Look behind-the-scenes to see how Fittest Loser contestants are getting in shape

  • Fittest Loser participant Rick Meyers pumps weights to build strength with trainer Patrick Stille

      Fittest Loser participant Rick Meyers pumps weights to build strength with trainer Patrick Stille Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Eric Start, second from left, sales manager for Fitness Factory, leads a tour for contestants and Push Fitness owner Josh Steckler and explained types of exercise equipment that could be used in the home.

    Eric Start, second from left, sales manager for Fitness Factory, leads a tour for contestants and Push Fitness owner Josh Steckler and explained types of exercise equipment that could be used in the home. Courtesy of Ed Poczatek

By N.A. House
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted3/17/2019 8:00 AM

From pushups to planks to Pilates to interval training, this year's Fittest Loser contestants are working hard to whittle their waistlines.

On any given day, you'll find one or more of the five competitors getting a cardio workout in, meeting with their personal trainers, or attending group fitness classes at Push Fitness in Schaumburg.


So just what are the contestants doing to lose the weight?

Find out how the certified personal trainers at Push Fitness are helping them shed pounds and improve strength, flexibility, and overall health.

Melissa Hood

Fittest Loser participant Melissa Hood with trainer Nicole Caliva.
  Fittest Loser participant Melissa Hood with trainer Nicole Caliva. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

To reach her goals by the competition's end, Melissa Hood works out with her certified personal trainer, Nicole Caliva, two mornings per week.

Each session begins with a 15-minute treadmill warm-up followed by a high-intensity interval training-style workout. During these exercises, Hood utilizes medicine balls, the rowing machine, and exercise bands.

"We use combination movements, exercises that use multiple body parts, to not only work various parts of her body, but keep her heart rate up," Caliva said.

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Caliva said Hood was familiar with a lot of the training exercises from past workout experience, which gives them an advantage during her sessions because Caliva can focus on form, instead of explaining how to do each exercise from scratch.

When she's not training with Caliva, Hood goes through some of the exercises she knows using small hand weights and does cardio workouts on the treadmill and elliptical. She takes Sundays off as a Sabbath to rest, recoup, and spend time with her family and the congregation she serves.

Overall, Hood said her workouts are going well. She admits fitting them in takes some planning and intentionality, especially as Lent begins, but Hood is determined to stay committed and disciplined.

"Experts claim that discipline in one area of your life that can foster discipline in others. Lent is a season of introspection and spiritual discipline. Having some physical discipline can only foster greater success," Hood said.


As the competition progresses, Hood hopes to be able to complete the 5K contestants are running in April in a decent amount of time and no longer need the medication she's taking for mildly high blood pressure. Caliva wants to see Hood get stronger with major exercises like squats, dead lifts, and push-ups.

Although trainer and student have more goals to meet, Hood is already noticing positive changes when it comes to her balance and ease of movement; and just as importantly for Hood, she can breathe more comfortably in her blue jeans.

"My balance has improved and I am more confident in my movements," Hood said. "I can get up and down from the floor with greater ease every day and that is an important skill for the grandmother of young children."

Ed Poczatek

Fittest Loser participant Edward Poczatek with trainer Michelle Jeeninga.
  Fittest Loser participant Edward Poczatek with trainer Michelle Jeeninga. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Ed Poczatek's certified personal trainer, Michelle Jeeninga, is keeping him very busy.

In addition to boot camp on Saturday mornings, he trains with Jeeninga twice a week and completes the workout routines Jeeninga assigns to him as "homework."

"The weekly boot camps are very intense. In less than an hour we are huffing and puffing like a freight train," Poczatek said.

During their training sessions, Jeeninga has Poczatek doing basic functional movements. One of their most recent sessions consisted of step-ups with a dumbbell shoulder press, cable back rows, suitcase squats holding two kettlebells, and barbell curls. Poczatek does four rounds of 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise.

Jeeninga also assigned him cardio homework of running two miles in 26 minutes every other day,

"I will assign him a different cardio routine outside of training sessions every week," Jeeninga said.

There's no easy part of the training routine for Poczatek. Past injuries and operations have left some parts of his body sore and he's avoided working those muscles because of the pain, but he said Jeeninga is teaching him how to make those areas stronger without aggravating old injuries.

"Morning aches and pains seem to be a thing of the past. I am sleeping better and have been able to gain much more flexibility," Poczatek said.

Jeeninga said she's firm in her approach to personal training and teaching clients about proper form and nutrition. Moving forward, her goals for Poczatek include preparing him for the upcoming 5K, increasing his awareness about his nutrition, especially his sodium intake, and teaching him to prepare his food for busy work days in advance.

"Michelle and the team at Push Fitness are asking -- and getting -- a little more out of me at each visit," said Poczatek. "They have taught me tricks on improving my nutrition, which I believe will part of my routine for the rest of my life."

Rick Meyers

Fittest Loser participant Rick Meyers, with trainer Patrick Stille.
  Fittest Loser participant Rick Meyers, with trainer Patrick Stille. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Rick Meyers is sticking to the fitness plan that certified personal trainer, Patrick Stille, put together for him at the start of the challenge.

