"My Reality-TV Workout"
Pages in this Story:
- My Workout with Harvey Walden of Celebrity Fit Club
- My Workout with Jackie Warner of Thintervention
- My Workout with Brett Hoebel of The Biggest Loser
My Workout with Brett Hoebel of The Biggest Loser
Arriving at the Biggest Loser ranch, a secluded oasis near Malibu with a few simple buildings set on acres of woods and wildlife, I imagine myself at some sort of Dirty Dancing-era Catskills resort -- if Patrick Swayze worked at a summer fat camp. However, I quickly change my mind after realizing that although I'm on the set of a hit TV show, this is the least glamorous place you could be.
When I meet trainer Brett Hoebel in the ranch's 6,800-square-foot gym, it's midway through season 11 of the show. He tells me that much of his approach to exercise is something called metabolic resistance training, in which you do four high-intensity rounds of a circuit of five resistance exercises, each for 30 seconds with 30 seconds of rest. This is followed by a four-minute Tabata routine: 20 seconds of all-out boxing with 10 seconds of rest and then 20 seconds of sprinting on the treadmill with 10 seconds of rest, repeated four times. According to Brett, if you use the right equipment, this method gives the most calorie burn with the least morning-after muscle soreness. The show's fans will recognize our first workout as a high-intensity highlight reel of everything that makes contestants pant furiously: flailing giant ropes, pushing a Prowler, pulling a sled, tossing sandbags, and doing tons of planks.
I feel sure Brett is putting me through this workout to impress FITNESS readers and that there's no way those TV tubbies could withstand such a butt whooping in one sitting.
As if he could read my mind, Brett enlists three contestants to train with me for the second session. It's a Saturday, when the set is dark -- which means there is no filming and that contestants are left to do their own workouts. But some have caught wind of what we're doing and want in. There's Austin, a hulking 21-year-old radio-board operator with wild curly orange hair who came to the show with his dad; Kaylee, a 20-year-old student who tried at one point to be voted off the show; and Courtney, a 22-year-old restaurant manager who is a fan favorite for her upbeat attitude. The trio warm up beside me on treadmills as Brett lays out equipment. Though the contestants are four months into their transformations and are looking more fit, they still have a long way to go.
Austin hoots excitedly as Brett turns on some club music and we each assume a station. I stand at the battling ropes, Austin at the heavy-bag lift-and-walk, Kaylee at the sandbag toss, Courtney at the Prowler pull; sure enough, Brett takes the dead man's crawl. The energy in the gym is off the charts, and the contestants are animals! They cajole each other, encourage me, and playfully give Brett a hard time on occasion.
When it's my turn with the stopwatch, I look on in awe as Austin hurls the sandbag across the floor and Kaylee frenetically whips the battling ropes. Brett, on his 30-second break, rallies Courtney and corrects her form in the dead man's crawl. It's clear that they've done this before, with the same go-for-broke focus. Together we make our way through the first 20 minutes, and I complete my last exercise feeling as if I'm on a high. We all slap hands, then brace for part two of our butt kicking.
By the time we finish up with the Tabata portion, I'm so close to losing my lunch that I put a hand to my throat. As I step off the special Force treadmill on which I've been harnessed in full-tilt sprint position, Kaylee pats me on the shoulder. "It's okay," she says. "I feel like that all the time." Nobody tells me to suck it up.
They don't have to. I'm saying it to myself.
As I watched the season finale of The Biggest Loser last spring, I teared up. In my tour of duty on reality TV, I had lost 11 pounds. To be standing onstage, these people had worked off more than 100 pounds, so who was I to be so snarky from my sofa seat? I think it's safe to say that Brett, Harvey, and Jackie have collectively stripped more than two tons of fat from their on-air contestants. (They not only got me into my wedding dress but also gave me back my boy-push-up ability.) Let the cameras play up the drama and dripping sweat. Those reps are real, and the scale doesn't lie.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, September 2011.
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