Category: Fitness

Class Review: KTX Fitness Cycling with Keith Thompson


If you’re active on social media, you probably might have come across this video of a hip-hop inspired cycling class:

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When I found out that KTX Fitness instructor Keith Thompson was going to be in Toronto, I jumped at the chance to sign up. Was it because I was an active spinner? No. Personally, I haven’t been on a bicycle in over a decade and I never even seen a spin bike up close. But I registered for the class because it looked fun.

Too often there is a monotony attributed to the gym scene. Even various fitness classes can become tedious with repetitive moves and the same drawn out down beat playing on the speaker.  When I saw the video of Keith’s cycle class, it looked like everyone was full of energy and his entertaining and positive attitude shown through (the twerking part in the above vid just sealed the deal for me). Here’s a video of him when he was on the Queen Latifa Show:

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The Cleveland, Ohio native led four classes this weekend and the guest instruction took place at the sleek Rocket Cycle spinning studio on St. Clair West, which opened a couple years ago. Rocket Cycle’s decor is very clean and modern The staff was very friendly. I loved the large lockers (no padlock needed), and the elegant-looking water station. Don’t have indoor cycling shoes? Rocket Cycle can lend you a pair for the class (though, I’m curing the guy who took the last size 10… I had to squeeze into a 9.5). Plus, they clean the whole studio between each class and provide a fresh towel on each bike. On the downside, Rocket Cycle is located right above World Class Bakery, so after burning which I think was 800 calories, I earned them back by buying a lemon shortbread cookie and a Nanaimo bar (you win some, you lose some).

Not used to the indoor cycling shoes, it took me a minute to figure out how to latch them on to the bike. When I realized I couldn’t dismount easily like if I were wearing regular runners on a bicycle, I worked up the nerve to innocently ask the nice lady beside me how to get off (excuse me for not wanting to break the shoes and use more force to dislodge them). Now that I knew how to make a quick escape and not be the sole person stuck to a bike in case the fire alarm went off, I was ready to warm up.

I made a few adjustments to the seat, but spinning seemed comfortable enough. Keith started the class with about 10 minutes of “warm-up”. I was cursing myself after the first 5 for actually signing up for this class, because my legs were already killing me.

Now I’m a pretty athletic woman. I’ve always been involved in sports and activities. But the older you get the more your body rejects the notion of you forcing itself to do work, rather than sit on your couch and eat a bowl of ice cream. So I haven’t been in my best shape, metabolism-wise, recently. So to go into this cold was an error on my part. But once I got into the music it actually became a lot easier. Keith also gave us lots of quick mini-water breaks while on our bikes, which was great (I think I downed almost a litre).

Keith’s playlist is awesome. A bunch of upbeat, hip hop tracks definitely make you forget that your muscles are tearing while riding a stationary bike and bouncing up and down. I personally enjoyed the R&B slow jams he played, during which I could catch my breath. There was enough body changing movements on the bike that allowed us to use more of our bodies and get a full workout. I was nervous at the fact that Keith was walking (I guess I should say dancing) up and down the aisle observing everyone’s spinning technique and positively motivating us. I surprised myself by actually keeping up with the majority of the exercises in the one-hour class that required us to stay up from the seat.

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It’s no surprise that KTX Fitness has become so popular. Keith Thompson’s passion and energy is contagious, and I can actually say that I would try the class again. The step classes he offers actually appeal to me as well, so I’ll be on the lookout for those if and when he comes back to Toronto, or if I even venture down to the Atlanta, Georgia area. KTX Fitness is highly recommended if you’re looking for a great workout that you will actually have fun doing.

Now I’m just waiting to see how sore my body will be tomorrow.

Review: The O-Course


I can’t recall a time when every muscle in my body has been this sore.

Yesterday morning I (willingly) participated in what had probably been the most mentally and physically challenging events of my life thus far: Fit Factory’s O Course. Tony Austin, a former U.S. marine drill instructor, and Ivan Ho are co-founders of this military-style obstacle course which is based on marine corps fitness training.

