‘Tim Ferris as Scathach’ or Occam’s Protocol Applied to Medieval Fighting

Mo bhean has decided to keep a blog of her progress in using Tim Ferris‘ book,The Four Hour Body, to get back into shape after six years of pregnancies, moves and general chaos and stress. Not to be outdone, I thought that I would provide my own progress and path doing the same. We started this program about two weeks ago (this being the third as of last Saturday), keeping to what he calls the ‘Slow Carb Diet’ and applying Occam’s Protocol to exercise routines.

Occam’s Protocol is Ferris’ nickname for a minimalist approach to working out: only do what is necessary to achieve results. As with everything that he has written so far, it agrees perfectly with my own experience. I used to work out avidly, three days a week, every week, but with little real result. I would always hit a wall, but the wall never moved no matter how much I pushed. According to Ferris, my problem was that I was working out too much. The theory behind the Protocol is as follows:

  1. Perform one set to failure for each exercise, stopping immediately to avoid breaking down previously formed muscle.
  2. Reduce movements to agonizing slowness to maximize how long your muscles are bearing the load.
  3. Focus on 2–10 exercises, preferably working out the whole body to maximize fat-loss.
  4. Increase recovery time as you gain in size, since it takes a finite amount of time to repair any patch of muscle tissue; more tissue to repair means more time.
Now I am not following this to the letter since I sold my set of weights four years ago prior to one of our many moves and cannot afford a gym membership. What I do have, though, is a lot of books. I don’t need a ton of weight to get to muscle failure, but I need more than just push-ups and pull-ups. The natural solution was to fill some grocery bags with books and use them. Here is what I’ve done.
For the last two weeks, my first really beginning to exercise again, I followed the beginner’s version of the ‘300 Workout‘ as listed on Men’s Health. The routine follows.
Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesdays, when I took the kids to the park, I would do:
  • Body-Weight Rows – 15 reps
  • Body-Weight Squats – 25 reps
  • Pushups – 15 reps
  • Jumping Jacks – 50 reps
  • Mountain Climbers – 20 reps
  • Close-Grip Pushups – 10 reps
  • Body-Weight Rows – 15 reps
This was enough to get the blood flowing, and I would certainly hit muscle failure on the Body-weight Rows by the last set. Moreover, by the end of last week, I was able to get through all the rows without stopping, but there was not really much gain in muscle. I thought maybe I should shake things up and try something with more resistance.
Then last week, for the first time in six years, I went to fighter’s practice for the SCA (where you strap on home-made armour and exchange beatings with rattan ‘swords’ — more fun than you can shake a stick at, let me tell you!).
Within an hour of fighting I was feeling that tell-tale weakness that comes from muscle failure, so I stepped down off the field with Occam’s Protocol in mind, and stayed off of any exercise until this morning, three days later. I then filled two grocery-bags with books (prob. about 18 lbs. apiece) and went through a very altered version of the ‘Spartacus Workout’ also found at Men’s Health. Here is what I actually did:
1. First Stage, two rounds of each exercise, switching sides for the one-sided exercises
  • Dumbbell Hang-Pull for 40 seconds (this turned into about 19 or 20 reps)
  • Offset Dumbell Reverse Lunge (really simple: hold a weight at the shoulder and act like you are stepping backward into a kneel, but don’t touch the ground — ca. 18 reps.)
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Swing (This is like Ferris’ Cattle-Bell Swing, but with one hand; I got through about 34 swings each time — 68 or 70 in all)
  •  Thrusters (a kind of squat with a military press at the end — I hit muscle fatigue about half-way through the second round and stopped)
  • Single-arm, Single-leg, Underhand Dumbbell Row (just go to Men’s Health. This one’s really just a tweaked Bicep Curl)
2. Second Stage: This was supposed to be another five exercises, but I didn’t want to overdo it so stuck to two rounds three exercises in order to get a full abdominal workout
  • The Dumbbell Chop (40 seconds)
  • Plank Walk-up to Push-up (40 seconds)
  • Tim Ferris’ Cat Vomit Exercise (you just have to read his book)
In a minute I am going to use my trusty bag of books to round everything out with some Turkish Get-Up‘s — what Ferris call’s the ‘Document Save’ of the exercising world since it gets your body to work all the muscle groups together.
We’ll see what the upshot is. I know that I am not following Ferris’ directions perfectly, but really his book is all over the place so far as organization goes, not to mention contradictions between sections, so I’m keeping to the principles that ‘feel’ right: 1) slow, careful reps for maximum load, 2) work out complex actions to muscle failure and 3) stop as soon as there is any muscle failure to maximize muscle growth. Just since fighter’s practice my right bicep gained half an inch in circumference (in three days — Ferris has a whole section on quantifying progress by constant data collection) and over the last two weeks I have lost 4″ off of my waist, so I am fairly confident in these principles.  At least I will try this system for a few more weeks and see what happens.

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