Workout routines change for Fittest Loser contestants as homes double as gyms

  • Fittest Loser contestant Van Dillenkoffer says he is fortunate to have purchased an elliptical machine several years ago, which he uses more now that he is unable to go to the gym.

    Fittest Loser contestant Van Dillenkoffer says he is fortunate to have purchased an elliptical machine several years ago, which he uses more now that he is unable to go to the gym. Courtesy of Van Dillenkoffer

  • Karl "Van" Dillenkoffer adds spice to his prepped food with the help of sophomore Aayush Dixit as Fittest Loser contestants take a cooking class with students from the Food Revolution Club at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire recently.

      Karl "Van" Dillenkoffer adds spice to his prepped food with the help of sophomore Aayush Dixit as Fittest Loser contestants take a cooking class with students from the Food Revolution Club at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire recently. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
By Colette Harris
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 3/29/2020 10:23 AM

Encouraged by their recent progress, Fittest Loser competitors were determined to succeed despite their gym, park district fitness centers and most other businesses shutting down around them to help stem the tide of COVID-19.

In the days before Illinois' stay-at-home order began, many contestants had already turned to in-home workouts to supplement their personal training sessions at Push Fitness in Schaumburg.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Now with the stay-at-home order in place, all four contestants are working out from home, with Push Fitness providing "virtual" support and motivation.

"We'll be staying in touch with the contestants by sending them workout videos or livestreaming workouts based on the equipment they have available," said Joshua Steckler, owner of Push Fitness, a Fittest Loser Challenge sponsor since its inception in 2009.

Most contestants have cardio machines and basic workout equipment such as dumbbells, kettlebells or resistance bands in their homes. Steckler said they can also get creative with body-weight exercises, as well as walk or run outside when weather permits.

Push trainers will continue reviewing contestants' food journals and competitors have calibrated their home scales to mirror the scales used at Push Fitness in order to send in accurate weights for the next few weeks.

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"Our goal is to do everything we can to keep our contestants motivated and on the right path," Steckler said.

Despite the challenges, contestants are determined to push through the last half of the contest. They're already seeing big changes in mind, body and spirit.

Neil Madden

During Neil Madden's first training session, his trainer, Nicole Caliva, challenged him to run a 12-minute mile. He only made it seven-tenths of a mile before needing to walk the rest of the way. A few days later, he ran a 14-minute mile. Now, he runs a mile in less than 12 minutes and consistently runs more than two miles on the treadmill.

Halfway through the 12-week contest, he's down nearly 30 pounds.

"At 58 years old, I have surprised myself with what I can still do," Madden said.

Instead of heading to Push, Madden is now working out at home on his treadmill and with other equipment. He's also running outside when weather permits.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Madden says he's noticed increased stamina, flexibility and strength. Not to mention his waistline has shrunk significantly, his face is noticeably thinner, his clothes are looser and he's down four to five notches on his belt.

"I have received several compliments, but I still feel like the overweight guy," he said. "I have a long road ahead of me, but in six weeks, the results are pretty amazing."

Most noticeably, his eating habits look vastly different from his pre-Fittest Loser days. Diet Cokes and sugar-laden foods are a thing of the past and his family is looking much more closely at recipe ingredients and shopping for new foods to try. Now that he's eating healthy foods on a regular schedule, he's off the blood sugar roller coaster and has more energy and an improved mood.

"He has the most positive outlook," Caliva said. "He welcomes any challenge I give him, whether it's personal or related to a workout."

Senior Steve Yoo works with Barb Simon as Fittest Loser contestants take a cooking class with students from the Food Revolution Club at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire recently.
  Senior Steve Yoo works with Barb Simon as Fittest Loser contestants take a cooking class with students from the Food Revolution Club at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire recently. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer
Barb Simon

Six weeks into the contest, Simon has already lost nearly 20 pounds. She's gone from wearing a "tight" large -- which she says meant she was probably an extra large but didn't want to admit it -- to wearing a size medium. Even some medium-sized clothing is loose these days and Simon has noticed more defined arm and leg muscles.

"I'm feeling healthier and stronger every day," said Simon. "Although the scale hasn't moved that much these past few weeks, I do feel lighter on my feet, so to speak."

Her energy level has also increased exponentially. No longer a "couch potato," Simon wants to engage in the physical activity her body has grown accustom to instead of sitting around during the stay-at-home order. Her hunger has decreased even though she's eating much less than before the contest began.

"I think the fact that I am eating the right foods in the right combinations is helping my body better metabolize my food," she said.

