In his new book The 4-Hour Body, author of The 4-Hour Workweek Tim Ferriss makes the giant leap from get-rich-quick guru to extreme fad diet guru. As you can see from the above graphic describing his book’s principles, taken from the book trailer, something doesn’t quite add up here.
Ferriss original book took the idea of leverage from The Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule) to extremes. The original notion is that 20% of one’s efforts (e.g. customers) lead to 80% of one’s results (e.g. revenue). Ferriss’ version was that you should be utterly ruthless and hyper-competitive in order to create your own small business that gives you the free time to brag about how much free time you have while endlessly promoting yourself. This book launched the entire “lifestyle design” cottage blog industry (Ferriss himself coined the phrase). But in the NEW! and IMPROVED! The 4-Hour Body, Mr. Ferriss claims that one can do oh so much more with oh so much less (and leaving 2.5% mysteriously unaccounted for to boot).
This is a long post. Here’s the tl;dr version: Tim Ferriss is a fraud*. But you already knew that, didn’t you. *sigh* Such is the foolishness of critiquing such figures.
So what exactly can one do to hack one’s body into superhero levels of fitness in an instant with Ferriss’ magic bullet secret information never before released to the drooling, gullible public? Here is a summary taken directly from the Amazon product page (with my snarky comments in red):
Thinner, bigger, faster, stronger… which 150 pages will you read? None, thank you. And don’t thinner and bigger cancel each other out?
Is it possible to:
Reach your genetic potential in 6 months? Uh, no. But appealing to laziness sells scammy books, doesn’t it.
Sleep 2 hours per day and perform better than on 8 hours? Sounds really dangerous. But snort a little Adderall and you’ll have no problem finishing that paper.
Lose more fat than a marathoner by bingeing? Ah, better living through gluttony. Also, long slow distance running is probably the worst exercise method to lose fat.
Indeed, and much more. This is not just another diet and fitness book. This is not another totally transparent con. Tim Ferriss is not a fraud. Do not pay any attention to the man behind the curtain.
The 4-Hour Body is the result of an obsessive quest, spanning more than a decade, to hack the human body. It contains the collective wisdom of hundreds of elite athletes, dozens of MDs, and thousands of hours of jaw-dropping personal experimentation. Can any of this be independently verified? From Olympic training centers to black-market laboratories, from Silicon Valley to South Africa, Tim Ferriss, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek, fixated on one life-changing question:
For all things physical, what are the tiniest changes that produce the biggest results? Atomic energy, probably. You’re not gonna go “quantum” on me, are you?
Thousands of tests later, this book contains the answers for both men and women.
From the gym to the bedroom, it’s all here, and it all works.
YOU WILL LEARN (in less than 30 minutes each):
How to lose those last 5-10 pounds (or 100+ pounds) with odd combinations of food and safe chemical cocktails. *NOTE: Results not typical. These claims have not been tested by the FDA and are not intended to cure or prevent any disease. These methods are also probably stupid and dangerous.
* How to prevent fat gain while bingeing (X-mas, holidays, weekends) What ever happened to moderation?
* How to increase fat-loss 300% with a few bags of ice Magic fat-melting ice!
* How Tim gained 34 pounds of muscle in 28 days, without steroids, and in four hours of total gym time You mean steroids?
* How to sleep 2 hours per day and feel fully rested First off—why? Second—lack of sleep can cause brain damage and memory loss while simultaneously making you more likely to cause a deadly traffic accident.
* How to produce 15-minute female orgasms Here is some evidence from brain research suggesting bigger and more frequent orgasms lead to dopamine crashes for up to several weeks not to mention increased likelihood of infidelity.
* How to triple testosterone and double sperm count That’s easy: watch Conan the Barbarian over and over.
* How to go from running 5 kilometers to 50 kilometers in 12 weeks That’s just asking for a permanent injury.
* How to reverse “permanent” injuries You’ll need that tip after multiplying your running volume by 10x in 12 weeks and…
* How to add 150+ pounds to your lifts in 6 months Good luck with those totally destroyed joints.
* How to pay for a beach vacation with one hospital visit Is that from the hernia because of too heavy weight lifting? And what exactly are you proposing here—insurance fraud?
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are more than 50 topics covered, all with real-world experiments, many including more than 200 test subjects.
You don’t need better genetics or more discipline. You need immediate results that compel you to continue. Ah, I’m glad I don’t need virtue to achieve my narcissistic desires, just magic bullet shortcuts. I just knew TV was right and mom was wrong!
That’s exactly what The 4-Hour Body delivers.
About the Author
TIMOTHY FERRISS, nominated as one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Business People of 2007,” is author of the #1 New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek, which has been published in 35 languages.
