The Max Challenge: My Big Fat Fitness Obsession

Annette, center, with her 8:30 a.m. class after completing her challenge.
Annette, center, with her 8:30 a.m. class after completing her challenge.

Behind ACME supermarket, in the former location of a Chinese restaurant, a new fitness business, The Max of Montclair, is changing lives. Baristanet’s Annette Batson donned her workout gear — learned what a burpee was — and discovered how a combination of cardio and camaraderie, weight training and kickboxing, turns into such a transformative (and fun!!!) experience.

I’m a Max disciple. Now in my 15th week, I can’t adequately explain what an empowering, life altering, spirit awakening and effective physical strength building program this is.

Annette, (center) with her Max workout friends.
Annette, (center) with her Max workout friends.

I’ve been dieting on and off for 50 years, have tried all the diets and exercise trends, with dubious short-term success. What I now know is that our DNA, our own biology fights against weight loss and makes it hard to keep off anything we do lose. It’s all about metabolism. All calories are not equal; hours of exercise will not necessarily be productive. Right when I started the Max of Montclair’s 10-week fitness challenge, the New York Times published a discouraging report on how difficult is to keep those pounds off, especially if we continue to eat and age. Guilty of both — but tell me who isn’t.

What metabolic science tells us is that the body plateaus after a certain time, in effect resisting the beneficial effects of continuous dieting and exercises. But that’s just what the Max Challenge addresses – and the results are simply amazing. The program is all about variety, shaking things up to trick your metabolism into letting go of the fat, and maximizing your metabolic rate.  This program is the perfect storm of fitness programs, combining nutritional cycling, daily exercise challenges, and super motivational support for its members.

Yes, every body is different, but I have seen changes in every single person in the program. I have only seen successes, no failures.  So what’s at the heart of all this?

Committing to workouts, five days a week:
Did I think I’d be able to pull that off for 10 weeks? Nope, not really.  But I actually never missed one class. What kept me coming? Every day is different – Monday/Wed is cardio day; Tuesday is “arms day” – upper body weight training; Thursday is “legs day” – lower body strength training and Friday is kickboxing.  Not one class was ever the same, drills are never longer than 30, 45 or 60 seconds, so you don’t get bored and can move on before you feel like puking. Every class starts with a 10 minute warm up and ends with four minutes of abs and a 60-second plank.  Besides that, each class is different, challenging, and fun. Oh, and very important – classes are just 45 minutes – which is a lot easier to wrap your head around than a 60 or 75 minute daily commitment. There are 8 class times each day, so even with a busy schedule and interruptions, there’s no reason to miss out. Bonus: always free parking – The Max is located to the rear of ACME supermarket on Alvin Place.  Sorry, there are no excuses not to get to class.


Nutrition: This is not easy at first, but once you are in and get the groove, Max’s nutrition plan is easy to follow.  Over the 10-week period, we follow 4 different meal plans (3 weeks, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 2 weeks) each plan getting progressively more rigorous. This tricks your metabolism and overcomes that plateau problem. The diet is part slow-carb, part paleo, high protein, gluten free and part cleansing.  You immediately ditch processed foods (no-brainer), dairy, and alcohol (I know, sounds brutal).  Gradually you cycle out fat and carbs on alternating days. Each week you can relapse with a treat meal, and satisfy any cravings.  Big surprise – if you follow the plan, your taste buds change! My very unscientific survey of fellow Maxers confirm my own experience: many of the forbidden treats simply don’t taste good, and your brain tells you don’t even want to eat that way anymore.

After years of dieting, I told myself, I could give this a try for just 10 weeks and see if it worked for me. (Spoiler alert: IT WORKS!)  A plus: no calorie counting, easy measuring, and you always get fruit.

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Owner Toby Wachstein at summer challenge kickoff

Another thing I’ve realized is that misery loves company — I cannot diet and exercise on my own. The Max provides the most nurturing, uplifting, and supportive environment anyone could wish for to succeed and achieve personal fitness goals. It starts at the top, with owner Toby Wachstein – our fitness mama who herself lost 65 pounds, as well as losing her smoking habit and some emotional baggage.

On the eve of the one year anniversary of the Max of Montclair’s opening, Wachstein says that the response she’s received from Montclair has been nothing but positive. “The community is so welcoming”.

So why Montclair? Initially, it was a tragic event that lead Wachstein here. After her best friend Melissa Jovic — a Montclair mom who died suddenly in 2013 from aneurysm — Wachstein spent a lot of time with her own daughter comforting her friend’s husband Sasa, and his two girls.

“The community sent a food train to her home, the Montclair CO-OP moms rallied around her kids and I just knew this is the town I was meant to be in. I felt like Melissa pointed me here instead of Hoboken. Life is too short, and our health is all we have. My mission is to love, accept, and be happy through fitness and good health!”

Wachstein is an example to me and other Max members and is committed to paying it forward.  There is a private active Facebook group where members share their highs and lows, happiness and frustrations, and trade motivational tips and recipes

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Trainers Ellie and Lou

I chose the 8:30 a.m. class, and became part of an inspiring group of purpose driven people, now friends, enduring the highs and lows of the challenge. There’s no judgment, great camaraderie and I only compete with myself to work harder. There are tears, smiles, high-fives, groans and laughs along the way. Truly, it’s what makes each of us come every day.  It’s great to see each other shrinking away – right before our eyes. Our 8:30 instructor Lou, a benevolent drill sergeant with a phenomenal play list, is highly regarded and very appreciated.  All the fitness instructors are encouraging, committed to our success, and have their own style. Everyone in the program finds the right fit.

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Semi finalists challenge

The positive and welcoming energy is infectious and contagious. By the end of my first 10 days, I had gotten 4 more friends to join, including my husband, who had never worked out at a gym a day in his life.  He ended up being a finalist in the end of challenge competition (pictured above, center) – having thinned out dramatically and gotten younger looking in the process!  As if the guidance and support isn’t enough motivation, members have a chance to win a $1,000 award, for “most improved” based upon before and after photos and how much they work in class to achieve their goals.

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Challenge winner Christine

Weigh? No way.  I haven’t gotten on the scale since starting the Max Challenge. Keeping track of your progress on a scale is actually discouraged, but “my hips don’t lie”. I’ve dropped a pant size, lost 11 inches overall, regained my strength and mobility, and sleep better – all in 10 short weeks.  I couldn’t be more satisfied with the results. Both my husband and I will continue as “legacy” members, participating in future challenges.  I encourage anyone to give this a try – you’ve got so much to gain, and nothing to lose except the weight that is dragging you down.

The Max Challenge, Fitness for Mind, Body, Spirit, 510 Valley Rd, Montclair, 973-922-3629

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