Going from couch potato to gym rat is not easy, but the five participants in The Buffalo News Shape-Up Plan have found motivation in many ways:
For each pound he loses during the 16-week weight loss and fitness program, the Rev. Angelo Chimera will donate $5 to Catholic Charities.
After a tough Saturday morning workout, college freshman Amy Van Tuyl turned the tables on trainer Patrick Hall, watching as he performed 100 pull-ups in 30 minutes.
Juanita Thomas' children used her cell phone to tape her home workouts so she can show trainer Chad Pozantidis she is no slacker.
"We're taking everyday people who didn't exercise and finding out what will motivate them," said Gail Vizzi of Summit Fitness Center, who introduced Melissa Gomez to Zumba. "Bringing Melissa into the different classes works best for her. She's motivated by the other people in the room."
Getting the most from your workouts is critical, and for those new to exercise it's best to start slowly and build up to the guidelines recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine:
Do moderately intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or
Do vigorously intense cardio 20 minutes a day, three days a week, or
Do eight to 10 strength-training exercises, eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise twice a week.
"Let your bodies get used to activity," advised Pat LaDuca, a certified personal trainer at Gold's Gym. "Your joints, posture, your muscles are not used to it. Take it gently -- full range of motion -- to get that synovial fluid flowing to their joints, and blood to the muscles. Don't harm yourself."
That is exactly what our five Shape-Up Plan participants have been doing for the past month -- easing themselves into a variety of exercise regimens they never believed were possible. From boxing to Latin dancing to a modified pull-up called Kipping, the exercises recommended by our volunteer core of professional trainers have left our participants energized.
Chimera used to need a nap in the afternoon, but after four weeks of an exercise program that incorporated stretching, balance/coordination, proper breathing and mild cardiovascular work, Chimera saves his slumber for nighttime.
"I don't feel that way anymore. It's amazing," he said. "You think you'd be more tired from exercising when in fact it gives the body more energy.
Go figure that."
Chimera, 66, has an easy way about him, an unflappable nature that one would expect from a career priest. His workouts, formulated by trainer Dan Mitchell, are designed with Chimera's hypertension, age and diabetes in mind. Chimera, down nearly 6 pounds, has found the zone.
"The ease with which he's performing the workouts, his attitude when he comes in, skin color -- everything right down the line. His flexibility has increased," Mitchell said.
Soon, Mitchell will increase Chimera's cardiovascular time, bringing the incline up on the treadmill. Chimera even attends aikido classes -- "but he's on the cardiovascular equipment while we're having the class," Mitchell explained.
"I should have done this 20 years ago," Chimera said. "It's amazing how quickly the body responds to a little attention and exercise. The bottom line is I feel better and younger as I gain control over my body and it doesn't control me."
A piece of cheese here, a slice of pepperoni there -- Fortini munched his way through the days working at the restaurants he owns. As the pounds piled on, he tried to burn them off with exercise DVDs, fitness books and tae kwon do, but nothing seemed to work.
"Nothing beats having a personal trainer to coach you through a workout," said Fortini, who has lost a little more than 8 pounds. "I find myself wanting to go to the gym. Even on my off days, I find myself wanting to do some type of exercise, so if I eat I have it covered."
Trainer Jennifer DiGuardi of Momentum Wellness knew Fortini was following her exercise plan by the loose fit of his clothing, and his increased energy.
"I've also noticed a difference in his muscular endurance," she said. "He's able to lift heavier weights for longer amounts of time. I wanted John to focus on getting his heart rate up and burning the most amount of calories in a short amount of time."
Fortini's early morning workouts start with 30-minutes on the elliptical or treadmill followed by strength training with weights. On this day at World Gym in Hamburg, Fortini balanced on a stability ball while performing crunches.
"The ab exercises are pretty tough," he admitted. "On the days I'm off, I hit the treadmill or the bike in my basement for 20 minutes. Then tae kwon do at night."
Fortini has studied tae kwon do for 4 1/2 and was ready to test for his black belt last December when his doctor detected a heart blockage. A stent procedure and weeks of rehabilitation led Fortini to the gym door.