Wired magazine has called Tim “The Superman of Silicon Valley” for his manipulation of the human body. He is a tango world record holder, former national kickboxing champion (Sanshou), guest lecturer at Princeton University, and faculty member at Singularity University, based at NASA Ames Research Center. I’ve got some things to say about these “qualifications” below….
When not acting as a human guinea pig, Tim enjoys speaking to organizations ranging from Nike to the Harvard School of Public Health.
If it Looks Too Good to Be True…
I’m sorry to be a sourpus and all, but some things aren’t possible, and other things really aren’t advisable. Many amazing things are indeed possible for human beings to learn and develop, but almost all of them require enormously focused efforts over long periods of time, cultivating such boring old virtues like patience and persistence (but who wants THAT stuff?).
Speaking of stuff, once upon a time, Tim Ferriss promoted a product advertised on television infomercials called “Super Blue Stuff”:
In 2002, 6 years before this testimonial was uploaded to YouTube, the FTC fined Blue Stuff, Inc. for $3m for false advertising in making claims to cure chronic pain on its infomercials. From an ABC investigation of Super Blue Stuff:
DOCTOR DANIEL FURST, UCLA SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: If it had any real data behind it, we would have heard about, and we certainly have not.
HUNTER: (Voice Over Tape) Dr. Furst says, if some consumers are getting some relief, that may be because Blue Stuff contains ingredients like menthol, which are known to be effective for minor aches and pains and which are commonly available in many over the counter remedies. But those looking for a miracle cure for severe pain may well be in for a cruel surprise.
FURST: Testimonials carry a lot of weight to the person, but they have absolutely no scientific validity in and of themselves. Everybody may feel better for one reason or another, but it may have nothing to do with the substance that they’re talking about.
How to Kick Ass By Picking On Guys Half Your Size
In his first book, Tim Ferriss, “Kick Boxing Champion,” openly brags about how he won his kickboxing match through what basically amounts to cheating while barely remaining within the rules. Most fighters cut some weight in order to not have to fight against opponents much larger than themselves if they are straddling two weight classes. But Ferriss, using a radical dehydration technique, cut so much weight for the weigh-in and then re-hydrated again that he was much bigger and heavier than his opponents. He then won on a technicality by pushing his much smaller opponents out of the ring. He never technically did any kickboxing at all, more like shoving.
Many people associate the martial arts with cultivating virtues like discipline, mental focus, with diligent practice. Picking on guys half your size makes you a bully, not a champ. Ferriss is no champion of kickboxing—he is a champion of cutting corners, of grandiosity, and of deception.
Ferriss elsewhere gives his strategy for becoming a “guest lecturer” at an Ivy League college: rent out a room and hold a talk on campus. You’ve technically lectured on the campus grounds now. No, you weren’t actually invited by the University nor endorsed in any way whatsoever, but technically you’re being honest, right? By the way, did you know I’m the world’s best personal development blogger? I just held a select international competition and declared myself winner, so technically it’s true. No, you don’t get to vote—sorry, those are the rules!
My Virtual Assistants Absolutely LOVE My Book!
Some people suspect or imply that Ferriss may have hired his army of third-world virtual assistants to post 5-star reviews of The 4-Hour Workweek which suspiciously has 1000’s of reviews, most short and 5 stars. A 1-star review on Amazon also suspects foul play:
Are the reviews being gamed …?, April 2, 2010This review is from: The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated: Expanded and Updated, With Over 100 New Pages of Cutting-Edge Content. (Hardcover)
Too many of the five star reviews are by people who have only written one review ever … which happens to be for this book. I would guess 50% of the 5 star are that way. Seems strange. I have no evidence obviously – this is simply an observation.
In fact I am sympathetic to the material … not 5 star quality … but saying something important by saying that you must know who you are, what you want and learn to focus – and do it with some ease, poise and grace. Doing so will help you be the best you can be. No problems there.
Popular blogger Penelope Trunk was receiving enthusiastic comment spam promoting Ferriss’ first book when she confronted him about it. He denied any involvement, but upon further insistence from Trunk later replied that he’d “make sure there were no more comments like that” on her blog. Ms. Trunk also reports that Ferriss pulled a bait-and-switch tactic when he first met her at SXSW in order to promote his book, and implies that in her opinion, he is “full of shit” and self-centered. Was Ferriss paying his VA’s to comment on Trunk’s and possibly other peoples’ blogs? It may not be illegal to do so, but it sure isn’t above the board either.
For his most recent book promotion, Ferriss held a contest to artificially inflate sales of his book in order to jump to #1 on Amazon and get on the NY Times Bestseller list and thus be famous for being famous, a tactic also used by the Kardashian sisters.
