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The problem: You’re a total beginner

By Beth Janes

The participant: Abel Rodgriguez

Abel Rodriguez, the finance and operations manager for the Chicago Loop Alliance, realized that committing to a gym might be the best way to reach his health goals—but he was a fitness novice. “I’ve never used weights,” he said at the start. “I’d like to, but I don’t know how.” Because Rodriguez needed a lot of guidance, Chicago set him up with Nicole Kupish, one of the top personal trainers at Equinox in the Loop. “A trainer creates workouts based on your needs and fitness level, plus keeps you motivated, accountable, and injury-free,” she says.

THE PLAN: Personal training at Equinox

HIS 12-WEEK PROGRAM: Rodriguez worked out with Kupish three days a week and hit the treadmill for interval workouts twice a week. To build a foundation of strength and endurance, Kupish started him on the most basic movements using free weights—squats, lunges, hip hinges, chest presses on a bench, pushing and pulling exercises, and core work. For the first six weeks, workouts consisted of just one exercise for each major area—the upper body, the lower body, and the core—then repeating the series. “It was so challenging that I was embarrassed,” he remembers. “I couldn’t do a pull-up. I could barely do a pushup.”

As Rodriguez got stronger, Kupish increased the amount of weight he lifted and hit muscle groups with back-to-back exercises, allowing little rest between sets. After a few weeks, she added advanced moves that combined strength training with balance; for example, Kupish had Rodriguez perform planks and chest presses using a stability ball to engage his core muscles. “I’m proudest of that,” he says. “Before I didn’t have the strength or coordination to work with the ball.”

Web exclusive His diet rules:

  1. Eat breakfast every day. Rodriguez used to skip the morning meal. A big mistake, Swank says. “Breakfast revs up your metabolism, and research tells us that people who eat breakfast consume fewer calories throughout the day,” she says. Her go-to: Fresh fruit and Greek yogurt.
  2. Don’t binge. Rodriguez ate well during the week, but Friday night through Sunday was a free-for-all. A better tactic: “Moderate your choices,” Swank says. “You can have a burger but get a salad instead of fries.”
  3. Three is the magic number. Swank told Rodriguez to limit drinking to three days a week and consume no more than three drinks at a time. As someone who attends many events for work, Rodriguez estimates that he shaved about a thousand calories per week by cutting back.

THE PAYOFF: Rodriguez now has visible arm and ab muscles, can do 25 pushups at a time, and can lift 25-pound dumbbells, up from 12-pounders at week 1. He also says he feels so much calmer at work that he has stopped taking antianxiety medication before high-pressure meetings. “All of that tells me I’m doing great,” he says. “The boost in my self-confidence made me realize how a healthier lifestyle can seriously make a difference.”

NEXT: High-intensity Circuit Training at Shred415

MAIN: Reboot Your Workout

Photography: Jeff Sciortino; Stylist: Theresa DeMaria/Factor

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