Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Weight Loss Through Parkour

What is 130kg minus 40kg?  A miracle?  Maybe, but this is a miracle that YOU can replicate.

I want to share how a 130kg monster began his journey from morbid obesity to become an athletic parkour instructor of 90kg.  My aim is to show others how they can begin the journey, and to provide some tools for them to continue on their own to reach personal goals and more.

Pre-parkour Sam
130kg, able to lift heavy things, able to shuffle along at a slow jog for an hour or so, not able to handle my own body weight so well (despite having a rock-climbing background a few years in the past), and not having any real desire to try and control my eating habits.  While I’ve always been pretty active, the strain on my heart from carrying so much extra weight could not have been good for me.  To accomplish physical goals that others found easy I had to work many times as hard.

When I came across parkour on the Internet, I didn’t see my weight as an obstacle.  I had a vague idea that it might limit my performance but I knew I could start small and then build up.  To be totally honest, I wasn’t even really aware that I was so overweight.  This lack of self awareness meant that I felt on the inside like I imagined the smaller people around me must have felt.  If they could do it then I could do it too!  From the perspective of the low 90kg weight, I can’t imagine how I managed, though it is clear from my experiences that it is possible for grossly overweight people to take up something as athletic as parkour.

First Rolls
The first rolls in parkour were easy.  Where less fleshed out frames struggled to avoid bruises, I rolled within my comfortable padding.  Almost everyone who takes their first steps, learning the foundational skill of rolling, will become wary of committing themselves to parkour due to the pain inflicted.  Because I could perform this skill and enjoy it, I was buoyed up by my enthusiasm and took the next steps in learning to develop my strength and skill through disciplined training.

Looking back, I would advise anyone (fat or thin) to find something early on that they are good at, and feel good doing, to practise a lot.  This will give you the enthusiasm to get you through the less exciting, but very necessary, repetition of basic movement to build strength and skill.

I would also advise finding someone with a few years of experience to guide you through the initial exploring.  Someone experienced enough to help you make some quick technical gains which will get you hooked on the successes.  It is inevitable that the progress will slow, but it is better to have positive feelings when this stage is reached and you have to knuckle down to continue your development.

Shrinking and Pain
After my rapid initial gains (or losses!) of about 10kg, I settled at a still rather large weight for a couple of years.  I didn’t realise that to make further progress on my physique I would have to take a serious look at my nutrition.  More on that in a few paragraphs.

In the mean time I developed a number of weight related aches in tendons and ligaments.  I was always careful to stay within my limits, not jumping off high obstacles and carefully controlling my movements to avoid impact.  But my connective tissue wasn’t able to keep up and I was rapidly scaling back my training to focus on rehabilitation of tendon problems in my knees and shoulder, and ligament damage in one of my ankles.  I also had occasional lower back spasms which were incredibly painful.

Minute muscle imbalances and small technical errors became major irritants.  These fractional problems were developed and amplified mainly through the extra weight being carried and the high number of repetitions required for the technical mastery that I craved.

The aches taught me a lot about supplements (Glucosamine, Chondritin, Omega 3 EPA from fish oil) and I discovered some amazing resources on stretching, biomechanics, and something I later learned was called manual biofeedback.  What nobody ever told me was that I was just too heavy for what I was trying to do and that I needed to take a look at my nutrition to help heal and prevent further injury.

Parkour practitioners will tell you that you must start slowly because there is a lot of impact and the strain on the body is huge.  Building up jogging distance and basic movement, such as push-ups, squats, and pull ups, is essential.  But big people will still feel the pain of over-training, much more than our slighter brothers and sisters, unless we first take steps to shrink our bodies.

After doing a little reading of sport science derived nutritional advice, I started to cut back on sugar, bread, and most carbohydrates.  I looked at my energy intake using the charts on the packets of food I bought.  Considering I was training almost every day, I figured that I could eat probably twice as much “energy” as the recommended for regular people (this was still quite a cut in my intake as I was probably eating 8 to 10 times what regular people should be eating!).  This saw me drop to around 110kg and I was starting to feel the difference in my energy levels and movement ability.  It was like someone had decided to grease up my joints and inject me with concentrated super-ness.  I felt springy and light and for the first time I really thought about my weight as something that was holding me back.

Exploring further about nutrition and dieting, I discovered Tim Ferriss and the Slow Carb Diet.  The method included eating as much as I wanted and I could still lose weight!  It sounded too good to be true but my appetite for junk-food persuaded me to give it a go so that I could go back to eating the comfort food.  While I was worried, in the back of my mind, of giving up the gains/losses I had made so far, my past eating habits ended up working for me to drop down to 90kg by the time I got married last year in July.
The difference between my 130kg frame eating junk and my 90kg frame eating junk was that I would formerly eat any bad thing at any time but now I save up the bad things for one day per week.  6 days of discipline is easy when you can look forward to 1 day to binge!  

Hungry for More
After shrinking by a third, maintaining a pain-free body at a healthy weight, and feeling so amazing from the freedom of movement I’ve found; I’ve moved to a more sustainable nutritional regime that allows me to maintain my weight in the low 90kg region with energy for an active life.

I’m dreaming of running an ultra-marathon in the not-too-distant future, I’m still working as a high school teacher, and I’m training and instructing parkour regularly - still making progress with my movement.

My encouragement to other fat people (embrace the truth so you can move on from it) is to find some movement you enjoy, even if it is just walking, and learn how to eat in a healthy way.  Diets tend to be hard and bad for you in the long run - instead try to develop healthy eating that you can do for the rest of your life.  

Now that you are inspired to get sorted, here are some links for great nutritional information.  I would love to hear from others who have been inspired by my experiences and anyone else who has found their inner self (inside the fat self!).

Now, please take the time to enjoy a couple of my more recent parkour videos featuring the lean Sam.  All the best!