2020 Fittest Loser contestants break down their weekly sweat sessions
Several weeks into the Fittest Loser Challenge, contestants are taking their daily gym sessions in stride. Competitors head to Push Fitness every Saturday morning for "boot camp," in addition to working out with their trainers twice a week and putting in extra hours on their own, all in hopes of becoming the 2020 Fittest Loser.
Trainers at the Schaumburg gym are keeping the four contestants on their toes by constantly mixing up rigorous workouts meant to challenge, strengthen and tone every muscle, while regular cardio sessions prepare them for their upcoming 5K race in April.
Contestants have already seen major changes in their energy levels, how their clothes fit and where numbers stop on the scale. This week, they're sharing exactly what they're doing to make these changes possible.
2020 Daily Herald Fittest Loser contestant Barbara Simon with trainer Patrick Stille at Push Fitness in Schaumburg.
- John Starks | Staff Photographer
Barb Simon is hitting the gym hard by fitting in one-hour sessions six or seven days a week. She also does Saturday morning boot camp and two 30-minute personal training sessions with Patrick Stille at Push Fitness.
On personal training days, she'll also do an hour of cardio on her own. After a 15-minute treadmill warm-up, Stille packs in tons of activities during their time together. Her sessions regularly include punching bag exercises -- Simon's personal favorite -- squats, rowing and medicine ball exercises.
"Patrick's routines vary from workout to workout so I never know what to expect going in, which makes things exciting … as exciting as working out can be, I suppose," Simon joked.
The rest of Simon's workouts consist of 45 minutes of cardio walking and/or running on the treadmill and 15-minutes of stretching before and after to warm up and cool down her muscles. She finds the more she stretches, the better her workouts have become.
Seeing how much more she can do every time she works out keeps Simon motivated to move forward and push herself just a little harder each week. Her workouts with Stille are the toughest part of her training. However, Simon appreciates the challenge and how much Stille pushes her because it's making her a better, tougher and healthier person.
Simon is also sticking to a healthy meal plan. A typical day for her includes almond yogurt, berries and almonds for breakfast; a protein shake and ounce of nuts or almond butter and an apple for a snack; salmon, avocado, sweet potatoes and berries for lunch; and lean meat and vegetables for dinner.
2020 Daily Herald Fittest Loser contestant Van Dillenkoffer with trainer Michelle Jeeninga at Push Fitness in Schaumburg.
- John Starks | Staff Photographer
Van Dillenkoffer works out six days a week and uses Sunday as his rest day. He typically divides an hour of cardio between the elliptical and stationary bike. He and his wife also walk for 30 minutes three times per week on the Wheaton Park District's indoor track.
In addition to his solo workouts, he attends the weekly Saturday morning boot camp, exercises with Push Fitness trainer Michelle Jeeninga twice a week, and attends an additional class at Push. He recently tried Tabata for a challenging 45-minute workout.
On personal training days, Dillenkoffer gets to Push Fitness early to do a 20-minute cardio warm-up before his half-hour session with Jeeninga. Dillenkoffer said his lack of endurance and being out of breath between sets has made these sessions challenging, but he knows as he gets into better shape this will improve.
"Michelle has been very patient with me as I try to catch my breath," Dillenkoffer said. "She encourages me to finish strong as I start to lose steam and that makes me want to push harder."
Outside the gym, Dillenkoffer is sticking with his diet plan and eating five small meals a day. He enjoys almonds, an apple with two tablespoons of plain peanut butter, or a chocolate shake with whey protein powder. Oatmeal with Greek yogurt and lean meat or fish with salad are some of Dillenkoffer's breakfast and dinner staples.
Jennifere Lux allows herself one day of rest, but the rest of the week she's hitting the gym hard. She attends the Saturday morning boot camp, works out with her trainer Steve Amsden twice a week, and regularly does her own hourlong workouts. Lux loves her workouts with Amsden, which include plenty of squats, lunges, push-ups, weights and boxing, a new favorite stress-reducing activity.
