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posted: 3/19/2017 7:40 AM

Fittest Loser contestants learn how to work out

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  • Fittest Loser contestant James DeBouver, who served in the Army, builds strength with trainer Steve Amsden.

      Fittest Loser contestant James DeBouver, who served in the Army, builds strength with trainer Steve Amsden.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
By Dave Gathman
Daily Herald Correspondent

Working out the wrong way can cause imbalances and even injuries.

"You don't want to go straight into a hard-core workout," says Josh Steckler, owner of Push Fitness in Schaumburg.

Steckler oversees the twice-weekly workouts and weekly boot camps being endured by the four Fittest Loser contestants. And that starts with a proper warm-up session.

"You want to slowly bring up your heart rate and bring up your blood pressure by walking on a treadmill or doing some squats," Steckler said. "Second, you should do what we call dynamic stretching of your muscles -- things like straight-leg kicks, to stretch without forcing the muscles beyond their natural range of motion."

Steckler and his three trainers put their wards through a varied mixture of calisthenics using step-up platforms, benches, weighted medicine balls and a few weight machines.

Joshua Steckler, owner of Push Fitness, checks the form of  Fittest Loser contestant Russ Page of Antioch, who served in the Air Force, in his plank.
  Joshua Steckler, owner of Push Fitness, checks the form of Fittest Loser contestant Russ Page of Antioch, who served in the Air Force, in his plank. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Many of the workouts are done while holding weights. And many are done using just the body's own weight, such as the well-known situps, pushups, planks, squats and burpees.

"We want to get all the major muscle groups involved," Steckler said. "Working in different gym settings, I've seen a lot of people with imbalance issues. Maybe they have bad knees, so they avoid leg exercises. But an imbalanced body doesn't move very well."

The trainers typically have each person do four or five different exercises, and do three or more "sets" of 10 to 20 each.

Weight training must be tailored to the client to determine if it is better to use heavier weights or lighter ones.

"It depends on your goal," Steckler said. "If you're a competitive weight lifter, you might want to do just one rep with something really heavy. But if you give someone a heavy weight they're not prepared for, they can injure themselves. You need to find a weight you're able to control comfortably. If you feel the weight is pulling you instead of you pulling the weight, you probably want to go down."

To build heart/lung fitness, Steckler said, you can run or swim or cycle or do Push-style exercises. "But with something like boxing, you're going to build more total body strength. A bicyclist might have good cardiovascular endurance. But if they did a couple rounds of boxing, they'd be exhausted."

Fittest Loser contestant Tony Wiszowaty of Schaumburg, who served in the Marines, works out with a medicine ball with trainer Michelle Jeeninga.
  Fittest Loser contestant Tony Wiszowaty of Schaumburg, who served in the Marines, works out with a medicine ball with trainer Michelle Jeeninga. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Several of the trainers add entertaining twists when their turn comes to lead one of the weekly boot camps at which all four contestants plus the "embedded journalist" and five other Push Fitness clients work out. Steve Amsden, a former soldier himself, barked like a stern drill instructor and ordered the sweaty exercisers to think of their cowbell weights as their "rifle."

Steckler began his boot camp by having each participant select a partner. One partner would hold a static (unmoving) position for as long as it took his or her partner to do 20 squat lunges, then 20 prone rowing exercises, then 20 squat presses. Then the partners switched and did the other side of that exercise. The whole thing repeated two more times.

Then he had the 10 participants lie down in a circle holding the pushup/plank position. He ordered the first in line to do a pushup, return to the plank position and shout out the number "1." That would be the cue for Exerciser No. 2 to do a pushup and call out the number "2." And so the process continued around the room until each participant had done five pushups and the numbers being shouted out had reached "50." Then each did 20 situps, then all in the circle did a collective 40 pushups, then each did 15 situps, then all a collective 20 pushups, then each did 10 situps.

When Patrick Stille led the boot camp, he first picked four exercises everyone would do. Then he used a playing-card-selecting app to determine the number of the exercises. For example, if the card his phone selected was "9 of Hearts," everyone had to do nine burpees.

The last half of Stille's boot camp consisted of three relay races between two teams of five people each. One at a time, each racer had to do a series of three exercises (mountain climbers, pressing a 20-pound cowbell overhead and inchworms), then would have to run across the room twice -- in a sidestep.

While doing that relay race, Fittest Loser contestant James "J.D." DeBouver, an Iraq War Army veteran from Schaumburg, suddenly felt searing pain. "I must have popped up too fast at the end," he said. He had pulled a muscle in his back.

"The next two days I was barely able to walk to the bathroom," DeBouver said. He called in sick to his work as a safety inspector, and instead of going to his regular one-on-one twice-weekly workouts, he consulted with his personal trainer, Amsden, about how to get back to operating condition. "I just rested up and my back got better little by little," DeBouver said when he showed up for the next week's boot camp -- and participated with all the others.

But what if your muscles are just sore from exertion they're not used to? Should you cancel the next workout and rest, or are you better off gutting it out?

Steckler said the best course lies between those two options.

"When you're sore, your muscles need time to recover," the chief trainer said. "You don't want to overload those muscles. That can interfere with healing. But recovering doesn't mean just sitting around doing nothing. Even though you're sore, you want to move those muscles.

Fittest Loser contestant Penny Brown of Fox Lake, who served in the Navy, works on lunges with trainer Patrick Stille. Brown says she has never done so many squats and lunges in her life.
  Fittest Loser contestant Penny Brown of Fox Lake, who served in the Navy, works on lunges with trainer Patrick Stille. Brown says she has never done so many squats and lunges in her life. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Contestant Penny Brown, a Navy vet from Fox Lake, says she has never had to cancel a workout because of muscle aches, though she did have to cancel workouts because of sickness. What does make her ache, she says, "is all those squats and lunges. I've never done so many in my life." But she said her trainer, Stille, "has me doing so many a week, I'm getting used to it."

Finding motivation to keep going through hard workouts isn't difficult for contestant Russ Page, an Air Force veteran from Antioch. "This is my motivation," he says, pulling out a snapshot of himself holding a large catfish he caught. But it's not the fish that motivates him. It's the profile of his belly bulging in the picture.

"It was a 30-inch cat, but it looks small compared to me," says the career Navy technician-turned-industrial-tech-turned-part-time college-professor. The contestants are starting to see real changes from all their hard work. The oldest contestant, 67-year-old Marine Corps veteran Tony Wiszowaty of Schaumburg, says that thanks to following the Fittest Loser diet guidelines and working out, he has been able stop taking his blood-pressure medicines.

"My clothes fit better. I am down a pants size and am fitting in shirts that I haven't worn in a very long time," Wiszowaty says. "I have to say that this is a blessing and a life saver for me. I didn't realize how much my health and fitness had deteriorated. I guess I was fooling myself into believing I was better than I was."

By the numbers

James DeBouver

Army

Age: 33

Height: 5'9"

Starting weight: 264

Current weight: 247

Weight lost this week: 1 lb.

Total weight lost: 17 lbs.

Penny Brown

Navy

Age: 37

Height: 5'8"

Starting weight: 227

Current weight: 212

Weight lost this week: 0 lbs.

Total weight lost: 15 lbs.

Russell Page

Air Force

Age: 60

Height: 5'10"

Starting weight: 250

Current weight: 233

Weight lost this week: 1 lb.

Total weight lost: 17 lbs.

Tony Wiszowaty

Marine

Age: 68

Height: 5'9"

Starting weight: 247

Current weight: 229

Weight lost this week: 1 lb.

Total weight lost: 18 lbs.

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