By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
An older man's muscles moved his torso upward as chief instructor Dominque Jackson offered him a high five at the sit-ups peak. Jackson turned his attention to another participant in the Legacy Martial Arts Biggest Loser Competition and met her with the same reward.
For the past five weeks, Jackson has led his class in lunges, punches and squats at no cost to the participants. For the past five years, Legacy has offered this pound-dropping challenge to the community. These free classes run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 20 to encourage fitness in both newcomers and regular Legacy attendants.
"Make your body move," Jackson shouted over the crowd. "It's yours to tell what to do."
But to the participants, the workouts have done more than build muscles -- they've built a family.
Last year's winner, Scott Heiden, 38, explained working out in a group forces accountability. He shed 30 pounds during the 2011 competition, and he attributes his success to the immense support he received during classes.
"We're very good about helping newcomers," Heiden said. "A lot of people encouraged me."
Heiden had never enjoyed working out until the staff at Legacy coaxed him into trying the free challenge. Now 45 pounds lighter, Heiden maintains a regiment of classes at Legacy and lifts weights at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. Winning the Biggest Loser challenge last year inspires a new love of fitness, and his weight loss has decreased his stress, improved his sleeping habits and increased his energy levels.
Jennifer Young, 41, and Matt Worstell, 36, are also Biggest Loser competition veterans. Worstell has dropped nearly 15 pounds in this year's competition. While Young hasn't lost weight, she's noticed toning and has lost 8 percent of her body fat. During the past couple weeks, the two have seen a boost in the newcomers' energy levels and enthusiasm.
"You work harder when you're in a group," Young said. "You can definitely tell people have lost weight."
For Brenda Turnbaugh, 41, who's already dropped more than 100 pounds outside of the competition, the class work is all about maintenance. Like Worstell and Young, the people and the feeling of fitness draws her back every week. The three classmates agreed the only badgering stemmed from an unwillingness to try.
"If they see you're not coming ..." Young began.
But Worstell cut her off. "They make fun of you," she said.
Jackson said often those interested in taking fitness classes believe they need to lose weight before they start attending. While the class is peppered with veterans, the Biggest Loser welcomes those without any experience and at any age, as long as they are at least 13 years old. This year's youngest competitor just met the age requirement, and the oldest is approaching 60.
"There's just a huge variety (of participants) out there that no one should ever feel alienated," Heiden said.
The class on a recent Tuesday night thrived on motivation. Jackson barked out commands as bodies moved, T-shirts dampened and breathing increased. Just as he high-fived his students during sit-ups, he reached down and offered a hand up to the nearest woman after push-ups. Mid-pull, he shouted out for more lunges, then more squats.
"Everybody is going to get the most out of it that they can," Jackson said.
With that level of encouragement, Legacy Martial Arts packs its studio during the seven weeks of free classes. The person who loses the most will receive a free six-month pass.