One of Ferriss’ claims that supports his new book is that he supposedly gained 34 lbs in 28 days. Some experienced bodybuilders on the Bodybuilding.com forums find this claim to be extremely unlikely if not outright fraud. Other experienced bodybuilders were equally skeptical. On his original BodyBuilding.com article, Ferriss claims:
Before and after measurements, including underwater hydrostatic weighings, were taken by Dr. Peggy Plato at the Human Performance Laboratory at the San Jose State University. Though this ridiculous experiment might seem unhealthy, I also managed other health goals without the use of statins (see the pre-bed supplementation). No joke.
Here are a few comparative shots. Oh, and I forgot to mention, all of this was done with two 30-minute workouts per week, for a total of 8 HOURS of gym time.
Later on his blog, he revised his claim to only 4 hours of gym time, hence the “4-hour body.” Was his math just wrong the first time (2 workouts x :30 x 4 weeks = 4 hours not 8 hours), or is he having trouble keeping his story straight?
This is the response that I have sent to people who have seen Tim Ferris’ website or blog and have contacted me:
I don’t know anything about Tim Ferris’s exercise regime. He came through our Sport and Fitness Evaluation Program for some testing a number of years ago. He did not provide any information about his purpose. In fact, I only found out that he put my name on his website after receiving an inquiry from someone who had seen the website and asked if I could confirm his results. I cannot — he signed a consent form that states that individual results will not be disclosed. Although he contacted me about being retested, I am not willing to do that because he is apparently using my name and San Jose State University for his commercial purposes, without asking for permission or notifying me of this.
Note also that one of the supplements Ferriss used in his alleged transformation was Ferriss’ own BrainQuicken BodyQUICK, which is advertised at the bottom of the article.
YouTube-famous bodybuilder “Scooby” debunks such claims of rapid muscle gain and says most post-pubescent individuals can expect to gain 5-10 lbs of muscle per year at best, unless they have superior genetics (in which case slightly more) or are using steroids. Scooby does not sell any products and all his videos are free (he has only 3 or 4 affiliate links that I can find on his site and discloses that they are affiliate links). Personally I’m more inclined to believe the soft-spoken Scooby on this one. Others claim that one can gain more muscle than that, but only if you had it in the past due to a phenomenon bodybuilders call “muscle memory.” Here’s how one person responded to Ferriss’ claims:
I’m surprised no one caught this yet.
Can you gain 34lbs of muscle in 4 weeks? No!
Can you regain 34lbs of muscle in 4 weeks? Yes!
This dude used to have that muscle, lost it and gained it back.
Casey Viator did something similar when he worked with Arthur Jones. He went through a period of time “detraining” prior to his stint with Jones and Nautilus.
Then just like magic he gained several pounds of muscle quickly. When in reality all he did was regain the muscle. And as everyone knows regaining is pretty easy, especially if it’s done immediately after losing it.
In other words, Ferriss might have technically gained 34lbs in 28 days but nobody can confirm this, and he may have been regaining lost muscle not gaining new muscle. As we’ve seen already, the “shoving people much smaller than him” champion doesn’t seem to above such borderline fraudlent tactics.
“Lifestyle Design” and The 4-Hour Con
One of the premises of the 4-Hour Workweek is Ferriss’ claim to have gone from $40k per year to $40k per month with his BrainQuicken LLC supplement company. According to Stephen Barrett, an industry watchdog, dietary supplements are a largely unregulated industry and have been a consistent source of consumer fraud that the FDA can do little if anything about. Reviews of BrainQuicken (also branded as BodyQuick) are not particularly favorable either (emphasis mine):
BrainQuicken is a health supplement manufactured by the company of the same name. The same product is also sold under the brand name BodyQuick. BrainQuicken was founded by productivity guru Tim Ferriss, but he has since sold the company. BrainQuicken (aka BodyQuick) claims to improve study skills, memory, athletic performance and as a safe stimulant. The claims made by the manufacturer are not supported with any scientific data however. The official website frequently mentions a 60-day, 110% money-back guarantee, yet when this option is investigated the website says this offer is “on hold”, and the product is only available from online retailers. Thus, there seems to be no real money-back guarantee or free trials of this product available.
The official website of BrainQuicken reads like a television informercial, with dozens of testimonials from people from all professions. In addition to improving cognitive function, BrainQuicken also claims to aid in strength training, improving reaction speed and circulation, and in hang-over prevention.
But Wait, There’s More!
