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Personal 'torture' pays off

Having an expert's help to navigate the gym makes a difference, Health Club Challenger says

Most people would call the man a personal trainer, but Times Colonist Health Club challenger Kevin Dean calls him his personal "torturer."

Or sometimes, when Dean wants to be a little more personal he calls him Freddy. That's after Freddy Krueger, the sadistic demon from the Hollywood frightfare Nightmare on Elm Street series of movies.

"I'm beat and I'm whipped and I'm ready to go and shower and mend my wounds," Dean said last week after completing his fifth workout with a personal trainer at Pearkes Recreation Centre.

These Challenge weeks, 12 in all, with a personal trainer are part of the package Dean won when he was selected as one of five people to be part of the Health Club Challenge.

The package, worth about $3,000, also includes consultations with a nutritionist and an athletics counsellor. Each of the five participants will work out of separate community recreation centres and the program is co-ordinated by the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence.

Meanwhile, an estimated 350 At Home Challengers are also taking part. But they will follow directions on their own to be printed in the Times Colonist and appear online at These people will also qualify for some great prizes.

For Dean, the Health Club Challenge is a whole new approach to life and fitness.

In the past, he has had some personal challenges. In 2007, he kicked a daily pack-and-a-half cigarette habit. In 2003, he stopped drinking and now proudly calls himself a "recovering alcoholic."

But after kicking the cigarettes and alcohol, Dean admits he developed an unhealthy fascination with sweets, in particular ice cream. And he has gone from 180 pounds to 235.

Before, he kept fit by walking and playing hockey three times a week. But in 2009 he had back surgery to repair a ruptured disc and has been off skates ever since. And his job as a plumber has left him with problem shoulders.

Working out with a personal trainer is a chance to get back in shape, as is performing exercises under supervision — something new for Dean.

Personal trainers are a service now available at all community recreation centres. Saanich Recreation, where Dean is getting his training, offers dry-land and aqua training depending on the physical condition of the client. For one adult, costs range from $50 for one session to $326 for eight.

James Puckett, the personal trainer with Saanich Parks and Recreation now working with Dean, said, right from the start, he had to devise exercises to take into account the Dean's past injuries.

"He's had back injuries and he's had shoulder injuries, so things like that came into account," said Puckett. "We could not have any heavy impact exercises."

He said safety is always the No. 1 concern for every client. So he always starts by getting clients to fill out the PAR-Q, the Health Canada-supported Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire, available online. And then he and the client begin devising a program.

As a personal trainer, Puckett devised a specific program of exercises for Dean, as he would with any other client. Trainers will also observe and correct any problems with improper technique or form.

He said without the proper technique and form, a client can never reach full fitness potential since progression becomes impossible, even dangerous.

"If you have improper form, your potential for hurting yourself is through the roof," said Puckett.

"But with proper form, you can safely and progressively move up."

Puckett said too many people head for a gym on their own and start moving from machine to machine, mimicking other gym-goers. But too often, gyms are full of people who aren't don't doing their exercises properly.

"You watch somebody doing something wrong and you mimic it," he said. "And what you are doing is wrong, but you're probably doing it even worse than the person you are mimicking."

Another of the most common mistakes, Puckett said, is people try to lift more weight than they can safely move through the appropriate range of motion for the muscles they want to exercise.

Proper form is never achieved, so progress quickly becomes impossible.

"Lifting too much weight is very common, especially among men," he said. "It's a big ego thing, the whole alpha male thing.

"You walk around any gym, for the most part, it's the women who have the proper form," said Puckett. "They are not there to lift weights, they are there to exercise properly."

Meanwhile, despite all his jokes about his own personal torturer, Dean admitted, even after just five sessions with Puckett, he is feeling an improvement.

"It's getting better," he said. "This morning, I said to James I don't feel as bad as I did yesterday or the day before.

"I think I'm cresting that hill," Dean said. "It's a good feeling."