RENEW ISSUE: Bestselling author and fitness guru Tim Ferriss will lifehack us all
RENEW What does the term "self-help guru" bring to your mind? How about "SF-based self-help guru"? The life coach of the Twitter execs perhaps, or HoopGirl? At any rate, it might not call up the fresh-faced man sitting next to me in a Glen Park wine bar.
Tim Ferriss is describing the least pleasant fitness experiment he performed en route to writing The 4-Hour Body, the strength and wellness guide currently No. 1 on The New York Times "hardcover advice and miscellaneous" bestseller list. The book's fairly unconventional research claims were tested by the author on himself.
To wit: "I was taking about the amount of resveratrol that you would get from drinking 100 cases of wine a day. I wanted to look at its effects on endurance." According to Ferriss, the pill form he was consuming to test the stuff was cut with loperamine, the active ingredient in Imodium, so he wound up using most of whatever endurance he gained toward marathon sessions in the bathroom. "That was an extremely unpleasant experience. However, now it's available in pure, micronized form." Hope springs eternal.
Ferriss' bio is a bit dizzying and it's challenging to choose which exploits to focus on in the interview. Ferriss holds the world records for most clinical injections in a day and most consecutive tango spins in a minute. He advocates for a polyphasic sleep cycle of six, 20-minute sleep intervals a day and has gone on grass-fed beef diets in Nicaragua that granted him a "10-foot radius field of hormonal impact" and left the women of San Francisco "intoxicated on pheromones." Another thing I learned at the wine bar: he helped found Princeton's first break-dancing club.
Of course, if Ferriss wasn't constantly looking for new ways to torture (test!) his body and lifestyle, The 4-Hour Body, and its predecessor The 4-Hour Workweek — in which he promises business career miracles similar to Body's lure of lifting 500 pounds and running 100 miles — would have never sold the umpteen copies they have. He certainly would never have inspired a small universe of wannabe fitness videos and a massive fanbase that typically boosts the comment counts on his www.thefourhourbody.com blog posts into the thousands.
This is how he explains his success: "I'm not the Unabomber." He's certainly not given to the cryptic. He's easy to relate to. I'm not a fitness buff or capitalist whiz kid by any stretch of the imagination, but he and I are having an imminently engaging chat over our glasses of red. For someone who challenges life from every angle, he plays the normal card well.
He could easily be your attractive, successful, buddy-old-pal — although I am going to break with Dwight Garner, who wrote The New York Times review of Ferriss' newest book, and say that Cary Elwes would play him in the bio-pic, not Matthew McConaughy. (Perhaps this is because by the time of our interview, Ferriss had slimmed down in his pursuit of an ultramarathon. Ahem.) He's charming, polite, and if you squint real hard, you can imagine that he leads the life he does by some stroke of odd luck.
Self-help gurus who don't cultivate an easy-to-relate-to image won't get far. Yet Ferriss is willing to bet can transcend mere humanity, given the right combination of organization, will power, and pharmaceuticals.