“Like Superman.” That’s how Carl Parker describes the way he feels when he wakes up each morning. “I had a friend send me a text and say, ‘I am not going to be surprised on the day you tell me that you open up the door and fly out.’”
Flying may not yet be a part of Parker’s fitness routine. But it can’t be far off from the four-hour long Herculean workouts the Hampton native happily completes seven days a week, often alongside his son, a professional boxer. It starts with two hours of non-stop resistance training, marked by sets of 100 repetitions of each exercise, in Parker’s small home gym just off the kitchen in his corner townhouse.
After that, he walks out his front door, soul music on his headphones and fitness app in hand, and simply doesn’t come back for hours. Wherever he goes, he gets there on his feet or on a bike. You might catch him cruising through nearby Gosnold’s Hope Park, taking a 15-mile speed walk all the way to Newport News, trying to top his recent mile run time of six minutes and 37 seconds, or pushing the occasional perfectly functional vehicle home from the repair shop just for the exercise.
It’s hard to believe that not all that long ago the former athlete and professional trainer, who will turn 52 in November, was more than 50 pounds overweight and struggling to drag himself out of bed each day. At age 46, he found himself the victim both of the bad habits many of us develop as we age and of his own success as the owner of a gym in which he pushed others to achieve their fitness goals but found little time for his own.
“You find yourself being tired, and then you eat, and then you lay on the couch and you start drinking beer, and the next thing you know everything goes out the window. I got up one day, and I was getting ready to go take a shower, and I took off my shirt, and I was walking past the mirror, and I was like, that can’t be me.”
His wife had gotten a new job, and his three children were starting to go their own ways with college and careers, and that’s when Parker decided something had to give. He knew he had to make a change for himself and for his family.
That started with a basic exercise regimen in his living room, gradually increasing his repetitions of pushups and squats and a series of self-designed challenges, many based on his knowledge of training for elite boxers. Then he turned to his eating habits; “Exercise starts in the kitchen,” he says.
Parker’s description of how he regiments his diet and exercise reveals a mathematical mind. Even his self-professed motto and Instagram handle, “52 is the new 25,” demonstrates his affinity for numbers.
“I Googled everything. How much should I weigh? How many calories should I have? You base it on your age, height and weight. I would get a piece of paper, and I would go across the top: items, calories, carbs, protein, fat, sugar, sodium. I swear, it is a system that I hope that other people read about, listen to and figure out that they can do it.”
He eventually switched over to an entirely vegan diet and hasn’t had a drink in years. Similarly, when it comes to exercise, Parker tells people to start with simple numeric goals, work up to them and then gradually raise the bar. The basic workout he encourages people to start with is one he calls the “50 Package.”
“It covers the whole body: 50 jumping jacks, 50 arm rotations, 50 pushups, 50 sit-ups and 50 squats. And that’s how you learn to get in shape. But you can’t do it all at once.”
Photos courtesy of WP Photography
Not everyone has to train four hours a day or be a mathematician to turn their life around in terms of diet and exercise, however. They simply have to make the decision and fully commit to the change, he says.
In terms of personal goals, Parker hopes to continue hitting new and better goals for run times, and perhaps enter an all-natural bodybuilding competition or a Spartan race. For now, when he is not working at his day job as a barber or training boxers in his home, it is a safe bet that he is hitting the weights or literally “running the streets” of his hometown.
“I just believe that anything that you decide that you want to be able to do you should be able to do. Period. There’s no limit. You don’t stop. You keep moving. You can do anything.”