5 Sept 2014

Nine hours which changed my life

Sounds like one of those links you see around the internet promising the world to the average lazy person, doesn’t it?

In early August, an advert caught my eye which was requesting applications in West London for a new programme called Project Prime which promised notable improvements in fitness and lifestyle—all in twelve 45-minute sessions over one month, nine hours in total. Always the skeptic, I did a bit of digging to suss out that this wasn’t a ploy to lure me into becoming a mail-order groom for some uncharted territory—and no magic berries, special teas or mysterious African bank accounts involved—so I completed the thorough form, half expecting to hear nothing back.

A few days later I received a phone call from the charismatic and straight-talking creator of the programme, Adam Lewis. We discussed my application and details about my general lifestyle, including past and current activities such as snowboarding and off road motorbiking. I mentioned that, for the past few years, I have experienced chronic idiopathic hip pain for which no one—not sonographers, not physiotherapists, not chiropractors, not acupuncturists—could find a cause nor a solution. We ended the call with a promise from Adam to let me know by the end of the week if I would be one of the eight selected to pilot his programme.

I spent the next couple days contemplating—half of me wanted to be selected, half of me was wondering what I was getting myself into—and the awaited call finally came... I was invited to take part! (At this point I was really worried about what torture awaited!)

Skip to the end... Chris, Dan, me, Richard, David and James at the end of the final session (Elliot sadly missing as he had to rush to work before the photo was taken)

The selected participants got together on a warm Saturday morning to meet Adam and go through the Project Prime programme. During the session we got acquainted with each other and set personal goals for ourselves. However, our group of eight ended up being seven, as one apparently disappeared to an alternate plane of existence before we even started—super seven sounds better than crazy eights anyway.

My friends will tell you that I am quite the foodie—I love all types of food, from all cultures and with ingredients from the mundane to the impossible-to-find. I rarely eat food that I haven’t made myself from fresh ingredients. One of the criterion for the programme was to stick to strict dietary regime (ingredients, not quantities) during the month, loosely based on the Paleo diet. Another was to take three supplements each day (fish oil and a couple of minerals).

I committed to this—as I am writing retrospectively I can confirm, hand on heart, that I didn’t cheat during the month. To be fair, it wasn’t that far off my usual diet, although it involved a lot more meat and fat than I normally prefer (which didn’t particularly agree with my digestive system at first), and no starch (for the first two weeks), gluten, dairy, or sugar. My morning sweetened lattes had to be replaced with unsweetened four-shot black americanos, a shock to my system—who knew coffee was more bitter than a bride abandoned at the altar?! However, I never acclimatised to taking a spoonful of ‘lime flavour’ (term used very loosely) fish oil neat—right to the end this made me feel like barfing every single time (I should have bought the gel-cap version instead, although these are considered less effective).

Adam on the right, taking the group through movement exercises

To the programme—day one. Bleary eyed, not having emerged from my tomb of goose down, cotton and memory foam before 8am more than once in the past two years, I discovered how incredible the roads of London can be at 6am on a motorbike with a distinct absence of other vehicles. Amazing—what a way to wake up!

Arriving at Old Deer Park in Twickenham, Adam led the group through a warm up, followed by a range of fitness tests to set our baseline for benchmarking. Each test lasted just one minute and our numbers were recorded—my results:

  • 2m agility: 32
  • Squats: 37
  • Standing cross curls: 69
  • Press-ups: 19
  • Overall score (formula calculation): 264
Rather shameful. Afterwards we did a few more stretches and carried on our day. I felt tired, but oddly wired at the same time. My body hurt so much that I was having difficulty sitting down and getting up.

2m agility during the fitness testing on day one—I’m keeling over on the left

The next two sessions focussed on movement, tabata techniques and circuit training. By the end of the week I was feeling like a wet noodle and my muscles were screaming at me. My only comfort was that everyone else in the group was going through the same thing. Adam pushed everyone just hard enough, but not too far—his experience as a personal trainer enabled him to recognise everyone’s individual limits and not go overboard (defibrillator not required). Every Thursday during the month Adam arranged times with each of us to carry out mentoring sessions. Our special challenge during the week was to take cold showers (or, at a minimum, end each shower on cold).

