"I’m the Renaissance Man of fitness failure...." - Client Feature: Eric Finnell

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, then when it comes to my fitness routine, I have lived a life of complete insanity.  I’ve even done a workout program called Insanity (shocker- it didn’t work for me!)

Partly because I lack creativity, and partly because I like routine, my typical formula was to observe the short term successes of other people and then jump on board with whatever they did.  Typically, their successes would be short lived and they would revert back to their longer term average.  

The difference for me?  My commitment was insane.  This isn’t me priming my own ego, its objectively true.  In my “Monkey see, Monkey do” attempts at fitness, I would imitate what people did- for a long time, with mixed results.  The people I was imitating would have already moved on to new programs- I would stay committed to old ones..  

I, on the other hand, clung tenaciously to the initial plan. I, would be ultra devoted and have short term success— and then would slowly revert back to my initial level.  Its at this point that inexplicably, I would cling to the hope of the initial results and remain committed to the fad or “system”...for a very long time.   Some highlights include (but are not limited to):

  • I did P90x (A home work out relic program from the mid 2000s.) It’s a 90-day workout program and diet...that I did for THREE YEARS! To the chagrin of my significant other, I worked out at home with a dumbbell kit and pull up bar...for THREE YEARS! To the chagrin of anyone who sat next to me at work, I boiled, peeled and ate 8 hard boiled egg whites each morning...for THREE YEARS! Can you imagine living with me or sitting next to me at work? The smell, the constant brittle shattering noises of egg peeling- I might as well have been microwaving fish and broccoli for breakfast.

  • I came home for Christmas one year and my family was in amazing shape, and I was the chubby one. Their secret? Atkins Diet. Naturally, I went on Atkins for THREE YEARS! (This is not the same three years as p90x) I ate 1400 calories of bacon and eggs for breakfast every day, I didn’t eat a fruit without feeling guilty… for THREE YEARS! For anyone who’s considering this time of diet, ketosis is a really tough state to attain, much less maintain. Everything has too many carbs- Look at a tbsp of soy sauce in a grocery store if you want proof. Sure enough after an initial period of shedding some weight, I slowly and imperceptibly put it back on until I was bigger than I started. My friends actually started calling me “Fat Eric” in this phase of my life. Not because I was fat, but because I was tired of giving the explanation of why I couldn’t eat seemingly healthy things (that had carbs in them,). So I just said, “Can’t eat it, too fat.”***

  • In 2011, I ran a half marathon. The goal? To get in to shape. The second goal? To make good time. I ran a good time, but the primary goal wasn’t achieved—I was skinny fat.

  • In one phase, I only did cardio.....FOR NINETY MINUTES AT A TIME. I would sit on a recumbent exercise bike and play Civilization** on my IPad or read for an hour and a half. After 6 months of this, I was in my worst aesthetic shape. I think a relatively good rule about fitness is, if you can play a game on a mobile device, you probably aren’t getting into shape.

  • I did the previously mentioned workout program called Insanity!- a 60 day home workout program...for a full year

  • Then because I’ve never really worked out legs, I did a 4 week “leg blasting” program...FOR Five CONTINUOUS months. After thoroughly injuring my legs, I did the chest version.....and inflamed an old shoulder injury as well.

I consider it fortunate that I injured myself.  I say this because that brought me to Stuart (Physio therapist- and a good one) who referred me to Paul to help me get my form right so I’d stop injuring myself.   I didn’t come to Paul with lofty ambitions- I wasn’t in search of the elusive six pack, or gainz!

All I wanted from Paul was to just stop injuring myself.  After years of trying pretty much everything, I was content with the fact that I would just be mildly overweight for life.  I had accepted this as part of who I was and would know that I would deal with the associated self esteem problems for life.  

When Paul asked what my goals were, I gave a pathetic and uninspiring answer- “I want to work out without injuring myself.”  Can you imagine? I actually said that as a goal- no real goals, just the avoidance of the negative.

Thats why I was so surprised when things started to change.

I don’t know if Paul saw if transformation was possible in me after that initial interview- I’m sure he meets a lot of people in his work.  Paul had yet to see my unwavering commitment to failure, so I’m sure he couldn’t even imagine my commitment to something that actually worked! I went on to shed 8.6% bodyfat (16.6% to 8% in a little over 3 months) while adding lean body mass. I ate 70 lbs of cauliflower in 10 weeks (this was NOT prescribed by Paul but it worked for me because it was a high volume, low calorie food.  Unfortunately I can no longer eat Cauliflower- I seem to have developed an intolerance.)

Eric's Transformation.

Eric's Transformation.

Importantly though, the workouts weren’t any harder than what I was previously doing.  The eating wasn’t any more disciplined.  I still ate out  and drank with friends and even had hangovers too!  The key to my success I learned was threefold: Accountability, Consistency, variation.

  • Accountability- intermittent check-ins with body fat testing kept me Diligent. I don’t know if things would have gone the same way had I just set a 3 month goal to lose 8% body fat. In his book “When,” Daniel Pink references that people tend to start out extremely motivated, dip in the middle, and finish strong. Instead of setting up a 12 week goal (Which works for a lot of people) I was tested every two weeks. Knowing that I had a check in that periodically meant that I had to stay vigilant.

  • Consistency- My Atkins phase was the peak of my inconsistency. I would go a few days eating according to plan, only to eat an apple or a piece of candy, beat myself up for getting out of Ketosis, and then spiral out of control. Even though it’s a low carb diet, this period represents peak consumption of Ben and Jerry’s “The Tonight Dough” flavor. Now, I know mistakes are inevitable- I travel 110 days a year and there’s no way I can have a perfect month, much less a perfect week. However, I simply record my mistakes (MyFitnessPal) and move on making up for them as I go. Consistently hitting a less stringent target is much better for goals than trying to aim too high for short periods

  • Variation- Paul and I went through 4 workout programs in the first 12 weeks. I looked at MyFitnessPal this morning and we’re on day 322 of my journey. I’m sure I’ve had at least 12 different workout programs. Some I’ve absolutely detested, Some I’ve loved. Knowing that there will be a new program means that you don’t get bored and complacent. I’m sure there’s some science behind variation and muscle build-up but I’m not really qualified to talk about that.

I’m the Renaissance Man of fitness failure.  When my Fiancée told someone that I recently fasted for three days (not weight loss related), the response was  “That sounds like something Eric would do.”   I’ve failed over and over again to the point that I was discounting others that were in shape- It’s genetics...or steroids... or maybe they have an active job that gives them a fitness advantage like construction or hospital work- instead of recognising the consistency and effort that they put into it.

The best part of getting into good shape?  Its a keystone habit that helps many other parts of your life.  Since getting into shape, I’ve started speed reading and have read 70 books in the past 7 months, I’ve even made progress in my job that I didn’t think was possible a year ago.

**Don’t download civilization for IPad- it is addictive, and you will foresake your family.  

*** People still call me “Fat Eric” by the way. 

Post College, I did a conventional splits workout routine ( Chest Day, Shoulders and Back Day, LEg Day). I was using a program called Nutrisystem when I did this- IT didn’t work eithe