The Official eNewsletter of TODAY! Fitness

vol. 2009 issue 11



The Biggest Loser

I wanted to pass along some excerpts from a blog written by Tom Venuto (Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle) since I whole heartedly agree with his assessment of the show and the lack of real world scenarios that they portray throughout.

The Biggest Loser – a reality show which is essentially a race to see who can lose weight the fastest - is one of the most popular in Television history. As fitness professionals, many people ask us the burning question: “How do they lose so much weight?”

Despite its worldwide popularity, The Biggest Loser is controversial and responses to the show are highly polarized. Most viewers seem to be either die-hard loyal fans who defend the show tooth and nail or critics who loathe the program to the point of disgust or outrage. Most fitness professionals and personal trainers dislike the show, mainly due to what they say is inappropriate training program design and extreme (teetering on dangerous) overtraining.


The Power of Accountability - Accountability is one of the most powerful motivational forces. The Biggest Loser program uses all four levels of accountability
(1) accountability to self, (2) accountability to a partner, (3) accountability to a group, and (4) accountability to the public.

The Spirit of Competition - The most impressive and dramatic body, health and fitness transformations I’ve ever seen have come as a result of competition. Competition is motivating and competition brings out the best performances. 

The drive of emotions - The producers of The Biggest Loser have done a meticulous job with contestant selection by finding individuals with touching life stories.  If this program stirs up some emotions in viewers that stimulate them to get up off the couch and start a health and fitness program, then that’s a good thing. People are not inspired to action with logic, they are driven to action with emotion and only later justify their decisions and actions with logic.

Hope and inspiration - Having inspirational role models moves people from “What’s the use; I’ve tried everything and nothing will ever work for me” to, “If they can do it, I can do it.”

The reality of hard work - Unlike most weight loss programs which promise results without effort, The Biggest Loser shows the contestants busting their butts. Arguably the biggest loser goes too far, replete with brutal training montages and plenty of crying, screaming, puking and falling down. That’s television for you.

To think that spectacular and quick results can be achieved without incredibly hard work is naïve. For above average results, it takes an above average effort. For mind blowing results, it takes a mind blowing effort. With effort and hard work, amazing transformations can happen.


The Biggest Loser is judged on weight loss, not body composition.  There is no doubt that contestants are losing huge amounts of fat – far above the average, which is usually 1-2 pounds per week. Even obese individuals rarely lose more than 3 pounds of pure fat per week consistently in a real world situation.

The results on the show – often 10 pounds a week with 20-25 not uncommon for first and last week - should not be surprising when you calculate the massive caloric deficit achieved from 4-6 hours of daily training and physical activity, combined with low calorie dieting.

What many fans seem to ignore is that weight loss is not the same as fat loss. Body weight includes muscle, bones, internal organs, water, glycogen and don’t forget the contents of the digestive tract. The weight loss on The Biggest Loser is deceiving. Much of the loss is water and can also include muscle and other lean tissue.

Rapid weight loss competition encourages physically dangerous practices.  The network, the trainers and other supporters of the show say they do not promote or endorse drugs or any unhealthy methods of weight loss. Official statements notwithstanding, the inherent nature of the show promotes dangerous behavior.

Biggest Loser season one winner Ryan Benson said the following on his myspace blog: “I wanted to win so bad that the last ten days before the final weigh-in I didn’t eat one piece of solid food! I did “The Master Cleanse” which is basically drinking lemonade made with water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. The rules of the show said we couldn’t use any weight-loss drugs, well I didn’t take any drugs, I just starved myself! Twenty-four hours before the final weigh-in I stopped putting ANYTHING in my body, liquid or solid.  In the final 24 hours I probably dropped 10-13 lbs in just pure water weight. By the time of the final weigh-in I was peeing blood.  In the five days after the show was over I gained about 32 lbs. Not from eating, just from getting my system back to normal (mostly re-hydrating myself)."

It’s unknown whether any Biggest Loser contestants have taken diuretics. As with many competitions, the greater the rewards and monetary incentives, the greater the willingness to cheat. One thing that’s clear is that even non-drug manipulation of water and electrolyte balance is incredibly dangerous. Would you trade $250,000 for a kidney?

The Biggest Loser pushes overtraining to the point of high injury risk.  On the first season 8 episode, just minutes after getting off the bus, the group of morbidly obese contestants (weighing up to 460 pounds), were instructed to "race" 1 mile run down the beach.  One of them collapsed just short of the finish line, at first looking dehydrated and fatigued and then progressing into looking seriously ill, incoherent and unconscious.

Later during the workout, contestants were shown doing intense cardio and calisthenics, lifting weights and performing plyometrics. These did not look like beginner-level workouts and the form on some of the exercises was sloppy enough to make a professional strength and conditioning coach cringe. 

The Biggest Loser has no relevance to real world situations.  The producers of The Biggest Loser have created the perfect environment for success. Contestants have personal trainers, nutritionists, group support, accountability, a national audience, and a prize of $250,000 and a potential platform to launch a motivational speaking or fitness career.

