No one achieves their goals alone. Without a support system it's hard for anyone to consistently work out, eat healthy, and make lasting lifestyle changes.
That's why, in addition to the support of family, friends and co-workers, the 2018 Fittest Loser contestants are paired with a personal trainer to guide them through these weeks of transformation.
The trainers at Push Fitness in Schaumburg are working with their individual contestant twice per week, leading Saturday morning boot camps for the group, and helping their competitor develop a healthy eating plan that meets his or her caloric and nutritional needs -- all while helping them stay motivated and providing emotional support.
Meet the trainers pushing the contestants to be their best inside and out during the 2018 Fittest Loser Challenge.
As the owner of Push Fitness, Josh Steckler is instrumental in overseeing the Fittest Loser Challenge.
This year, he's working with Daily Herald reporter Melynda Findlay, who's writing weekly columns to chronicle her experience. He's excited to train Findlay and is eager for the Push Fitness personal trainers to work with contestants as well.
"The best thing about the Fittest Loser Challenge is showing people that they can get incredible results when they're surrounded by the right people," Steckler said. "A great trainer knows how to get through to clients who may not fully believe in themselves or clients who've struggled with their health and self-image in the past."
Steckler has a bachelor's in kinesiology and is an American College of Sports Medicine certified exercise physiologist and National Academy of Sports Medicine performance enhancement specialist.
Steckler believes the relationship between a client and trainer has to be a team effort and that the client needs to feel like a plan has been created to meet their specific needs and goals.
When he first starts training someone, he shows them that he practices what he preaches and his passion for his profession shines through, which helps create buy-in from clients. He suggests people find what works for them when it comes to nutrition and exercise and be consistent with that approach.
"If you're always searching for the easy way out or the latest fad, you'll never make long-term progress," said Steckler.
Steve Amsden initially became interested in personal training while on deployment in Iraq 15 years ago.
"At the time, we were in the middle of nowhere with no exercise equipment to speak of. We worked out with whatever we could find around us," Amsden said. "We bench pressed railroad springs, performed pullups on ladders, and squatted with a bar pulled from a train nearby."
Upon returning home, Amsden knew he wanted to make a career out of training. He became a certified personal trainer through American Council on Exercise and a National Academy of Sports Medicine performance enhancement specialist. He's trained Fittest Loser contestants for nearly 10 years and can't wait to work with Kirsten Binder during this year's challenge. He said he can already tell that she really likes boxing and he's sure they'll get along very well during the challenge.
"I'm excited this year, because my contestant is so excited. She is always full of energy and walks into Push with a great attitude," Amsden said. "I'm also excited that Kirsten has no injuries or issues whatsoever. That makes for a limitless choice of exercises and training styles."
Over the years Amsden has learned how to find the exercises and training styles clients thrive on and sticks with what they're good at.
"When it comes to the contestants, I train them similarly to a regular client, just at a bit faster pace with a more rapid progression," said Amsden.
Amsden believes being active consistently and often is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle because the more someone moves, the more likely they are to make working out a habit. In addition, Amsden said healthy eating is about more than counting calories.
"A 500-calorie fudge brownie is not the same as 500 calories of chicken and vegetables. Stop just counting calories, it's what you eat that matters more than caloric intake," Amsden said. "Nobody overeats healthy food. Ask yourself when the last time you overate chicken and broccoli, or apples and almonds. We are not getting fat because we overeat healthy food, we are overweight because of the poor dietary choices we make."
Michelle Jeeninga has been an American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer since 2008 and involved with the Fittest Loser Challenge for the last nine years. One of her favorite parts is seeing the contestants come together at Push Fitness for their group workouts and train together as a team.
"I love seeing the contestants being in competition, but also cheering each other on," Jeeninga said.
This year she's guiding Shelly Daley through the 12-week program. She said she plans to train Daley like she does all her other clients -- she's pushing her hard, but never past her limits.
When she first works with someone, she assesses what they're good at and what they can improve. Then she teaches clients how to use their strengths to overcome their weaknesses.
"When I'm deciding on what workout works best for clients, usually I like to see how mentally strong they are," Jeeninga said. "Most people are physically strong enough to do whatever I ask of them, but if they are weak in the mind, then it is almost impossible."
When it comes to nutrition, Jeeninga's philosophy is to eat clean 80 percent of the time. She also recommends her clients get creative with their food choices because almost any unhealthy food can become healthy with some tweaks to the recipe and inventive cooking.
"Who wants to eat plain chicken and veggies … not me; so be creative! There are so many cool healthy recipes online. There is no excuse as to why people can't enjoy healthy foods," Jeeninga said.
Mick Viken is a former collegiate and professional pole vaulter turned high school PE and health teacher turned personal trainer.
He fell in love with the profession while working as a trainer part-time. Eventually Viken, who has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology, became an American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer and now trains people on a full-time basis.
Viken has trained people for weight-loss competitions in the past, but this is his first time leading someone through the Fittest Loser. He plans to take contestant Chad Lowry through circuit-based high-intensity training that includes weight lifting and body weight movements as well as bursts of high speed work incorporated into his routines.
"My philosophy on both fitness and nutrition is that everyone should do something to get their heart rate up and break a sweat every day. And that simple, real, unprocessed food is always best," Viken said.
After losing a significant amount of weight on her own through research, working out and eating healthy, Nicole Steinbach knew she wanted to help others do the same. She became an American Council on Exercise group fitness instructor and certified personal trainer.
She loves training big groups, but also enjoys training clients like Fittest Loser contestant, Kim Roswell, individually as well.
This is the first year she is involved with the Fittest Loser and she is excited to help change contestants' lives in a positive and healthy way.
"I am really looking forward to sharing my knowledge with Kim (and others) to hopefully help her create this new lifestyle. She has a big year ahead of her and I want her to be successful and use what she learns in her daily life," said Steinbach.
When Steinbach first starts training a client, she likes to know what they've done in the past and use that as a springboard for the future. She has clients complete full-body workouts to help their bodies adjust to moving around more often. Then, she said she starts challenging each muscle as training progresses.
She also encourages clients to incorporate a few days of cardio into their routine every week.
As for her work with Roswell and the Fittest Loser Challenge, she's getting the ball moving right away.
"I want to create challenges and milestones for them to crush and move forward from," Steinbach said.
Patrick Stille, an American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer and National Academy of Sports Medicine performance enhancement specialist, is training his fourth Fittest Loser contestant.
He said he loves watching the lifestyle and health changes that contestants experience as they go through the competition.
This year he's training Nicole Mueller. He approaches training each client on a case-by-case basis and said he will train Mueller in the same way.
Stille said he's keeping Mueller's past knee injuries in mind, but because he is a big fan of "old school resistance training," her workouts will include plenty of squats, dead lifts, pressing movement patterns, and a focus on functional movement.
"I personally believe that there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that can't be fixed or at least lessened by a healthy lifestyle," said Stille. "Our bodies are the most important, yet most overlooked, thing in today's world. I try to help everyone change that by making it priority number one."