Chris, Elliot, James, Dan, me, Richard and David holding a one-legged squat at the end of a session—despite the smiles this one was tough!

That weekend, my body was unhappy about the change in diet and I ended up with a cramping pain in my left side which lasted nearly three days. However, a cocktail of over-the-counter paracetamol and ibuprofen got me through the worst of it, and the issue resolved on its own. (Note—my day job relates to healthcare and I am very aware of the danger areas for random pain.)

During week two we kept a thorough log of everything we were eating each day. The early morning sessions varied, no two the same, from natural obstacles to utilising playground equipment in the neighbouring schoolyard. After each session, I was still feeling quite sore, but the high protein diet was helping me get over the muscle pain in less and less time. The special challenge this week was to get out and do something we enjoyed—I took to the byways on the bike to play in the mud.

The dreaded bear walk—I’m huffing along second right

Week three introduced running and bear walking—things we all took for granted as children—and it is quite amazing just how hard these exercises can be when the body is out of practice. By this point, I was tired at the end of each session, but no longer sore. My body had adapted in just two weeks.

I had a bit of a funny turn at the end of the first session during this week—I became light-headed and nauseous during the stretches at the end. In retrospect, I believe this was due to an empty stomach and made a point from then on to eat a banana before leaving home in the morning. The symptoms didn’t recur.

Everyone in the group had got to know each other and provided each other with the motivation and inspiration to give it our all. The changes to our bodies and metabolism were starting to show physically—improved posture, better movement, fewer wobbly bits all round. The special challenge this week was the ice bucket challenge.

My job is always busy (sometimes quite stressful also) and leaves me tired by the end of the day so I often don’t feel like doing much when I get home in the evenings. However, since starting the programme, I noticed that I felt much more energetic overall, to the point that I took a friend off roading on the bike after work one day that week—something that never would have happened previously. 

I had a slight setback during the weekend between weeks three and four—I pulled something my neck and ended up on a full strength dose of co-codamol for two days. Despite this I still managed to get out on the Sunday to attend a KTM demo day, so the weekend was not a complete write-off.

The final week of the Project Prime trial started with our most gruelling session to date—I think everyone was feeling exhausted by the end of it. Interestingly, I was no longer feeling sore, even after this particular difficult session.

The second session this week was the least intensive so far during the programme, in preparation for fitness re-testing during the final session. My results—including the percent increase compared to the first day:

  • 2m agility: 42 (+31%)
  • Squats: 53 (+43%)
  • Standing cross curls: 91 (+32%)
  • Press-ups: 42 (+121%)
  • Overall score (formula calculation): 544 (+107%)
In just nine hours I more than doubled my fitness score—a result which makes me very proud. I also lost 5cm from around my waist. However, these numbers mean nothing compared to the elephant in the room—the chronic hip pain I’ve had for several years. By week two, it was gone. The problem several medical professionals could not solve was fixed by several hours of this exercise programme.

To those who have not experienced ongoing pain, this will seem like a trivial point. But what it represents to me is a significant improvement in my quality of life. I can now walk for hours without discomfort, climb stairs without limping, and pick up a 240kg motorbike lying on its side in the mud without a second thought. This point alone has made the last four weeks worth every minute—and was one of the key reasons the Project Prime programme exceeded my expectations.

Off we go!

The pilot has been a huge success and the programme will greatly benefit those who join up in future when Project Prime opens to the public. It was truly amazing to witness how much everyone in the group accomplished in such a short time.

I intend to take what I’ve learned and carry on with it—the exercises and techniques, being more disciplined about getting to bed at a decent hour, rebalancing my diet, taking the stairs instead of the lift. I’m still adjusting, but I would like what I learned during the past four weeks to become normality in my life moving forward.

Adam has been a charismatic and personable leader to the group and took great interest in each of our personal requirements. I am sad to depart from such a fantastic group of people who could inspire each other to push ourselves to the limit—and would encourage anyone considering the programme to look seriously into it. Provided they have the commitment to follow it through, they will not be disappointed.

Find out more