Are you willing to wake up before dawn, head to the gym and have a personal trainer and your teammates push you to your exercise limit?

That’s what the Biggest Winner contestants signed on for when they started this year’s competition. And so far, all of them – the Observer-Reporter team included – is going strong.

Eric Schmalzried, fitness supervisor and clinical coordinator at the Washington Health System Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center, is overseeing the training program and said each competitor started out with some basic testing to establish a baseline level of fitness and ability.

ep-170129571c“This lets the personal trainer coaching each team know the capabilities of each of the participants and design appropriate exercise programs for the team,” explained Schmalzried. “Typically, a given workout for the day is going to have a specific structure for exercises selected, with the option for an easier or modified version if there is an individual on the team who that is more appropriate for.”

The teams have been meeting four times a week for group sessions, and the program runs for seven weeks. Everyone has a different starting point as far as fitness, and the trainers take that into consideration.

“No one is ever forced to do something he or she is not capable of,” Schmalzried said. “But expert coaching from the personal trainer will challenge each individual to push the limits of their abilities while exercising safely. It is very frequently the case that there are a variety of different limitations and injuries to work around, so the wellness center personal training team is well-prepared to handle this.”

The program is designed around four pillars: mindset, nutrition, movement and recovery. Schmalzried emphasized that all four play an equally important role in health and wellness. However, for weight loss specifically, he noted that nutrition plays a substantially larger role.

“The oversimplified but still helpful example I like to use is that it might take an hour of hard exercise to burn 500 to 600 calories,” he said. “That same amount of calories can be consumed in a few minutes in the form of a couple of donuts or even something perceived as more healthy like a bagel with some cream cheese on it. Weight loss, at a very basic level, is a matter of burning more calories than you consume.”

So why do so many of us have such a difficult time losing weight?

ep-170129571a“The consumption part of that equation must be controlled in some manner if any meaningful amount of weight loss is going to occur,” Schmalzried said. “While nutrition plays an unquestionably larger role in weight loss, studies consistently show that exercise and diet together are the most effective for achieving results, and that exercise over the long term becomes more important to sustain results.”

Having a personal trainer and coach makes the Biggest Winner contestants’ exercise more effective.

“He or she has an expansive knowledge of exercises to draw from to design new and exciting workouts and explain how to do each exercise correctly,” Schmalzried said. “You are also accountable to your coach, and the coach is an integral part of helping you set goals that keep you motivated over the long term.”

That being said, he stresses that it is absolutely possible for us to work out on our own and achieve fantastic results.

“You can do this by using some coaching techniques with yourself by setting goals and regularly self-assessing to see how you are progressing toward your goals,” he said. He also recommends finding a workout buddy to help stay consistent with your routine and says group exercise classes are another good option.

While the Biggest Winner competitors are working up a sweat at least four days a week, Schmalzried says adding any amount of movement to your schedule is going to help with fitness.

ep-170129571“My advice for a new person starting is to not be afraid to start where you are,” he advised. “It’s really easy to tell yourself, ‘Oh, I will just start my new routine when I don’t have a headache tomorrow, when I get some new shoes to work out in, when I don’t feel tired,’ etc., etc. Once you have given yourself an out one day, it’s easy to keep doing it.”

But he said the same also holds true once you take that first little step toward making a lifestyle change: It will get easier. For those who already have a fitness routine but would like to kick it up a notch or drop some pounds, he recommended changing things up a bit.

“A certified personal trainer will be able to give you the best advice and have the most knowledge regarding exercise options,” he said. “If you are just looking for some new exercises to keep your routine interesting, you can find some decent enough stuff online with a little bit of careful choosing.”