Body By Science

The Big-Five Workout Program is based on the book “Body By Science” from Doug McGuff and John Little. The program is like a mutual fund of exercises, this means basically you need nothing more than these exercises. It is the best starting point and a ideal fundament to stimulate all of the metabolic benefits necessary to optimize human health and fitness. It is very simple and it’s done in less than 13 minutes a week.

You can do the workout with machines or as a free weight option. However given that it is basically a resistance training, which means that the goal of your training is a point where you can no longer produce enough force to lift the resistance, the machine option is the better choice.

The Exercises

The program consists exclusively of compound exercises, that means that they involve rotation around several joint axes and therefore involve also several muscular groups per exercise.

Seated Row (Upper Body Pull)

Do not try to tuck your elbows in or flare them out. Let them ride neutrally in the natural plane along which they tend to want to move - tracking in line with your hands, wrists and shoulder.

Chest Press (Upper Body Push)

Start the movement with plane of your palms at the front of your armpits, which means that the arms should be kept at a 45-degree angle to your body. Press your arms forward smoothly, and stop just short of lockout, so that the muscle stays loaded and you’re not resting on a bone-on-bone tower with your elbows locked. When you’re lowering the weight, the lower turnaround should be performed when your palms are about even with your front portion of your chest. Concentrate on keeping your shoulders tucked down as you perform this exercise (important!).


Have your arms in front of you, not out to the sides, and use an underhand grip, with your hands a little narrower than shoulder-width apart. This grip is preferred because it provides a slightly greater range of motion. From a position in which your arms are fully extended above your head, pull the handles (or bar) down to the top of your chest. Hold the concentration for three to five seconds before allowing your arms to return up to the straight position.

Overhead Press

It is important to move your arms overhead with your hand in front of you, rather than out to the sides, ideally with a parallel grip (palms facing each other).

Leg Press

The machine should be preset so that when you are seated in the machine in the flexed or tucked position, your thighs are perpendicular to the ceiling. Push your legs slowly and smoothly out to the point just short of lockout. You don’t want your knees to be locked out, as this creates a loss of muscle tension during the bone-on-bone tower. From this position perform a slow transition, or reverse of direction, with your legs now bending until they have returned to the starting position. The whole movement should be a fluid, smooth and circular motion. In a machine in which you are standing: Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, and your back should be straight. Slowly bend your knees, keeping you back straight, until the bar on your shoulders lightly touches the weight stack. Descend with control, not rapidly.

In the video below you can get an impression of all movements and how intense it should be. The movements are shown by McGuff himself.

The Rep Speed - How slowly?

All repetitions have to be made slowly. The reason is, that we don’t want any momentum in the movement (p85).

Your goal is not simply moving a weight from point A to point B, but rather the inroading, or weakening, of muscle.

In addition to building more strength, training with a more controlled cadence significantly reduces the risk of injury.

The weight should be moved as slowly as you possibly can without the movement degenerating into a series of starts and stops. I found a 5 second cadence fine, that means 5 seconds up and 5 seconds down. Depending on the equipment you are using this can also be 10 or even 15 seconds. It can vary because some machines have a difficult start but a easy finish position and therefore the cadence can also vary in the up and down part. A rule of thumb is that the move should be as slowly as possibly and without turning into a stuttering, stop-and-start scenario, this can vary from exercise to exercise.

Time Under Load (TUL)

Normally we count how many repetitions we make with a given weight or load to record progress. However in this workout we time the duration of the set from the moment it begins until the moment muscular failure is reached. This is called the Time Under Load (TUL). It is much more meaningful than just the repetitions. For example if you make 6 reps in exercise A with a TUL of 1 minute and 30 seconds and in the next workout you make again 6 reps in exercise A but with a TUL of 1 minute and 40 seconds you actually have a improvement of 10 seconds which would otherwise be missed.

The TUL to achieve is about 90 seconds.

If you find that you have misjudged the resistance you should be using and are performing the exercise for too long (more than ninety seconds), keep going until you hit positive failure, and increase the weight by approx. 10 percent to get you back under the ninety-second TUL.


Once every seven days is an excellent frequency if you are going to true failure and not just to the level of toleration of discomfort. If you’re doing everything appropriately - working hard enough, keeping the volume of the workout in the realm in which your recovery can manage it, and keeping proper track of your performance - the amount of resistance you’re using should progress in a stepwise fashion, and you should be matching or bettering your time under load at an increasing resistance from workout to workout (p93).

If you have difficulty with progression, that is an early marker that you need to start inserting more recovery days, because you are now accumulating enough strength to produce enough of a workload that it is difficult for you to recover at that particular frequency.

Rest Periods Between Exercises

You should move quickly from one exercise to the next. It should be about 30 seconds to a minute. The advantage of moving faster between the exercises is that your needed amount of resistance for the next exercise drops (you had less recovery) and so the relative degree of inroad that you’re achieving as you progress through the workout is increased. But you shouldn’t move so quickly that you feel light-headed or nauseated. As a rule of thumb you shouldn’t feel completely recovered before each exercise as if your’e starting the first set of the workout.

Record Keeping

You should keep a record of the date of your workout, the time, the exercises, how much resistance, seat position, the cadence(reps) and the TUL. It’s also a good idea to measure the time from the first exercise until failure on the last exercise in the program. With this data you can also track the total rest time which should not increase massively from workout to workout (Total Time minus Total of all TUL).

When to Change the Program

You should stay on this program from four to twelve weeks, depending on how you are progressing. Should you notice a slowdown in your progress, then for example you could split the program into two blocks (two Big Three Workouts) with additional isolation movements.

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