Body Hacking

Joe Gregorio

Three years ago I posted how I had lost 20 lbs on the Atkins diet, that was after discovering that by just switching from drinking carbonated sodas to tea that I had 'accidentally' lost 10 lbs. That was a real eye opening event for me, not only because of the weight loss but because it made me realize that my tea drinking and Atkins experience were really body hacking. Of all the things I love to tinker with, wood, software, landscaping, etc., I had never considered my own metabolism as something that was up for experimentation. That's one of the big reasons that over a year ago our family joined the local YMCA and why I started, of all things, weight lifting. If you know me, you know how far from the typical 'me' that sounds. But I did it and have enjoyed it greatly as another venue of body hacking. Over the course of a year I've discovered several things about myself and my metabolism.

If I don't leave long enough between my sets, particularly when working out in the morning, I will overheat and get nauseaus. Very nauseaus. We'll just leave it at that, ok?
Power versus Endurance
When I was younger I did a lot of cycling, putting on between fifty and a hundred miles a week on my bike as a teenager during the summer. Based on that I initially started working out doing long sets, typically 12 to 24 repetitions. Let's just say that didn't work out, see the above on 'Overheating'. What I found worked much better for me was working on power, doing short sets of five to eight repetitions and always working close to the maximum weight I could lift.
When I took the initial training from the staff at the YMCA they had me doing eight or more repetitions and then only adding weight once I could do twelve repetitions regularly. The only problem was that quickly led to plateauing, I could lift X twelve times but could barley do three repetitions with X+delta, where delta was some small weight. What I found works much better for me for adding weight are 6-1's or 5-4-3's. For 6-1's you find the weight you can do '6' repetitions at and also find your maximum single repetition weight, that's the '1'. Do six repetitions at your '6' weight. Now after a break do one repetition at your '1' weight. Now add 5% to all your weights and do the 6-1 again. You just lifted 5% more than you ever lifted before. Once I break through to a new weight I work on adding more repetitions. The 5-4-3 is the same as the 6-1, but using the weights at which you can do 5,4 and 3 repetitions respectively. There are other variations and along with varying the time between sets, the order of the exercises I do, and a hundred other factors I have a rich area of experimentation.
Free vs Machine
I initially used the machines when starting to work out. After several months I tried out free weights and let me tell you; it's like a whole other world. When using a machine your axes of motion are greatly restricted, you are usually pushing or pulling in just one constrained direction and the machine is designed to avoid injury. It's great for when you are just beginning, but when you move from the machines to the free weights you realize that you have no muscles for controlling the weights in all those other axes of motion. It's a bit intimidating lifting what you think is a reasonable weight over your face just to watch your arms wave around like saplings in a breeze.

When I stared all of this, before losing any weight, I peaked at 180 lbs. After being on Atkins I initially lost twenty pounds and in two years following that I kept my carbs low and only gained back five of those pounds as fat, bringing be back up to 165 lbs. Since I started lifting I have gained 10 to 15 pounds, but not a bit of it has been added fat. Now all of this is in the way of introducing Seth Roberts.

Seth Roberts, a Berkeley psychologist has taken the idea of self-experimentation to a whole new, and scientific, level. He has an article in the NYTimes and is currently guest blogging on the Freakonomics blog. Here is a man that is seriously into body hacking, along the way discovering new ideas about weight loss, health, mood and sleep. How did he discover how to lose weight by drinking sugar water, or that watching the talking heads on TV in the morning is good for your mood. It's fascinating because in the same way that Steven Levitt uses the tools of economics to answer everyday questions, Seth Roberts uses experimentation and basic statistics to answer basic questions about how the human body works.

Your adverts on the rhs of the page are
overwriting the body text?

Using firefox. Varying text size seems
not to affect the layout??

regards DaveP

Posted by Dave Pawson on 2005-09-13

Interesting... In 2003 I lost 25 pounds by switching from Coca Cola to carbonated mineral water ? I need the bubbles, so plain water wasn't an option, but carbonated water is ok. I lost this weight in the course of a summer, no extra diet or anything. Makes you pause really...

I like this concept of body hacking, although the thought of hacking at the body would be disturbing!

Posted by dda on 2005-09-13

Wow, your experiences at the Y are strinkingly similar to mine at the gym.  I went in at 185, 3 years ago, trying to lose some weight, but now am at 200 lbs (with a much more attractive BMI).  My cardio still needs work though, since I also stick to high-weight/low-rep sets on the free weights.

Posted by Mark Baker on 2005-09-13

Actually, In the past I have made some research about this topic, there was a very good magazine "Muscle Media" ( that used a "scientific approach" about the bodybuilding experience, I learned about the metabolism process and why is better to do cardio early in the morning with an empty stomach,  glycemic index, creatine, low- carb high protein diets, why free weight is better than machines, etc ... Although the book don't have many scientific background, the advices remains: "Body for Life". Much better if you can find the old numbers of the magazine

Posted by anonymous on 2005-09-13

I lost about 15 pounds last year (from 175 to 160) by "simply" reading the South Beach Diet and exercising (15 mn light weights and 30-45 mn elliptical, 3-5 times a week.) For the weights, I fully agree: free weights are great! As for the diet, I don't care for the exact recipes of the South Beach Diet yet it opened my eyes figuring out what are good vs bad foods and actually following the guidelines was just enough.

Posted by ralfoide on 2005-09-18

Always good to hear other lifters experiences. I agree that the free weights add the "control factor" but I have gone back to machines for the heavy stuff. Try the 1-5 rep max weight on a machine in combination with the free weight reps. I found that the limited range of motion (not to mention the safety factor) allowed me to use more weight on the machine. Of course, better yet, the power rack.

Posted by Mark on 2005-09-29

comments powered by Disqus