starting to change.

Like many diet plans, it places an emphasis on low or non-fat dairy and "healthy" grains. 

Unfortunately, science is starting to call some of that into question.  More and more studies are finding that sugars are the problem, not fat.  A recent study reported in the L.A. Times showed that low fat and non fat milk didn't help toddlers' weight.  In fact, the study suggested that those types of milk may have helped increase those toddlers' weight.  Um...oops?

Also, there is a decided lack of emphasis on vegetables.  Instead, carbs are gotten through complex carb containing grains and tubers.  I have no issue with the tubers, as sweet potatoes are a staple at my house, but the grains are an issue.  However, through vegetables, you can get all the necessary carbohydrates you need while netting fewer calories overall.
Then there is the "cheat day".  I understand the idea of programming in flexibility, but there's also a dark side to this.  That dark side is the cheat day becomes more of a binge.  The idea behind the cheat day is that it lets your body know that food is still available and prevents your body from going into starvation mode.  Unfortunately, since binging isn't exactly atypical, what really happens is often an undermining of any fat burned previously.

4.  The challenge

The challenge, at least when I did mine, wasn't really about health.  It was about marketing.  Bill Phillips owned EAS, a supplement company.  As part of the competition, you had to buy EAS products.

Now, I'm a capitalist myself, so I don't have a moral problem with this.  However, I think it's disingenuous at least to pretend that this is about helping to make people healthier.  The fact of the matter is, health can be had without expensive supplements, and I think Phillips knows this. 


You could do worse than to follow the advice laid out in Body for Life, but you could also do far, far better.  The diet is restrictive, the workouts rather basic, and the overall transformation necessary to the lifestyle just doesn't happen in many cases.  I did lose a little bit of weight on this program, but nowhere near the incredible transformations highlighted in Phillips' book.

What's more, Phillips presents no new information in his book.  Every principle he espouses is available for free on the internet, as well as the counter points on better performing principles.  You see, there's been no review of the information evident since the challenge first started in 1996. 

If you're considering buying the book and trying the challenge, I'm going to advise you not to bother.  There are better ways to burn the fat than to spend the money on books and expensive supplements.  In fact, you'll probably get as much, if not more, out of most fitness blogs than Body for Life.  At least they update their information.

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