Simon's cooking and shopping habits have also changed dramatically. The grocery store tour and recent cooking class taught her how to make healthy selections and prepare nutritious foods in interesting ways. She particularly enjoyed learning to prepare sweet potato taco bowls during the cooking class. It inspired her try more flavor combinations in her own cooking as opposed to only making plain, grilled chicken or salmon with lightly seasoned and steam vegetables.

"Food doesn't have to be plain or boring to be healthy," Simon said. "It is definitely nice to know now how to pair certain spices with different vegetables and meats in a healthy way."

Simon said she's fortunate to have a medicine ball, kettlebells and other workout equipment at home, but acknowledged that extra distractions at home make it more difficult to stick to a routine. Periods of gloomy weather and rain that prevented her from exercising outside aren't helping either.

"My plan for the next few weeks is to write out a set workout schedule, so I can be sure to dedicate specific time to exercise," she said.

Senior Harsh Thakkar shows Karl "Van" Dillenkoffer how to use the knife properly while prepping food as Fittest Loser contestants take a cooking class with students from the Food Revolution Club at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire recently.
  Senior Harsh Thakkar shows Karl "Van" Dillenkoffer how to use the knife properly while prepping food as Fittest Loser contestants take a cooking class with students from the Food Revolution Club at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire recently. - Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer
Van Dillenkoffer

Even though Van Dillenkoffer's workouts look slightly different now that he's working out from home, he's feeling great about the progress he's made and the over 20 pounds he's lost.

His clothes are looser and he's able to tighten his belt a notch. He's also noticed increased energy and improved mood.

At home, Dillenkoffer completes 45- to 60-minute cardio sessions on his elliptical machine, works out with resistance bands and does exercises his trainer, Michelle Jeeninga, showed him, such as walking lunges, push-ups on his knees, planks and band curls.

He plans to bike when it warms up and he and his wife are still trying to get their daily 30-minute walks in while practicing social distancing when they encounter others on the sidewalk.

"I really do look forward to working out each day and trying to see how many calories I can burn with each workout," Dillenkoffer said. "I'm trying to challenge myself by increasing my target calorie goal each week. I've set my daily move goal (on his Apple Watch) at burning 1,000 calories per day."

Most notably, Dillenkoffer has made substantial changes to his diet. Prior to the contest, he'd eat breakfast, maybe a snack for lunch and a normal dinner. Today, he's eating five smaller meals per day and is mindful of portion size. He's also upped his water intake significantly.

"In the past, I didn't take into account how much or what I was eating. If it looked good or tasted good, I'd eat it," Dillenkoffer said. "I'm satisfying my sweet tooth at night by eating fruit instead of ice cream or desserts."

Although his wife is still the primary shopper and cook of their home, Dillenkoffer is using the knowledge gained during the grocery store tour and cooking class to begin preparing meals as well. He is experimenting with adding more spices and flavorings to his food.

Jeeninga said Dillenkoffer is eating a well-balanced diet of lean meats, fish, lots of fruits and vegetables and healthy fats. She says he has made her proud with his food choices, even though he took a previously scheduled vacation early on in the contest.

"Van could very well be the 2020 Fittest Loser winner … I'm predicting it!" Jeeninga said.

Jennifere Lux, who is now working from home, is staying committed to her Fittest Loser regimen. She has a protein shake for breakfast and works out at home after her workday is done.
Jennifere Lux, who is now working from home, is staying committed to her Fittest Loser regimen. She has a protein shake for breakfast and works out at home after her workday is done. - Courtesy of Jennifere Lux
Jennifere Lux

Being able to ramp up the treadmill's speed and incline was one of Jennifere Lux's favorite parts of her training. It helped her lose close to 20 pounds during the first five weeks of the challenge, during which she went from a size 18 to 14.

She's pleased with her progress so far, especially when it comes to her strength and stability. Planks and balance exercises have gotten much easier and her 30-minute workouts with trainer Steve Amsden were starting to fly by before the gym had to close.

Lux says she has a waist again and her arm muscles are much more defined. She feels better overall.

"My energy level has just gone up. I've got to make myself go to sleep now," Lux said.

Now that fitness centers are closed, Lux no longer has access to a treadmill. Missing her time on the machine, as well as sessions with Amsden, has been rough, but she's committed to carrying on with the contest at home.

She ordered resistance bands and weights and is still able to do the same body weight exercises as her fellow competitors. She's also participating in workout classes online and running at her local park.

While the stay-at-home order is in place, Lux is focusing her energy on her eating habits. She knows she could easily break the contest's nutrition guidelines now that she's working from home and, like many others, could turn to snacking out of stress or boredom.

"In times like these, it's important to watch what you eat. I'm trying to stick with the diet, drink enough water and follow the routine no matter what," Lux said.

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