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"My Reality-TV Workout"

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How tough could weight-loss shows really be? One FITNESS writer sweats it out to find out.

My Workout with Harvey Walden of Celebrity Fit Club

"Ten more seconds!"

My ears are ringing, my heart is hammering, and my lunch is creeping up my gullet as I sprint on the treadmill.


I half fall off the machine and bend over, bracing my hands against my thighs to keep from face planting.

"Awesome! One more round," says trainer Brett Hoebel, last season's addition to The Biggest Loser's cadre of drill sergeants, as he vaults into the show's notorious boxing ring.

I don't have enough breath to say "Bite me." Instead I hold up a finger (not that one) to indicate "Hang on, I have to vacuum up a ton of oxygen while willing myself not to vomit."

As I lurch toward the ring for round four of sparring with Brett, I can't help but think, How do Biggest Loser contestants survive this? Better yet, how am I going to?

Rewind a few weeks. Sitting in front of my flat-screen watching the show's contestants pant through another episode, I skeptically thought, Oh, suck it up. Then when my editor at FITNESS offered to send me behind the scenes of the top reality weight-loss programs to work out with TV's toughest trainers, I practically leapt through the phone and hugged her. Not only was it perfect timing -- I was getting married in an unforgiving silk slip dress in a few months -- but as a veteran fitness writer and trainer, I had always wondered how hard these workouts could possibly be for the regular Joe or Jane. (Okay, I'd also put on pounds lately courtesy of red wine and chocolate kisses, but I was not yet due for a muumuu.) I picked up the phone and immediately scheduled my sessions.

Ass. On. Fire

The scene: A woman walks into a 24 Hour Fitness Gym in Beverly Hills to meet her trainer, who is in full military gear. There's Harvey Walden waiting for me in his signature fatigues, appearing just as he does on VH1's Celebrity Fit Club when he's chewing out crazy Gary Busey for skipping push-ups. And it's not even the day of our photo shoot.


"I am not the type of trainer who holds your hand and begs you to do it my way," he explains in a deep baritone as I warm up on the treadmill. "I take you out of your comfort zone. You might think I'm an a-hole, but in the end you'll see I have only the best intentions." He's intimidating, all right, but, heck, if Kevin Federline could do it, so can I.

Harvey unrolls a mat, pulls out a stopwatch, and explains the workout format: a continuous circuit (no rest) of alternating one-minute cardio and strength moves.

Been there, done that, I think.

We begin with jogging in place; then we do some squats, more jogging, push-ups, jumping jacks, split lunges, burpees, scissor kicks (killer on-your-back ab exercises), V-ups, and more. In all, we do 15 exercises that work every muscle without my touching a single piece of equipment, as well as 15 minutes of cardio intervals that get progressively tougher. Breaking for a moment to drink water, I'm surprised to find that I'm pretty darn winded and a little shaky.

"That was harder than I thought it would be," I admit. I am used to strength training but realize I've become dumbbell dependent: I rarely do push-ups, pull-ups, or other body-weight moves.

Harvey consults his watch: "Again! And this time do it like your ass is on fire!"

I swallow hard, then channel my inner Federline and get back to work.

Two days later we meet at a park, where Harvey, again in uniform, arranges 15 stations in a giant circle. Each is a sheet of paper with an exercise written on it; I recognize many of the moves from our previous session, and a few new ones have been thrown in. Stopwatch in hand, Harvey instructs me to do one minute at each station, then sprint once around the circle past that station and on to the next.

For the first round I am definitely slacking a little; I'm sore all over from our last workout. Harvey eyeballs me and bellows orders as I trot around the circle instead of sprinting. When I pause between rounds to grab some water, he scowls and asks, "How are you feeling?"

"Pretty good," I lie.

"Then you're not working hard enough," he snarls. Then, in my face: "Ass. On. Fire."

And he's right. During the next round I really push myself. Harvey seems to know I've stepped it up and switches from bellowing to offering encouragement, calling out the time increments and praising me when I'm struggling. I finish the workout drenched in sweat and guzzle my water. Harvey smiles widely, white teeth gleaming. He is pleased. And so am I.

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a3984502 wrote:

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11/5/2011 03:19:18 AM Report Abuse
coco-symone wrote:

Loved this story-realy inspiring. Can you show some of the combo moves and the metabolic resistance training exercises? I'd really love to try this workout.

9/15/2011 06:48:39 PM Report Abuse
anonymous wrote:

This article really made me think about how hard I am pushing myself during workouts. When I only give 80% or less during a HIIT workout the only person I am cheating is myself and that's like working against my goals.

9/6/2011 03:25:34 PM Report Abuse
misssweetandsassy wrote:

I likes the story but would like detailed decriptions of all the moves she did. I would like to try them.

8/31/2011 10:49:13 AM Report Abuse

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