"I just had another stress test, and I'm good," Fortini pronounced. "They took me off the beta blocker. . . . Now, all day whenever I go to eat something that I know I shouldn't, I think how hard am I going to have to work to burn it off. That influences my decision on what I am putting in my body."
Having survived her first Buffalo winter, Gomez is ready to tackle her weight. Moving here from New Mexico with her husband and four children, she admitted the most difficult part of her new workout plan is finding "me-time."
"I've written workouts into my daily schedule," said Gomez, 32. "For workouts, my little cell phone buzzer goes off 30 minutes before so I can get my clothes together and head out the door."
Vizzi recalled the day Gomez first entered the Niagara Falls health club.
"When she first walked in, her fitness level was pretty low," she said. "She stuck to it, and now I think it will become part of her life because our big dilemma was her time. She's taking care of the kids, and her husband works. She's found her rhythm. You can see the changes in her. She smiles a lot more."
At the moment, Gomez is smiling in the front row of Zumba class, the spirited Latin-dance exercise created by Colombian native Alberto "Beto" Perez. Five days a week, Gomez takes classes including Cardio Kick and Body Flex. Even so, after gaining back the pounds she lost initially, Gomez is discouraged.
"A lot of times people don't realize how much work and commitment goes into this," Vizzi responded. "The weight loss is a little slower than she would like, but it will all fall into place. Her changes are coming from within and the outside will catch up."
>Amy Van Tuyl
When you first meet Amy Van Tuyl, the 18-year-old appears reserved, as if she's waiting for something to happen. Take her to a gym, and she is on fire, thanks to trainer Patrick Hall.
Using Crossfit methodology -- combining strength training and cardio in each exercise -- Hall preaches multitasking. There are no machines. Here, resistance takes the form of body weight and free weights.
"Grab some dumbbells, Amy, for 15 thrusters," said Hall, whose exercises have odd names like burpee, speed skater and Kipping pull-ups. Four different movements -- squat, turn, curl, press become one exercise, elevating the heart rate and maximizing time.
A Buffalo State College student, Van Tuyl exercises first thing in the morning. After driving in from East Aurora, picking up her best friend (and a cup of coffee for her trainer), she arrives at the gym by 7:15.
"At first I couldn't walk the next day," said Van Tuyl, who has lost 10 pounds.
"People mistake soreness for an effective workout," Hall noted. "All soreness means is that your body couldn't recover from it. Top-level athletes never get sore from training, not because they don't work hard but because their body can adapt.
"Amy is focused, motivated, dialed in," Hall said. "Her energy is increasing, and she feels better already."
The last person Thomas expected to see in a boxing ring was herself, yet there she is with trainer Chad Pozantidis throwing crosses into his body armor.
"C'mon, hurt me," Pozantidis said. "Open up that arm, a little more to the side. I need you to get into it."
It's clear that Thomas possesses agility, power -- and determination.
"For a couple minutes there I thought I was going to pass out," said Thomas, panting heavily. With that, the bell sounds and Thomas launches into another set of punches in rapid succession, pounding a beat that keeps up with the Lady Gaga song being played.
"We go up and down with the cardio," Pozantidis explained, "45 minutes nonstop. You burn more fat that way. My main goal with boxing is to burn calories. We're pushing for 800 calories. The more weight she loses, the stronger her knees."
Thomas' weight has taken a toll on her body. She has high blood pressure and diabetes. She uses a respiratory inhaler and just revealed she had gastric bypass surgery. Her workouts, she insisted, have already helped her; she's down 5 pounds.
When Juanita is not boxing, she's circuit-training -- lifting weight with little break.
"There's no more playing games," she said. "This is now or never with the blood pressure, diabetes and the weight. I'm watching Dr. Oz, and people are dying from what I have. It's not fair to my kids. I'm only 43. They're looking at me, thinking they're going to be fat because I am. I want to break the curse. It starts with me."
Starting weight: 296.6 pounds
After four weeks: lost 5 pounds
Starting weight: 267.2 pounds
After four weeks: lost 8 pounds
Starting weight: 176 pounds
After four weeks: lost 0 pounds
Starting weight: 228.2 pounds
After four weeks: lost 10 pounds
Starting weight: 275.6 pounds
After four weeks: lost 6 pounds