Some suspect that Ferriss may have made fraudulent or misleading claims about his income from BrainQUICKEN that he stated in The 4-Hour Workweek. Once again, the math doesn’t add up. A devotee of Ferriss’ methods attempted to copy Ferriss’ supplement business for his lifestyle design project and found that his market research showed the numbers Ferriss claimed didn’t match up with the business and market realities:
Do the math yourself, and anyone can quickly see that BrainQUICKEN does not generate anywhere near that income.
As it is written it is straightforward, but it does lead people to believe that Tim made 40k in income every month from BQ. Even a cursory view of easily verifiable numbers shows that this can’t have come from BQ (not to mention zero spending on google ads).
I also researched the heck out of the business model in developing GameBRAIN. That is when the cracks in Tim’s muse story came from. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but after imitating BQ to a certain extent, it was like an onion. Lots of good layers to dig through, only to find a few rotten ones.
This wouldn’t be the first time a get-rich-quick guru made a false income claim in order to sell a get-rich-quick product based around his fake success. The Salty Droid caught get-rich-quick internet marketer Irwin “Frank” Kern admitting on video to that very thing. Kern says in this video that he didn’t make a dime before his first venture made money (which was later determined an illegal pyramid scheme by the FTC and Kern was sued for every last penny of his profits), yet his first venture claimed he had made $115,467.21 the year prior. From one of the slides on the video:
Was Ferriss’ first “muse” business—a business that pays you enough to live off in just 4 or less hours a week—actually his book deal, the book that supposedly contained the secrets to his already achieved success?
Maybe he really did gain 34 lbs in 28 days through some miracle supplementation and working smarter, not harder. Or maybe…just maybe…he fudged a bit. Maybe he doctored the photos up a bit, or used a radical dehydration technique to lose a lot of weight and then quickly put it back on, or otherwise cut corners in order to make it appear as if he had done something more amazing than he actually did. After all, we’re talking about Mr. Ruthless, Mr. Win by Technicality, a man willing to take advantage by any means possible—even if it bends the rules, or the truth—as long as it gets the results he’s looking for in the end. I have no doubt that Tim Ferriss has lifted weights and tried supplements, but this information does raise serious doubts that he has achieved the things he claims to have achieved—the very things that form the basis for his books and his fame.
What Color is Your Lifehacking Hat?
Tim Ferriss is certainly a lifehacker, in the sense of a kid who always plays video games with cheat codes, content to win without putting in the real effort of skill acquisition, lacking patience and persistence and an ability to play fair with others. This is “black hat” or at the very least gray hat lifehacking: self-absorbed, anti-social, and ruthless.
There are also white hat lifehackers. Like the kids who took apart their parent’s 486 PCs just to see how they worked, white hat lifehackers are curious, inventive, follow their interests wherever they go, and are often willing to lend a hand just because they want to share their knowledge with others. White hat lifehackers are curious about what they can do with their lives just to see what’s possible and how things work, not necessarily to achieve anything or to win at some game of money or fame. They push the buttons of their minds just to see what they do, filled with a childlike wonder and curiosity. Inquiry and invention—for its own sake—is more important than “success.”
We are all a mix of both good and bad motivations, but what we choose to cultivate makes a big difference in the long run.
No doubt Ferriss will ignore this blog post, as he has already been criticized many times by others and has posted his policy on dealing with “haters” on his blog (note the attempt at garnering search engine traffic for the “tim ferriss scam” keyword phrase in his blog post title). Unlike Bill “Push-Button Zen” Harris, Ferriss is much more PR savvy and understands that fighting legit criticism is bad for business, so he simply ignores it.
By the way, one of Ferriss’ friends is a guy named Tucker Max. Max is famous for being a psychopathic drug-using womanizer and telling the internet about his sexual conquests in detail, then being sued by one of the women he manipulated and wrote about (he had posted her real name in his online stories). Max used this lawsuit as a way to get more publicity, which got his book onto the NY Times Bestseller list. Ferriss cites Max as a marketing genius for his kissing (or rather manipulating) and telling.
Tim Ferriss isn’t the only one with a principle. I’ve got a principle too—it’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect. And it explains a lot:
“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” ~Bertrand Russell
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” ~W.B. Yeats
*Note to Ferriss and his lawyers: I can neither confirm nor deny any of the specific factual claims made by or against Timothy Ferriss by others that I have quoted or linked to in this article. I am presenting this information merely for educational and entertainment purposes. However, it is my opinion that Timothy Ferriss is a fraud and his books are a scam and it is well within my legal rights to express this publicly on my blog as these are not factually verifiable claims and therefore constitute protected free speech. My intent is not to harm but solely to provide consumer protection from frauds in the personal development industry so that we can advance our field, as well as provide entertainment to my blog readership.
UPDATE 1/14/2011: Haters, please read the addendum before commenting.
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