The Minimum Effective Dose: Tim Ferris Greek to Freak Workout

Now that we’re two months into the New Year, the “New Year, New You” posts on Facebook and advertisers trying to convince you to “come back to the gym” have died down.

Yet, despite lockdowns and remote jobs becoming more prevalent, a new(er) year has revived us, we are still somehow even more strapped for time. From Zoom Conference calls to assisting your kids with Zoom learning, it can be difficult to knock out a 45-Minute Peloton workout or spend two hours in the gym (even though you really do need to get away from it all). 

Enter the king of the minimum effective dose: Tim Ferris. Known for his podcast and being a human guinea pig, Ferris is the author of books such as “The 4-Hour Workweek” and “The 4-Hour Chef.” And while Ferris himself will tell you the “4-Hour” tag is nothing more than effective marketing, his brand is still based around the Occum’s Razor principle, or what is the simplest, most effective way of doing something?

In his book, “The 4-Hour Body” (see a pattern here?) Ferris explores the most effective, time-efficient way of working out. 

Here’s the gameplan:

  1. 28 Days
  2. Two Workouts per week
  3. 10 Sets per workout
  4. 5×5 Cadence until muscle failure
  5. Rest 3-5 Minutes between sets
  6. Eat as much as you can (to gain mass, follow slow carb is cutting)

The Workout

  1. Pullover
  2. Yates Bent Row
  3. Shoulder-Width Leg Press (or Squat)
  4. Pec-Deck (or Bench Press) 
  5. Weighted Dips
  6. Leg Curl (Lunges)
  7. Reverse Thick-Bar Curl
  8. Seated Calf Raises
  9. Manual Neck Resistance
  10. Machine Crunches


Tip 1) Use the Machines

The whole goal is to push the muscle to complete failure and stop. Therefore, while a free weight is usually better than a machine for functionality, in this case, the machine wins. By using a machine, you can safely push the muscle to failure and allow it to exhaust. 

Tip 2) Rest

This workout and its goal is building size and mass. This is only possible during rest. More important than the movement is making sure you give the muscles ample time to recover. This routine is about crushing it while you’re in the gym and then chilling the f*** out. 

Tip 3) Track Everything

It is a precise approach. While it could be done in a “grip it and rip it” fashion, it is better to ensure the reps’ muscles, the reps, and the weight are tracked. Remember, Sherlock Holmes needs data, data, data to make bread. 

Tip 4)

There are ten exercises listed above to complete a full-body routine. Ferris recommends 7 of these exercises, so there are some dealer’s choices. The neck work is optionable, as is the ab work. Honestly, the weighted dips could be extra as well, but a significant challenge. 


The workout takes longer than Ferris’s notes claim. With ample rest, the training clocked in around an hour. This is still extremely short, mind you, but longer than the book says. 

So what is the science behind this? If you want a full breakdown, I recommend reading Ferri’s book The 4-Hour Body; however, below is a general examination of the plan’s facts. 

Six principles make this an effective workout. First, the plan follows Arthur Jones’s recommendations for one-set-to-failure from The Colorado Experiment. Lower frequency training, no more than twice a week, with a minimum of three minutes of rest between the sets, allows more time for the muscles to recover and rebuild. 

Muscles are not built in the gym. They are built-in bed. Rather, the muscles are torn and repaired. Therefore, if you are trying to maximize gains, then you need to maximize your recovery. 

Next, performing every repetition with a five by five cadence, this takes out the chance to use momentum in the exercise and keep the muscle under tension longer. Time under pressure is the key to this workout. The goal is to keep the muscle at work for at least 70 seconds. By going slow down and slow up, the muscle has to work both ways. 

Remember, the goal of this routine is to build mass, not develop power. That comes later. For now, eat massive amounts of food, don’t worry about counting calories; just eat, eat, and then eat some more. 

Also, by focusing on no more than seven movements that hit multiple joints, you work out your entire body during this short workout but demand the least amount of energy with the most amount of testosterone released. 

Exercising less frequently allows the body to increase strength and size as most people’s recovery ability can only raise about 20%, while fat-free muscle tissue can grow as much as 100%. What does that mean? More rest allows the body more time to build muscle. 

Lastly, track it to tame it. Slight variations can create massive variables. Often, when people say they’re following a plan and not tracking it, be it a diet or a workout routine, they’re not. Track it and adapt it. Furthermore, the muscles will adapt, and you must keep pushing them. 7-10 reps at a certain weight may be too easy, and you need more reps or more weight. You only get one shot at the exercise, so getting it right is crucial.