"I didn't think I'd enjoy sweating so much, but I do. I leave each workout with my trainer a total sweat ball and love it. It makes me realize how hard I've worked," Lux said.
Lux is not a fan of running and believes that is the toughest part of her workouts. However, she does love walking fast on the treadmill at alternating inclines. She's currently at an 11.5-level incline with plans to bump it up half a level every week. Her goal is to walk at a level 15 incline before the end of the contest.
Lux starts almost every morning with a chocolate-flavored protein shake to replace the iced mochas she used to have. Almonds, Greek yogurt with berries, a hard-boiled egg, or an apple with a scoop of natural peanut butter make great snacks. Lunch and dinner consist of lean meats, two different types of vegetables or a salad.
2020 Daily Herald Fittest Loser contestant Neil Madden of Naperville works with ropes with trainer Nicole Caliva at Push Fitness in Schaumburg.
- John Starks | Staff Photographer
Most days, you'll find Neil Madden hitting the gym twice a day. He uses lunchtime to get in a five- to seven-mile ride on the stationary bike followed by a one- to 1½-mile run, core work and free weights. He works out at Push Fitness with his trainer, Nicole Caliva, two nights a week for fast rep complete upper and lower body workouts.
On non-training session nights and weekends, Madden works out on his own at Edward Health in Woodridge.
"I ride the bike for five to seven miles and vary my treadmill running routine for speed and distance," said Madden. "I'll also complete 20 flights of StairMaster and do a lot of core work, machines and free weights."
Madden also attends the Saturday morning boot camp at Push Fitness. He said he loves every part of his challenging workout routine and training with Caliva.
"Nicole is wonderful and provides very focused instruction. She beats me up well," Madden said. "We talk about my nutrition, she sets goals, and I never let her down."
Madden is continuing to follow a disciplined eating routine. He's consuming five balanced meals a day consisting of protein shakes, fruit, green vegetables, salads, lean meat and fish.
"I am eating things that I never have or didn't want to eat before, like broccoli, cauliflower, kale and hummus. I had never tasted beef jerky and I love it for a quick protein pick-me-up," he said.
The most difficult part of forming any new habit is taking the first step. It's challenging to go from not exercising at all to hitting the gym every day, but it is possible to make one small change at a time as you work toward your ultimate goal. Contestants shared their advice on how to take the first step toward a healthier lifestyle:
• Start slow and steady.
Before beginning any new workout routine, consult your physician to make sure you're healthy enough to start exercising and follow any doctor orders related to working out. Once you've got the all clear, Simon said there's nothing wrong with starting slow and steady and doing what feels right for your body.
"No matter how much exercise you get in, you are doing your body good. If you can only walk a mile, you are already ahead of everyone sitting on the couch," she said.
• Hire a trainer.
While many people exercise on their own, contestants have felt firsthand the positive impact of working with a personal trainer. Not only will trainers find the best exercises for you, they'll show you proper form, and help motivate you when you're in a rut.
"You will never push yourself hard enough. With a trainer there is motivation, accountability and discipline," Madden said.
• Invest in a fitness tracker.
Dillenkoffer recommended using a fitness tracker to count steps, track distance, calories burned and monitor your heart rate. Tracking your workouts in real time allows you to see how much you're accomplishing and how hard you need to push yourself to meet your fitness goals.
• Switch up your workouts.
Not only does switching up your workouts keep your body guessing and working hard, it ensures you won't get bored in the gym. Make sure you incorporate a variety of exercising into your routine, targeting various muscle groups. If you're unsure how to develop a workout, consult a personal trainer to find the best exercises for you.
• Don't let intimidation stop you.
Lux used to be intimidated by the gym -- not so anymore. "I had this image in my head that everyone would literally stop and stare at me. No one cares! There are all ages and sizes at the gym," Lux said.
Remember everyone is there for the same reason -- to be healthy.