I first heard of Fit Factory Fitness last year from a friend who takes their boot-camp classes. A few months ago I saw a Groupon for The O Course so I decided that since I was on track for my new fitness regimen I purchased one. I don’t think I would’ve gotten the motivation to actually go if another friend hadn’t have told me that they were planning on going this summer. After some schedule adjustments we were set for August 10th.

Usuallly, The O Course takes place at The Docks in Toronto. This past Saturday organizers debuted with their new location: Wild Water Kingdom. I was actually kind of excited when I heard of this location change. I haven’t been to Wild Water Kingdom since I was living in Rexdale as a kid (although I knew I wasn’t going to be sliding down water-slides again until I checked off that Learn-How-To-Swim box on my bucket list) .

We got there just after 9am, plenty of time before the scheduled 10am start. New to the O Course this time around was the Kids O Course where a couple dozens children aged 5 to 14 jumped, climbed, ran and crawled through a similarly-designed obstacle course. The kids went first and the rest of us adults cheered them on as they completed different challenges, so we didn’t get our start until closer to 11am.

The Warm-Up

Whoever calls what we did a warm-up, has got to be some sort of cyborg. Apparently we lucked out: Tony A cut down our warm up to 20 mintutes instead of the usual 40-ish, because our post-warm-up run was longer than norm (10.2K) and we started a bit late (I’m not complaining).

We started off with warm up along the shore of Clairville Reservoire. After getting over the initial shock of how muddy the area was and how long it took me to do my pre-vacation hair earlier this week, I filled in lines with the rest of the “troops”. Megaphone in hand, Tony A led us through our warm-up, drill seargeant-style, with volunteers walking through the lines shouting words of “encouragement”. If people were slacking we were told to go “into the mud” to continue (I almost lost my shoe, because it was so thick and deep). We went though various sets of push-ups, sit-ups, chest-presses and squats, the marjority of which were done with a 4lb block of wood (called a “rifle”) in our hands.

The troops heading for their 10K run right after the warm-up.

The troops heading for their 10K run right after the warm-up. [Image from The O Course]

The Course (So it begins…)

Did I mention we also had to run 10K with this rifle? Well, we did. It actually wasn’t that bad. I managed to carry the rifle through the entire run without having to switch hands or rest it on my shoulders (must be all that practice I do carrying shopping bags on a daily basis). I did notice this one girl running the course rifle-less. When I glanced beside her a guy (most likely her boyfriend) carrying hers as well as his as they were jogging up the trail (talk about a princess… he carried both of them on the way back as well).

My friend was out of my view half-way though the run (even though she thought I’d finish before she did), so I was technically on my own the majority of the course. As long as I wasn’t last, I was okay (though at one point I almost got lost at a fork in the road and waited a few minutes for the runner behind me to ask for directions). The run was challenging, but doable. I did speed-walk instead of jog the majority of the way on the return trip, but I knew I could’ve moved at a faster pace if I put my mind to it.

A concentrated glare of determination: "I will not get my hair messed up... oh, yeah, and finish this obstacle course".

A concentrated glare of determination: “I will not get my hair messed up… oh, yeah, and finish this obstacle course”. [image from The O Course]

After the run, we were instructed to do 50 sit-ups with the rifles on our chest and feet in the water. I did these pretty quickly (compared with most exercises, sit ups are actually somewhat enjoable for me to do). Once complete we had to head back to the reservoir where we started our warm-up. The mud was so thick, getting back there was a struggle. I was tempted to take off my shoes as some participants did, but was afraid of what was lurking under there.

But wait! There’s more!

When we got back, we had to do four separate strength training exercises: carrying a pail of mud/water across the reservoire, a heavy ammo box with a partner, drag a cement cinder-block, and finally crawl through the water with a backpack filled with mud. The last one kind of freaked me out, so I double checked with the volunteer that I would’n’t be submerged above my neck while doing that activity (yes, I made it through with every hair in place). I wasn’t impressed with the fact that the water was filled with creepy, crawly things (I even saw a frog).