He works out with Stille two times a week at Push Fitness, attends Saturday morning boot camp, and fits elliptical workouts in on his own time.

During their training sessions, Stille runs Meyers through a series of exercises including planks, battle ropes, wall sits, squats, and medicine ball slams, among others. The workouts are tough, but Meyers embraces them.

"I'm definitely sore, but it's a good sore," Meyers said.

Before Fittest Loser, Meyers said he would try to do too much too soon during his workouts, causing him to be too sore to workout the next day. Under Stille's watchful eye, he's learned how to push himself enough to see results, but not overdo it.

At first, Meyers was hesitant to do exercises that could aggravate an old back injury, but Stille has worked with him on form and technique to be able to do those exercises without pain.

"Squats made me super nervous after my back surgery, but Patrick is watching my form to make sure I don't overstretch my back," Meyers said.

Pushups and pullups have been the most challenging exercises for Meyers, but he loves working with the battle ropes and doing medicine ball slams. In addition to adhering to Stille's fitness routine, Meyers has changed his eating habits. After giving salmon a try, he reports that fish will now be added to the family's dinner routine.

"I haven't had bread, pop, or beer since the challenge began," said Meyers, who noticed he's had much more energy over the last few weeks.

Meyers' goals are to get ready for the 5K in April and increase his overall strength and health as the challenge continues. So far, he's enjoyed the journey and the opportunity to train with Stille.

"We have similar personalities. Patrick is very easy going, but if you're not cutting it, he'll tell you," said Meyers, who luckily, has not yet encountered that problem.

Bob Sinclair

Fittest Loser participant Bob Sinclair with trainer Steve Amsden.
  Fittest Loser participant Bob Sinclair with trainer Steve Amsden. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Bob Sinclair's certified personal trainer, Steve Amsden, is having him do "pretty much anything and everything" related to fitness training.

During some sessions, Amsden incorporates boxing and high-intensity interval training, while other sessions focus on strength training, circuit training, or a combination of the two.

Amsden makes sure Sinclair's workouts include plenty of squats, push-ups, dead lifts, kettlebell swings, pullups, and shoulder presses because he says those exercises and training modalities yield the best results.

The workouts are tough, but Sinclair said Amsden is challenging him in a way that makes him want to do better and meet his goals; and he's thriving under Amsden's tutelage.

"You know you are accomplishing something," said Sinclair, who also appreciates the Push trainers' focus on form during each exercise to ensure contestants' knees and backs are protected.

Amsden encourages Sinclair to get creative with the cardio workouts he does outside of his personal training sessions and Sinclair takes full advantage by participating in group classes at Push Fitness, working out on the rowing machine, and doing interval training on the treadmill, among other activities.

After only a couple of weeks, Amsden said Sinclair's upper and lower body strength, posture, and overall fitness have improved, as have his nutrition habits. Gone is an afternoon snack of apple pie or something sweet. Those items have been replaced by whole foods and balanced meals that incorporate protein, carbohydrates, and fat.

"No tricks, no diets, just plain old-fashioned clean eating," said Amsden. "It's not necessarily as glamorous as fad diets seem, but it never fails. The nutrition program literally has the longevity to last a lifetime."

Amsden said Sinclair puts 100 percent effort into all his exercises. So far, Sinclair enjoys lunges and exercises that incorporate the medicine ball the most. He finds pushups the most challenging, but they're getting easier. A few weeks ago, he could barely do three pushups; now he's doing 10.

"The challenge they're giving me is phenomenal," said Sinclair. "Yeah, it's a workout and you're exhausted when you leave, but the feeling you get afterward is like nothing else."

Annamarie McMurray

Fittest Loser participant Annamarie McMurray with trainer Mick Viken.
  Fittest Loser participant Annamarie McMurray with trainer Mick Viken. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Annamarie McMurray has been working out with trainer Mick Viken twice a week, attends the Saturday morning boot camp with the other contestants, and takes Tabata and Pilates classes at Push on her own. She's also walking quite a bit.

"Annamarie has been surprising me from day one with her efforts both with me during our one- on-one training, and her dedication outside of Push to get her cardio work in every single day," said Viken.

During her workouts with Viken, McMurray uses weights, machines, dumbbells, kettlebells, and the TRX and rowing machines. She also does her fair share of lunges, squats, situps, pushups, and presses. Viken designs her workouts so that her heart rate is up during the entire session.

"As with many of my clients who are aiming to lose weight, I find that my style of circuit-based weight training, while never the same from one day to the next, is similar in its implementation and most conducive to being able to increase overall muscular strength and development while creating the best environment physiologically for fat reduction," Viken said.

Exercise is only one part of the equation for McMurray; changing her nutrition and a few lifestyle habits also takes top priority. A few weeks into the competition, McMurray said she's better at shopping for and preparing healthy foods.

"I've learned to be a lot more disciplined as far as eating five times a day and drinking as much water as possible. I changed my sleeping habits so that I get at least seven hours of sleep," said McMurray. "Now, I have a lot more energy to do things."

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