With a third of the Fittest Loser Challenge now behind them, the five contestants assess what has to be one of the most challenging components of the 12-week fitness and nutrition competition: weekly boot camp.
While each member works with a personal trainer three times a week one-on-one and also on their own, it is only on Saturdays that they are all together for boot camp.
As the name implies, boot camp is a tough all-body workout that requires supersized tenacity and an even bigger dose of teamwork.
The group's boot camp instructor is Brad Parotto. Although it is Parotto's first year serving as Challenge boot camp boss, he has taught such classes for almost a decade.
His focus is clear: to use the 45-minute, 6 a.m. morning workout to push contestants beyond their wildest dreams.
"The goal is to work the entire body while gaining strength and increasing cardiovascular efficiency," Parotto explains. "Otherwise, it's known as … hell."
So far, most contestants would agree.
Chris Kalamatas of Lake in the Hills calls boot camp exhausting.
Yet after multiple medicine ball swings, battling rope exercises, barbell lifts and angled pull ups, he says, it's worth getting up for. "What I like about boot camp is that it gives us a chance to see each other and talk about our week," says Kalamatas. "It's reassuring to hear everyone else is going through the same challenges as me."
Kalamatas has learned to appreciate the benefits of the strenuous workouts. "I like the way he has us all doing different things in stations," he says of Parotto. "And the weigh in at the end of boot camp is like the defining moment of our week."
The 63-year-old retired principal says, "I feel that I have mentally accepted this lifestyle change, but I am a long ways from fully incorporating it into my daily routine. Every day is a challenge with lots of ups and downs, but I believe in the program and that keeps me focused."
Tim Lange of Algonquin says he understands that boot camp is a necessary evil. But he manages to get through it.
"Because it is the last work out of the week, my body feels like a truck has run over it twice and backed up on my chest," Lange, 57, says of the week's accumulated sore spots. "But in a way, it feels good to push your body to another level."
The class is set up so that contestants work on a series of exercises in a rotating manner, with short breaks in between. Lange, an occupational therapist, knows which one he detests the most: burpees and squats. "My legs feel like rubber by Saturday," he confesses.
Lange believes that Parotto has a lot more grueling tricks up his sleeve: "Right now, Brad appears to be holding back; but I think that will change as we all start getting stronger,"
Lange adds, "Because of my background in the military and my trainer Steve's as well, orders are pretty easy for me to follow. I know that to get from A to B a tight regimen of exercises and eating needs to be observed. Mentally my brain is set in a pattern to go the long haul. Since 175 pounds is the goal, only following strict orders can get me there."
As a firefighter, Cheryl Seibert of Joliet is used to moving quickly and thinking on her feet. Yet, boot camp challenges the 40-year-old just the same.
"It is nice to share stories with people going through the same challenges and laugh together about how sore we all are," she says. "We push each other and support each other to get through the workout. Although we are technically competing against each other, we are all supportive and excited to see each other's success on the scale."
Yet not every week yields big successes.
"I have never been so faithful following an eating plan," she says. "I still weigh everything and have not cheated. Yet during Week 2, I did not get the results I was hoping for. It is difficult to work so hard yet not see the results on the scale. I am working with my trainer to see what else we can do to have better weeks ahead."
Seibert remains determined to give it her all: "I feel more mentally prepared for the long haul now that I have jumped in. I think in the beginning, there was a lot of uncertainty about the road ahead and how I could incorporate changes into my life," she says.
"I have a lot to prepare because I am at the firehouse for 24-hour shifts and that presents a whole host of different needs than when I am at home. We are supposed to eat every two to three hours, but I don't always have that ability," she says. "My trainer Lindsay has been helping me try to figure out ways to incorporate this new lifestyle into my work life."
John Bohanek of South Elgin does enjoy the camaraderie of boot camp, but admits that the sessions often leave him with more than a few aches and pains.
"Depending on the exercises our trainer has targeted the day before, boot camp can be taxing on the muscles," he says.
Pullups are the hardest for him.
"My arms are not strong enough to lift the 338 pounds attached to them," Bohanek quips. "Hopefully, over the next 10 weeks I will continue to lose on my core, and my arms will get stronger to pull this body up!"
But while at work recently, 46-year-old Bohanek realized that there were some sure benefits of boot camp, the training and better nutrition.
"I was in the same size work pants as when I started and did not realize how loose they were getting. When I went to bring in some register drawers and had my hands full I could feel my pants falling down," says Bohanek, a front-end clerk at a major grocery chain. "I had to shuffle my way to the office where I used a stapler and safety pins to secure them. The great news is that I threw the pants away when I got home and went to a smaller size."
No doubt, boot camp is hard work, but he'll be sticking it out. "I am mentally digging in as the scale keeps going down," he says. "I am a little tired some days, but I am looking forward to being less than 300 pounds soon. I am learning as much as I can now so once the 12 weeks are over, I can continue."
Not only did Allie Monroe of Schaumburg attend regular boot camp this week, she joined others at the Biggest Loser Resort in Itasca for another cardio workout the same day.
"It was really fun but also really tough," says the 28-year-old actuary. "We did some of the same exercises as we did in boot camp, so it became kind of tough the second time around, but it was nice to get in a bonus workout."
One of the biggest challenges of boot camp, she says, is the time. "It's tough getting up so early, but it's nice to get done with your workout and have the rest of the day to enjoy."
But there are some frustrating elements, too, like "overcoming the thought that I can't do something physically," she says.
One of her biggest challenges has been stair climbing.
"It's a little frustrating that something so little as going up stairs can be so tough, but I hope it will get easier with time," she says honestly.
It helps, she says, that boot camp boss Parotto is as approachable as he is aggressive.
"I like Brad a lot," says Monroe. "He is always encouraging us in a positive way, and it helps having him supporting you through the workouts and having faith in your abilities."
Both Parotto and her trainer, Wade Merrill, she says, have boosted her confidence. "It's easier when you have someone who is more confident in your abilities than you have been before," she says, adding, "I am ready to push even harder. I'm going to give it everything I have and step it up a notch."