Eric Falstrault was never really in bad shape. As a gym owner, he's worked in the fitness industry for the past 20 years. To be a good example to his clients, he's always tried to practice what he preached.
The 42-year-old from Montreal, Quebec has always kept up a fairly steady routine of strength training, with the occasional bout of martial arts. Last November, though, things started to go downhill after a vacation in Mexico left him with a stomach bug, leaving him out of commission for a couple of weeks. Before he knew it, the holidays came through in full force, packed with indulgences and even more excuses to ignore his daily workouts.
“The vacation and Christmas time really got to me. I lost a lot of muscle mass quickly because I wasn’t going to the gym,” Falstrault recalls.
He could see and feel the difference. Falstrault’s weight was tipping the scale at 90kg and his body fat percentage spiked to 23 percent, leaving him with a small gut. (You can see him at that weight in the left "before" photo in the composite above, which was taken in February 2016.) He had no energy, felt depressed, and just didn’t like the way he looked.
“I was fed up with how I felt. So I decided to do something about it,” he says.
Because his entire job revolves around motivating others to get fit and healthy, Falstrault knew exactly what he needed to do to get back in shape—but he avoided making any dramatic changes to his routine, because he knew they wouldn’t stick.
“I was cheating a lot, so I cut out the packaged foods I was eating, like cookies, and I cut back from two glasses of wine a night to one,” he explains. Currently, he chows down on lots of protein and vegetables throughout the day.
The other major change that helped him drop down to 13 percent body fat and 85kgs six months later? A new workout. (You can see those results in the after photo above, which was taken in late July 2017.)
Falstrault was always into fighting and martial arts. He’s been practicing a variety of martial arts workouts for the past 12 years, but he knew he needed to do something more challenging than what he had been doing before—something different, he says.
"Challenging" was the only word that came to mind when Falstrault first tried Brazilian jiu-jitsu about 10 years ago. It was both physically and mentally demanding, and that's the exact change of pace he was looking for.
His memory served him right. After only six months of practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Falstrault is not only back in shape, but his energy levels are higher and he's sleeping better.
"I did some 10 years earlier along with judo and loved the ‘'chess game’' aspect of it. One move leads to another but you also need to have a counter move to what your opponent is trying to do at the same time," Faulstralt says. "When you get good at it, it becomes more of a game of who makes the first mistake. I like tactical aspect of it a lot."
Even though he was no stranger to a tough workout, starting a new fitness regimen is never easy, especially after months of hardly any gym time. “In the beginning, my body could only handle two sessions a week. I was so sore after the first session,” he says.
That soreness— especially in his core and back— told Falstrault he had found the right workout, so he kept pushing himself during his training sessions, which would sometimes last over an hour.
A typical jiu-jitsu class begins up with 10 to 15 minutes of warmups, which consists of footwork, arm pummeling and sprawls—moves commonly used in the sparring part of class. The next 30 to 40 minutes is spent learning new techniques and mastering drills. Much of jiu-jitsu is centered on escaping and achieving submission, Falstrault explains, which requires a lot of core and back strength.
The class ends with 15 to 20 minutes of randori, or fighting and rolling, where all the drills and techniques are put together against another person. This is where the physical and mental strength come together.
"When you get good at it, it becomes more of a game of who makes the first mistake," Falstrault says.
Falstrault started noticing changes in his body after about four weeks of dedication, especially in his abs. He credits his impressive six pack to jiu-jitsu, because his core muscles are constantly engaged throughout every movement and technique.
He also experienced massive strength gains in his hands, because so much of Brazilian jiu-jitsu emphasizes grip strength. As his body adjusted, he was able to train more frequently, and six months later he still can't seem to go enough and trains five days a week.
“I was always in decent shape without trying too hard. I’d train three to four days a week and eat well and look pretty fit. But I wasn’t sleeping well at all— that’s one of the biggest differences I’ve noticed.”
“I’ve found something that I love, and I can’t see myself stopping anytime soon. I feel too good right now,” he adds.
While Falstrault may have had 12 years of martial arts experience under his belt prior to starting his jiu-jitsu training, he emphasizes that it is truly a workout for anyone. “No matter who you are, you need to go into jiu-jitsu as a beginner. Finding a good teacher is the most important part. You’ll learn the basics and will be able to go far from there,” he says.
Plus, it isn't as tough on your joints as it looks. “I’m over 40 years old, so of course I was worried what it’d do to my knees. But it’s surprisingly easy on the joints,” he said.
Jiu-jitsu is just one part of his weekly routine, though. In addition to his martial arts sessions, Falstrault hits the weight room three to four days a week, alternating between upper body and lower body exercises. His upper body workouts consist of pull-up variations and grip strength work. His routine currently consists of weighted pull-ups, fat-gripped bench presses, high rows and tricep dips, all done on a tempo. His lower body days focus on Olympic lifts such as hang cleans and deadlifts, both done at a tempo, along with high rows and tricep dips.
His favourite moves are "definitely various kinds of pull-ups and Olympic lifts," he says.
Besides finding a good coach, Falstrault—who is no stranger to motivating people in the gym—says that the best piece of advice he can offer to those ready to make a change is to start as soon as you can.
“The one thing I hear people say in the gym is, ‘I’ll start Monday.’ Don’t wait until Monday. There’s never a good time to make a change— start right now and don’t look back.”
This article originally appeared on Men’s Health US.