The participants move out of their homes and onto The Biggest Loser “Ranch” where they have no job other than losing weight. There are no kids to worry about, no work, no social obligations, no chores, nothing – just working out and dieting.  This is a totally artificial and controlled environment with no relevance to the average person.

Shouldn’t contestants (and viewers) be taught to exercise in a way that fits into a normal person’s daily life, between work, family and social obligations? Achieving health and fitness as part of total life balance is probably one of the biggest missing pieces in the obesity crisis, yet you won’t find solutions for that challenge on The Biggest Loser.

The Biggest Loser trainers are walking a fine line between tough love and abuse.  People are motivated by different styles of leadership and coaching, but in general, most people need to be pushed, not coddled, out of their comfort zones and they will always perform beyond what they believed they could accomplish when they are put under pressure.

On The Biggest Loser, normal rates of weight loss are penalized and frowned on as failure.  When an 8 pound weight loss is seen as a failure, imagine what viewers at home will think about a perfectly normal 1-2 pound weekly weight loss.  Surely any clear-thinking person realizes The Biggest Loser is a contest and at home they are NOT going to drop 25 pounds their first week and 8-10 pounds every week after that. However, more and more people are posting on forums online and asking their trainers why they “only” lost 3-5 pounds their first week or why they can’t lose more than 2 pounds per week.

When people get discouraged with perfectly reasonable weight loss, it makes our job as fitness professionals and health educators much harder. This is a big reason why most trainers hate this show.  The Biggest Loser teaches you absolutely nothing about setting realistic goals. It actually encourages the opposite.

The Biggest Loser does not teach real-world lifestyle strategies.  I haven’t watched enough of the show to assess whether the participants are given any kind of nutrition, exercise and health education that they can take home with them and make a part of their lifestyles for the long term.  Participants and viewers are not learning about nutrition and training as a lifestyle, because the inherent nature of the show only teaches them how to crash diet, crash exercise and achieve short-term weight loss.  I guess there’s not much time to film nutrition education when 45 minutes of the show is spent on the high drama of the weigh-in and elimination round.

The Biggest Loser doesn’t focus on lifelong maintenance.  Weight loss is easy. Whether you lose 1-2 pounds a week or 10 pounds a week, either way, maintenance is going to be the true challenge.  A study from Oxford showed that 80% of weight losers will gain all the weight back within 3-5 years. A report from the National Weight Control Registry suggested that this relapse rate could be as high as 95%.

It’s not a foregone conclusion that you’ll regain weight after a large and or rapid weight loss. Some can keep it off. Most won’t, and if you lose weight rapidly, the odds are against you. Without a plan for maintenance, the odds are close to nil.


Although The Biggest Loser spotlights the worldwide obesity problem and encourages people to do something about it, it falls short in many areas.

The trainers and physicians get on their soapboxes and tell the contestants how sick they are. But is this show really about health? Depending on how you approach it, getting skinny doesn’t always mean getting healthy – physically or psychologically.

The Biggest Loser is just Television, where the bottom line is ratings and sponsors. If you can, draw some inspiration from the show, but not your education. If you watch, then please recognize this show for what it is – entertainment; show business. Nothing more. nothing less.

ref:  Tom Venuto, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle

Elite Bodyweight Exercise of the Month!

Speed Skater

In my experience, getting athletes to work their legs is a chore in itself, never mind getting them to focus on the outer thighs and hips.  However, I believe that the speed skater is one of the most functional exercises for any athlete that is trying to improve their ability to cut and change direction.  This explosive motion is beneficial for football, soccer, volleyball, tennis, pretty much any sport where you need to move laterally.  Start with small distances and continue to expand the amount of ground that you are covering.  Focus on spending minimal time on the ground and explode into your next leap as soon as you land.


Target:  hip abductors (gluteals and tensor fasciae latae)

Count:  2 count

Description:  Starting on one leg, bend your knee and explode in the opposite direction laterally.  Swing your arms across your body to assist in generating force into your next leap.  Immediately explode in the other direction to complete the repetition (ie. 1 to each side).

The World is Your Trampoline

I might have mentioned before that I blew out my knee in wrestling back in 1984.  Three major tears in the meniscus (cartilage) of my left knee.  Needless to say, I haven't been able to run any real distance in 25 years.  That was until my friend Suzanne replied to my newsletter last month and told me about Kangoo Jumps.  She mentioned about how much she loved them and that she was able to run 5 miles with no joint pain... that's all I needed to hear!  I did some research on the internet, and ended up buying a new pair on eBay the next day.

So what are Kangoo Jumps you ask?  Kangoo Jumps are safe, low impact rebound sport shoes, providing many great health benefits, for everyone, any age!  Kangoo Jumps reduce the impact by 40-80%. They provide the very best protection to your ankles, knees, hips lower back & spine.  They are very durable, have replaceable components, and machine washable liners.

