An Office Experiment


Though it would be nice to snap your fingers and instantly reach your goals, in reality change occurs slowly over a long time. Last summer, members of Chicago Athlete’s staff partnered with local health and fitness professionals to help each of us achieve a personal challenge. Over the course of several months, we became fitter, faster and most importantly, healthier.


If you want to make some improvements to your health this year but don’t know where to start, read on to learn more about our processes and those with which we worked. We hope this will inspire you to reach for your best in 2015!


Staff Member: Jonathan Cain

Role: Local Sales/Race Director

Worked with: Amy Baltes, FitNut4Life

Starting Point: I have been setting PRs in all kinds of distances for the past few years, but still figured I could be doing something better with my overall health.

Motivation: Though I figured I ate better than most Americans, I also know that my eating habits probably weren’t as good as they could have been. I wanted to eat better to keep my body healthy and strong and to be able to run for a long time. The problem was, I didn’t really know where to start and how to add any of the healthier options into my diet.

Process: I had three meetings with Amy over the course of a few months. For the first meeting, I took a weeklong record of what I ate and how I worked out. I met with Amy to talk about what I was doing and what could be improved. Based on my food log, Amy saw that I eat a lot of highly refined cereals, a lot of sugar, little fiber and had a low intake of essential fatty acids. She told me that we weren’t going to overhaul my diet, but she gave me a lot of little tweaks that could improve upon what I was eating. She also recommended some meals and ideas on how to add in more healthy food like veggies, whole grains and non-processed meat to what I was already eating. We also set goals of getting me to start learning to cook and to read labels to avoid ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats, food dyes and other chemicals.


By the second meeting, I was more aware of what I ate and had increased my fruit, vegetable and whole grain consumption. Amy had me watch Hungry for Change and Fed Up, two documentaries about issues within the diet and food industries. She also had me experiment with oatmeal and work on adding more iron-rich foods into my diet, such as greens, beans and seeds.


For our last meeting, Amy and I went to the grocery store to find ingredients to help with making meals. We looked for food I’d be able to make and eat before it went bad while maintaining variety and finding affordable options.

Results: Ongoing. She saw improvement when we met a few months later and gave me some more small steps to improve upon what I had already changed. (Though, she did say she was going to get me to enjoy eating tofu, which I still say is not going to happen.)


Staff Member: Bethany Stripp

Role: Editor-in-Chief

Worked with: Greg Peters, Equinox Tier 3+ Personal Trainer, Equinox Fitness Training Institute Master Instructor

Starting Point: I registered for the 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon with the intention of setting a new PR. My first marathon, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 2013, didn’t go quite as well as I had hoped and I thought changing my approach to training might help. Though I had grand plans of regularly strength training during the 2013 marathon season, as my mileage increased I only managed to do the most basic strength training once a week at best.

Motivation: Earlier in 2014, I wanted to set a substantial half marathon PR. When I reached out to friends much faster than I for advice, every single one said I should add strength training to my regimen. It ended up running a half marathon in April far faster than I imagined I could, so I figured it would be worth seeing how strength training could affect my marathon time as well.

Process: One week before marathon training began, I met with Greg for the first time for an EquiFit session. During that time, we took some preliminary body composition measurements and discussed both my running history and my goals for marathon season.


I had my first personal training session the day marathon training began, and for the next four and a half months, I kicked off my workweek with a 6 a.m. strength training session with Greg. Though the specifics of each session varied, I always went through several circuits designed to complement where I was in marathon training. When I developed patellofemoral pain syndrome (also known as “runner’s knee”) a month or so into the season and needed to improve balance on my right side, we worked on balance. When I hit the midpoint of marathon training, Greg took advantage of my extra energy to introduce me to metabolic conditioning in order to improve my endurance. When I tapered, we focused on maintenance rather than attempting crazy. No two sessions ever looked identical, but each session fit exactly what I needed for that point in marathon training.


I gained strength and enjoyed cross training with my sessions throughout marathon season. Not only did it keep me from putting additional stress on my legs by pounding out a few more miles each week, but it kept me active in a different way and gave me an enormous range of information, both on how to use a variety of equipment around the gym and on how to effective train my body to do what I wanted it to do.


Results: Well, I certainly got my PR. I took nearly 28 minutes off my time from the 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, so as far as I’m concerned, my race was a wild success. Thanks to a variety of injuries, I opted out of any sort of speedwork during my marathon training, and I did less cardio-heavy cross training than usual. Despite that, I still managed to run the marathon at over a minute per mile faster than last year. Does strength training during marathon season make a difference? Based on what I experienced, I’d have to say yes.


Staff Member: Kyle Thele

Role: Online Editor

Worked With: Brandon Yates, Director of Personal Training at Chicago Athletic Clubs and Valerie Bannos, Dietetic Technician, Registered

Starting Point: I’m a former high school and college athlete and can occasionally find my way to a gym or running trail. I was out of shape, but not to an extreme level.

Motivation: After college, exercising regularly dropped a few notches on my to-do list and I started to feel the effects. I wasn’t necessarily looking for anything new, just a reason to get active again and regain the dedication I once had towards exercise.