From there it was a quick sprint towards the final obstacles, the first of which was a giant pyramid of dirt and mud that looked like something that sick triceratops pooped out in Jurassic Park. When the volunteer that was manning the mound told us we had to sniper crawl up it, I thought “no way”. But I did it, even though I had to cheat a little and use my knees a couple of times (it was slippery). But when he said I had to sniper crawl down I nearly thought I was on some sort of hidden camera game show. That hill was steep, but I took a deep breath and went for it. It was kind of fun actually, and I still didn’t mess up my hair!

I couldn’t climb up the tall, wooden pyramid wall with the rope, it was way too slippery with mud, so I did the penalty of 25 burpees (my least favourite workout). At another challenge, two girls and I (who were at the same pace with me) worked together to give each other approved “boosts” over the wooden beams so we could make it through. As high of a jumper I am, this seemed to be a difficult one for the ladies (I thought I ruptured an ovary on my first solo attempt).

The only other obstacle that I though were a disadvantage to women because of height/build was the third-last trial: approximately 10, one-foot long, suspended pieces of rope that we were instructed to manouver ourselves through. With training I could probably do these a lot easier, but I think because the rope was covered in duct tape, and muddy from the dozens of participants who went through the course minutes earlier, it was really difficult to grip on to. Penalty burpees it was.

The monkey bars were pretty high as well, and assume a lot of women and/or shorter-statured men opted-out of this one. I was encouraged by the volunteer that I “look like” I could do it (damn these Serena Williams-esque arms), so I attempted it, but got to about three bars when my left hand slipped and I fell awkwardly on my right hand. I was really worried about re-injuring my wrist since I sprained it in basketball last year. Luckily I didn’t fall on it too bad, and the volunteer who was supervising that challenge gave me the option of just doing 25 sit ups and bowing out of doing the final obstacle: the rings. I was so close to finishing that I wasn’t about to let a little pain slow me down. With some encouragement from my friend who had finished the course 20 minutes earlier (and snapping photos of me while I silently cursed her), I stretched out my wrist and went for the rings. What do you know I made it through all 10 in one shot (grunting with each one, no doubt)!

My final time was 2:19. Obviously, I didn’t make the top 20 females, but I attempted each and every challenge and completed The O Course from start to finish. I am so proud of myself, and being the type of person to always want to challenge myself and try something new, I know that if I run The O Course again I’ll be a bit more mentally and physically prepared to do it even faster.

Some tips for newbies from a newbie on The O Course:

  • Get plenty of sleep the night before: I don’t know why I felt obligated to watch my pre-recorded episode of The Young and the Restless and various Shark Week docks until 3am the night before, but I should’ve hit the hay a lot earlier.
  • Eat a decent breakfast: I thought my banana smoothie and a Power Bar would’ve sufficed, but I was feeling hungry and nauseous minutes after the course. Have something filled with good carbs, and make sure you drink your water.
  • Make sure you’re at least semi-active: Although their official site says that The O Course is for all fitness levels, if you’re a permanent couch potato I reccommend you build your way up to The O Course by doing some regular form of physical activity leading up to it. I’m pretty active: I participate in team sports such as basketball and volleyball once a week, walk regularly, and do my 20-minutes of DVD cardio workouts at least four times a week. Since I got back from vacation a couple weeks ago, I’ve been a bit lazy though, so I was definitely not prepared as I could’ve been.
  • Wear clothes you’ll be willing to part with: You’ll get muddy. Really muddy. And bring a towel and change of clothing. This past Saturday’s O Course was touted as “Toughest and muddiest O Course of all time” by organizers. I’m still wringing out muddy water from the clothes I was wearing.
  • Make sure you take the day off: I had a get-together to attend at a friends house at 3pm that same day. By the time I hosed off after the course, got home, properly showered, rinsed out my muddy clothes, made a salad to bring along to the party it was 5pm. Plus I was utterly exhausted. You definitely need the afternoon to rest after this grueling workout.

The O Course definitely gave me some confidence. Even though my muscles are aching and I wish there was extra coconut water for us stragglers at the end of the race, I’m glad I participated in this event (and that my hair was mud-free).