You can use them indoors, or outdoors on paved roads, dirt paths, grass, sidewalks, at the beach or even on snow.  Standard activities promoted on the website include:

  • Jogging & Running
  • Home Fitness
  • Weight Loss: Trimming & Toning
  • Group Fitness: Kangoo'Robic
  • Athletic Training - Strength & Conditioning
  • Rehabilitation & Injury prevention
  • Children's Education & Games
  • Correction & Prevention of Many Health Problems
  • Global Health: Training Each of Your Body Cells
  • Games, Dance or just for Pure Fun!

They are not really meant for jumping very high, but for jogging, aerobic (Kangoo'Robic), cross training dancing, enjoying a feeling of "Moon walking".

Kangoo Jumps do not take very long to get used to.  You will feel comfortable and safe after a few minutes of use only. The soles being as wide as your shoes, you feel very stable. They are for all ages, all levels of sportive skills.

I believe that the MSRP for Kangoo Jumps are up around $299.  However, I was able to find a new pair in my size on eBay for $75 (plus $25 for s/h).  You can pretty much put them in the same category as rollerblades when it comes to price point and recreational usage, although there is the added benefit of being able to use them indoors for aerobic or rebounding work, rather than just being limited to just the nice weather.

So although I was told a few decades ago that I shouldn't run anymore, I'm now able to get in a few miles at a pop with these things on... that's pretty cool in my book!  No pain, no gain pain!

CDC Reports Higher Obesity Numbers

Despite wide-reaching public and private efforts to curb overweight and obesity in America the trend continues to worsen. In the first week of July the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new statistics indicating that Americans are heavier than ever.

Presently, more than 26% of Americans are obese, 26.1% to be exact. This represents an increase of ½% over the previous year.

Additionally, there are six states in which 30% or more of residents are obese. They include Alabama, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Sadly, only the state of Colorado can boast that fewer than 20% of residents are obese.

The CDC tracks body mass index (BMI), amongst other variables across America annually through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Over 400K Americans participate in a telephone survey for this purpose. Obesity is indicated using a body mass index (BMI) of over 30 whereas a BMI of 25-29 identifies one as overweight.

Overweight Increases Knee Joint Degeneration

Although being overweight or obese has been suspected to result in increased risk for arthritis especially at the knee, limited research exists that links weight to increased degenerative change. A study was published in the journal Radiology implicating excess body weight in the rapid progression of knee osteoarthritis.

Researchers tracked 336 overweight patients previously identified as “at risk” for osteoarthritis of the knee over 30 months. None had significant loss of knee cartilage at the outset of the study, however more than 20% presented with progressive loss of cartilage, while just under 6% were diagnosed with rapid loss of knee cartilage over the course of the study.

The researchers identified 5 factors that appear to have significantly increased risk of developing osteoarthritis, excess weight having the greatest association with rapid degeneration. Statistically, the researchers found that every increase of BMI by one factor increased the likelihood of cartilage loss by 11%.

The other four include cartilaginous tears (i.e. meniscus) or other pre-existing cartilage damage, severe lesions on MRI, inflammation and fluid collection in the knee.

Although exercise training may not completely prevent osteoarthritis it has been found to improve pain and slow progression. Weight loss, however, might be the primary mechanism by which fitness professionals can improve osteoarthritis risk and quality of life amongst people with the disease.

Try This

Sit down.  No wait, I changed my mind... stand up.  No, sit down... stand up.  Seriously, that's all it takes when you talk about starting "functional" leg training.  I've had this discussion with my mother, father, mother-in-law, and a bunch of other people when they say that they don't know where to start.  Simply getting up from a chair is a task that many seniors can have difficulty with.  By repeating this task for "repetitions" you are training these muscles for this functional purpose.  Progression of this exercise will go from no-hands, to less time sitting, to barely touching the chair, to weighted objects (med ball, sandbag, dumbbells, etc.). 

Sure, this exercise sounds like a very basic task that might not be a challenge for very fit people.  However, the challenge is not a problem when you start cranking some reps of these bodyweight squats.  Try to focus on good form by pushing your butt backwards (knees behind your toes) and dropping your butt low enough so that your thighs are parallel to the floor.  Towards the end of bike season when I'm training for a long ride, I'll work sets of 100 reps into my training routine just to target "muscle endurance" rather than muscle strength.  So give it a shot... right now... right where you are... how many can you rip out?

It's Go Time!

Stop right where you are and step away from the candy bowl!  Halloween is over and you need to save some room for the big Thanksgiving feasts at the end of the month!  There are plenty of people that look at these couple months as an excuse to throw away all the rules and just go to town on whatever is in front of them (otherwise known as the SEE FOOD diet).  Not YOU though... I know that you are smarter than that!  Why throw away all that hard work and make it that much more difficult to hit your goals for next summer?  That's like running backwards for 5 miles before the start of a marathon... crazy!  Sure it's ok to celebrate for the main events and get into the spirit of the holidays.  But that's not an open excuse to pig out all week or month long and end up loosing a few belt loops!  Just to paint the landscape for you... we got Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's all lined up to challenge our will-power when it comes to food intake.  Continue to make the smart choices when you can so that you don't get your momentum going in the wrong direction.

For prior issues of this newsletter go to  

Exceed Your Potential!

Pete Mazzeo, CPT


"It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through." - Zig Ziglar

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