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Healthy competitions encourage fit lifestyles

Julie French (left) and Phoebe Balentyne, both of Sycamore, do their first set of eight pullups as part of a workout Monday at Sycamore CrossFit.
Julie French (left) and Phoebe Balentyne, both of Sycamore, do their first set of eight pullups as part of a workout Monday at Sycamore CrossFit.

SYCAMORE – When Bryan Westerby and his classmates at Sycamore CrossFit strive to complete their grueling workout of the day, they all have one goal in mind: Win the Look Better Naked Challenge.

Westerby and several other CrossFit members signed on for the Look Better Naked Challenge at Sycamore CrossFit, 1330 E. State St. in Sycamore at the beginning of January to create a healthier lifestyle. The eight-week program is halfway through, and many participants, including Westerby, already have seen results.

“I’ve lost seven pounds,” he said. “And I’m happy with that.”

Westerby is one of many locals working to become more physically fit and improve their overall health this winter. Multiple programs such as Sycamore CrossFit’s Look Better Naked Challenge and the Kishwaukee Family YMCA’s Live Healthy Team Challenge have gotten many people on their feet and ready to move.

Partnering with Kishwaukee Community Hospital, the Kishwaukee YMCA has created the Live Healthy Team Challenge, an eight-week fitness program running from Feb. 25 to April 15 at the Kishwaukee YMCA, 2500 Bethany Road in DeKalb.

Katrina Luetkebuenger, the associate executive director at the Kishwaukee YMCA, said this program was originally inspired by “The Biggest Loser” reality TV competition.

She said the program has recruited at least 47 participants who will be working together in teams to reach their fitness goals. Luetkebuenger said the team-based concept is what helps the participants obtain success.

“The support that they get from one another, the accountability and the education [is important],” she said.

In addition to the seven pounds he has lost since CrossFit’s Look Better Naked Challenge began, Westerby has lost about 50 pounds since joining Sycamore CrossFit in May. Westerby said he’s on his way to reaching his target weight, and he’s not stopping now.

“I’m looking to lose a few more pounds and build muscle,” he said.

Sycamore CrossFit owners Carl Balentyne and Mark Mitrovic encourage their members to get fit in ways that will benefit them in the long run.

“We don’t want to look at it as weight loss and dieting,” said Balentyne. “It’s more of a nutritional life change.”

Both Balentyne and Mitrovic said CrossFit is not necessarily about creating huge success stories, but making small strides toward better fitness.

“As long as people are improving, we know we’re doing something right,” Mitrovic said.

Each CrossFit session begins with a prescribed warmup to prepare participants for the intense workout of the day, which differs every day. One such workout involves several set of hanging pull ups, knee-ups and weight carrying for 12 minutes straight.

“The first five minutes, everyone’s on a mission,” said Balentyne. “After seven minutes it turns into ‘How can I survive this workout?’ “

Each workout is scaled to fit each person individually because not everyone is at the same level of fitness, Balentyne said.

Regardless of fitness level, every member completes the same type of workout, which CrossFit newcomer Chris Honnold said creates a bond among participants.

“Here, I show up and they tell us what we’re all doing,” he said. “It’s like being on a team.”

Balentyne said the best part about CrossFit is when all the participants complete their workout and congratulate each other afterward.

Mitrovic agreed CrossFit is a great way to build friendships by working together as a team.

“You all experience something together,” he said.

Sycamore CrossFit isn’t the only program that encourages participants to get fit while working as a team.

Larry Allison, a participant in the Live Healthy Team Challenge, said he has tried individual weight-loss plans in the past, but hasn’t seen the kind of results he does when working in a group setting.

“There’s so much more support. You’re involved with your own group,” he said. “You have a team challenge as well as a personal challenge to follow your diet and your exercise.”

In addition to getting back into a healthy exercise routine, Allison said he hopes to lose 15 to 20 pounds in time for his 50-year high school reunion this summer.

“If that isn’t enough motivation, I don’t know what is,” he said.

One of the program’s veterans, Jackie Brown, said she enjoys the competition aspect of the program.

“It’s always good to work with a group and see other people doing it,” she said.

Brown has placed first or second in the past four team challenge competitions. She has joined the program each time, working to reach her target weight after pregnancy. She said she earned second place last year, losing 13 percent of her body fat. The winner, who is now one of her good friends, lost 15 percent.

Brown said she is excited to get started on another fitness competition when the Live Healthy Team Challenge kicks off next week.

“I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “It’s always a good time.”

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