I met Ryan Lee in August of 2007. He was a speaker at a conference that I attended, and the first night there he came into a small party we were having in a back room at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Austin. We chatted a little, and the next thing that you know him and a couple of other guys are doing pushups in the middle of the restaurant. Not just regular pushups, but ones that involved flipping over, and crawling around the room, doing handstands, and other various acrobatic feats that you don’t normally see in between tables of diners. Thankfully, he’d already finished eating before he started.

I’ve been in Ryan’s private coaching club for the better part of the last year, and he has a lot to offer. His prescribes Tabata workouts, which are high intensity 4 minute workouts that fast, efficient, and that leave you gasping for breath. You spend 20 seconds doing work and 10 seconds resting repeated 8 times. Normally I keep a piece of paper in front of me that have the exercises listed in order, and then program my watch to beep at the appropriate intervals.

Ryan has simplified the process, though, and has created the BodyBot, a web program that will let you set up a program, will lead you through it, and will show you on the screen what you should be doing at any given time.

I bought a membership to the program on Friday evening, and have been using it ever since. I’ve even gotten my wife doing the workouts with me, and trying to get her to lift weights or do body weight types of exercises can be like pulling teeth sometimes. The program isn’t perfect, but it does have a lot to recommend it. I’ll get into some specifics about what areas need improvement, but first let me demonstrate how it works so that you have an idea of what I mean:

The process is simple:

  1. Open the webpage.
  2. Choose a category, then drag the exercise that you want onto the timeline. (Repeat as necessary until you have 8 exercises chosen.)
  3. Choose a tune to work out to.
  4. Optionally, do a 2 minute warm up before you begin.
  5. Press Start, and follow the on screen instructions.

What is this process good for?

Tabata intervals are a super compressed workout that is ideal for burning fat. Even if you don’t want to lose weight or burn fat, it can work your muscles quickly and efficiently and is a great supplement to your running program. Using it as a cross training activity can help build strength and prevent injuries during your middle distance or marathon training program.

Step 1: Exercise Selection

BodyBot » Thousands of Workouts » 4 Minutes FlatThere are 70 different exercises in the BodyBot, which means that you could do a different workout every day for 7 years without repeating the same workout. This is a good way to keep yourself from getting bored, and to prevent your body from adapting to the point where the workouts are no longer a challenge.

There are plenty of open slots for future expansion, so I expect to see new workouts added over the course of the next year. The majority of the current exercises can be done with just your bodyweight, and the ones that do use implements can be done with a simple dumbbell or a chair.

If you don’t know what an exercise is, you can just look at the video in the center of the screen to see Ryan demonstrating it for you.

When choosing your workouts, you just need to click and drag them onto the desired exercise slot. It is a very easy and intuitive process.

Unfortunately, it took me a few tries to figure out that it is the left side of the box that depicts your exercise that determines which slot your exercise will appear in when you drop it, and not where your cursor currently is. This makes it easy to accidentally drop the exercise into the wrong slot. This is easily fixed, and even easier to avoid once you learn that it’s the left side where you need to drop it.

Even easier would be if you could double click on an exercise and it would fill the first available slot so that you don’t have to drag it at all.

Step 2: Tune Selection

Once your 8 exercises are chosen, you are given the option to move forward and select the music that you want to listen to while you are working out. You aren’t given the option to change the exercises that you’ve chosen, though. It isn’t very difficult to just refresh the page and start over, or even to just do the workout you chose instead and then fix it for your second set, but it would be nice if you could move backwards through the selection process and make changes.

There are 13 different tunes to choose from that you can listen to while you are working out. Most of them are pretty upbeat and I am sure are just the thing to get your heart pumping. You could rotate through the different options to avoid getting bored if you wanted.

Personally, I’m not a very big fan of any of the available tunes. This bothered me a lot the first couple of times that I used the BodyBot, but I’ve since discovered that you can skip this step and not have a music track playing. Just click on the warm up button to move to the next step. You can then listen to your own music or just work out in silence like I do.

Step 3: Warmup

Before beginning your workout, you have an optional warmup that you can do. It lasts for about 2 minutes and involves a few simple motions that will get you loosened up and ready to work out. I wracked my brain but couldn’t find anything wrong with this section of the program. You have the option of skipping it if you have already performed a set or if you are doing these workouts after your run (which is what I normally do), or if you just don’t want to warm up.

The warm up includes exercises like neck rolls, arm and leg swings, and hip rotations. If you don’t feel that you’ve warmed up enough, then at the end Ryan will point at you and then start all over again. When you are ready to begin your workout, just click through to the next step.

Step 4: The Workout

Once you are on the workout screen, you can press Go and the workout begins counting down the first 20 seconds for exercise 1. The video in the center of the screen will display what exercise you are supposed to be doing so that you can follow along. After 20 seconds have passed, the video blanks out and counts down from 10 seconds before moving into workout #2. This continues until you have done all 8 exercises, whereupon you are given the option to do another workout or recommend the BodyBot to a friend.

As I’ve said before, the process is simple to follow and makes doing the workouts much easier. There are still a few areas for improvement, though.

First, I think that the rest and the work should be reversed, so that you rest first. That way when you press go you aren’t immediately thrown into exercise number 1, which means that you won’t waste the first 3 or 4 seconds moving away from the computer.

Second, it would be nice if the exercise that you are doing would be listed on the side of the screen. That way somebody who isn’t familiar with the exercises could begin to associate the name of an exercise with the exercise itself. The names of the exercises are only listed in the bonus workouts that come with the program (or that you can buy separately). It would also make it easier to anticipate what exercise is coming up next if you don’t remember off hand which exercises are in the current workout, especially if they swapped the 10 seconds of rest and the 20 seconds of work.

Third, it would be nice if your current workout could be listed at the end so that you could write it down if you liked the workout and wanted to do it again some time. There is no method for saving workouts, and if you click on the workout again button you are put back at square one. That makes sense because it forces you to take a minute or so of rest while you set up the next workout, but it would be a nice feature.

Is this program worth buying?

I certainly think that it is. I am a big fan of the Tabata Intervals methodology, especially since I began doing them with my bodyweight workouts. It saves me the 30 minutes to drive to the gym and the 40 minutes to an hour of lifting weights, and I think that the results tend to work better with my running programs.

Ryan Lee is not a fan of long aerobic exercise, but he doesn’t run marathons (or even 5k races) so that is understandable. I think that as a supplement to a running program this can make weight lifting more approachable for the average person who doesn’t have any experience. Even for those who do have experience, it can simplify your workout and let you make the most of your time. Doing 2 or 3 sets through the BodyBot only takes 10 or 15 minutes, which anybody can fit in first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening.

What I have been doing is bringing my wife’s laptop into the basement for workouts that involve jumping, and hooking the laptop up to our television for other workouts so that the videos are easier to see on the big screen. Doing a couple of sets after a run has worked well for me, as has doing 3 sets first thing in the morning before work to wake myself up and then going for a run in the evening.

The program comes with 5 or 10 workouts that you can try right away, or you can just jump right in and start experimenting with putting your own programs together. There is also an option to purchase 100 “Done For You” workouts if you want some ideas to get you started. That is the option that I went with. I printed them off 9 to the page and am currently working my way through them 1 at a time to decide which ones I like and which ones I don’t.

If you have already purchased the BodyBot, let me know what you think of it or if there is anything that I’ve missed in this review.