Process: The basics of my workouts with Brandon covered a wide variety of fitness essentials. We used a functional approach to work on strength training, speed and distance running.


Brandon and I worked together once a week over the course of this project and from day one he had me going all out. Our workouts would jump from one muscle group to the next, each day with a specific focus on a part of the body without overusing any one muscle. Early on, Brandon tested my BMI, the number of pushups and squats I could complete in a minute and how fast I could run a mile. With Brandon’s guidance and his mix of support and encouragement to do more, my results continued to improve throughout our time together.


While I thought I had a solid grasp of what to do in a gym, Brandon introduced me to a number of new workouts that used muscles in ways I had never before experienced. Countless times I didn’t even realize what I had worked until it was sore the next day. Brandon altered basic workouts and adjusted my form to make sure my body worked the way the exercise intended without risking injury. We took full advantage of Lincoln Park Athletic Club’s features, going from the basketball gym to the treadmill to the weight training machines to the free weights seamlessly.


That’s not to say it came easily. After our second session, my body quickly learned what it was in for and our weekly workouts led me to reach out to Valerie Bannos for some nutritional guidance. The mix of healthy food (or healthier, as the case may be. Rome wasn’t built in a day.) combined with regular workouts got me back on track.


Results: My mile time dropped nearly a full minute to a speed I haven’t run since high school. My pushups and squats in a minute reached a pace of more than one per second. I could consistently add weight and had further success at individual workouts than I imagined.


My mentality changed drastically as well. I began to look forward to our weekly meetings and wanted to work out more on other days. I found space in the day to work out when I usually would have enjoyed some solid couch time. When Brandon and I started, I left many of our sessions feeling beat and even a little sick. By the end, I felt better leaving than I did walking in the door.


While I did lose a few pounds, which my attempts at healthy eating also helped, I could see and feel the difference in my body. I felt better, I felt more active and I wanted more. The biggest and most drastic change came in my mind. Since high school, working out was a punishment or something ancillary that needed to happen in order to enjoy sports. Now I look forward to it.


Staff Member: Tracy Collings

Role: Director of Advertising

Worked With: CrossFit Illumine in Niles.

Starting Point: 42 years old, 112 pounds, 19.5 percent body fat. I’ve been a runner my whole life and pretty comfortable weightlifting in a gym. I have five marathons and a few years of triathlons under my belt and I’ve been known to win a scavenger hunt or two.

Motivation: I’ve always wanted to be lean – like six-pack lean. After having two kids, now 10 and 8, that became a, “I should have worked on that when I was younger” thought.


Process: CrossFit Illumine puts all new athletes through an On-Ramp program for one month to teach teach proper form for lifts and basic movements and run athletes through shortened versions of WODs (workout of the day). The first day in a real class was a bit intimidating, even though I had always been comfortable in fitness situations. After a few classes, I got the hang of the terminology and felt like part of the group. This facility uses WODIFY, an online performance tracking system that can keep record of PRs and benchmark times. This took a little time to get used to, but I now find this tool invaluable.

I was WODing three to four times per week from June through December and developing new skills I never would have tried on my own, such as handstand push-ups. Now I do them regularly and find them somewhat fun. I’ve seen real progress in my Olympic lifts. My core is probably stronger than ever. Sometimes it feels like we’re a bunch of big kids playing on a playground. I also cleaned up my diet. I don’t follow a strict Paleo diet, but I did cut out refined sugar, bread, cheese and most processed food for the last few months.


One of the coaches even talked me into competing in the Trodo Games, a team-based competition among 20 or so boxes. I was terrified. It kind of felt like my first triathlon. But, just like racing, there was such a high afterward that I can’t wait to participate in the next games.


There really is something special about this group. These aren’t just local folks. People drive from Wheeling, Mount Prospect and Lincoln Square to work out at this facility. The coaching philosophy extends beyond getting a class full of athletes through the hour. These coaches inspire us to be better in all facets of our lives. They have a committee that works on events that give back to the community. They promote healthy eating. They are sticklers for good form when lifting weights. They help us all to increase mobility and they encourage a sense of community among the athletes. Even though we range from teenagers to grandparents, during our time at the box, we are like one big happy family.


Results: 110 lbs., 17 percent body fat (with a five percent loss of android fat, which relates to the mid-section). While I am not yet ready to show off a photo of my stomach to the world, I’m certainly a lot closer to my dream of a six-pack. Give me another six months!


I gained a lot more than fitness with this project. I have so much fun with these workouts. They are different every day and the encouragement from the group is unparalleled. They say that CrossFit is the place where the person who finishes last gets the most cheers.


(Sidebar next to Tracy’s Piece) DexaFit

I tested my body composition with DexaFit, located at 3727 N. Broadway. It was incredibly easy. I simply had to lie still while the machine scanned my clothed body. You receive your results, which includes bone density, fat tissue and lean muscle mass instantly and breaks down detail such as how much lean muscle you have in your right arm compared to your left arm. Knowing that I had a second test scheduled kept me motivated to work hard. I wanted quantifiable results. I was more aware of my eating habits and made sure not to miss workouts. If you’re looking for something to keep you honest, consider getting a baseline test done.