Here’s a video of  the latest O Course (I’ll replace when the August 10th version is posted to their channel):

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I Made It To The Top! – CN Tower Stair Climb for WWF


Monique's Stair Climb Time of 22:02

This morning I completed my very first CN Tower stair climb challenge! That’s right: I climbed 1,776 steps and lived to tell about it.

My initial plan was to wake up at 5am, so that I could get to the Tower before the rush. Of course that didn’t happen. When I looked over at my alarm clock it was 6:30am (I need to really stop hitting the ‘off’ button when it starts buzzing). It’s a good thing registration for the event was from 6am – 10am, so I had enough time to eat some breakfast for once, because there was no way in Hades that I was walking up the CN Tower on an empty stomach. Had a bowl of oatmeal with strawberries and a glass of grapefruit juice. Took my vitamins, found my workout clothes and I was out the door.

When I got to the Atrium around 8:30 I was able to register, submit my pledges, and check my belongings (the climb is hands-free, no phone, camera, fanny-pack, water bottles, or iPods). They gave me a small, white card with my ID# on it so that my time can be tracked, and that (along with my coat check ticket) was the only thing in my hand as I went up.

Seemed like a lot of people slept in, because the place was pretty busy. There were people of all types there (even saw a pregnant woman with a picture of the earth painted on her belly). Once inside Skywalk I waited about 10-15 minutes, then our portion of the line was escorted around to the front of the CN Tower. There were several security check points: Had to spread ’em at the main entrance while I got scanned with metal detectors, the usual explosion detection system inside the Tower, and a few other volunteers just checking wristbands along the route. So far the organization by both WWF and the CN Tower has been pretty good.

Card in hand, I was directed to a side door on the mezzanine level, and my stair climb journey officially started. I got time-stamped (09:11:35)  and was off! I mentioned in my original post that I actually worked at the CN Tower in my youth for a couple of years. But this is the first time that I actually got to step foot inside the centre staircase. It’s what I expected, nothing to brag about. Just a bunch of metal steps (about 12 between landings) inside a shaft that wasn’t as claustrophobic as I thought. There was even some cute paintings on each landing done my elementary and high school students that spoke words of encouragement and the reason behind the fundraising climb.

Days leading up to the event I was trying to think about the best strategy that would benefit me on this climb. But I was swamped with work stuff this week that I didn’t really get to train as much as I wanted, plus I was going on a limited amount of sleep due to pulling an all-nighter the night before. So I remembered the children’s tale about the tortoise and the hare: Slow and steady wins the race.

I didn’t want to break any records and I was not going to wind up being one of those people getting carted off on a gurney because they overexerted themselves. Thank goodness there was a paramedic on every 12th landing, just in case. I took each single step at a time, and I think at the steady pace I was going it worked out to be a little over a second per 2 steps.

I’m thinking, this isn’t to bad! But by the time I got to the 20th level I was feeling a little burn in my thighs. But I kept my pace! I noticed a few people taking breathers on the landings by the time I got to the 30th level. Other climbers were breathing heavily by the time the 40th came around. But not me! I actually didn’t really break a sweat until the 60th floor. You don’t understand, this is unheard of for me. I don’t know if it was my technique or what, but I actually felt okay going up all those steps (and I usually stop for breath climbing up the stairs to the second floor at work). I’m proud of myself for keeping my pace… I didn’t even stop for any breaks!

I wanted to run the last 10 flights or so (there’s 144 floors in total), but I didn’t want to overexert myself and end up making my time even slower. So I just doubled up on the steps the last two flights to add to my great finish. Handed my time-card to the volunteer: 09:33:35! Just about 22 minutes. I knew I shouldn’t have kindly stepped out of that way for that aimless chick on level 83, it messed with my flow… could’ve clocked in at 21 minutes and change instead!

At that point I thought I was finished. Nope… just when you think you’re done, there’s actually about 10 more flights of stairs to climb to get to the Glass Floor level. But after those, I exited the doors and was greeted with encouraging cheers by WWF volunteers and spectators (That was a lot of fun… I felt like a celebrity).

I was given a bottle of Dasani water and had to swim through the large crowd in order to find the end of the line for the elevators down. The quote was an hour wait, at which point I was thinking that it probably would be a lot quicker to take the stairs back down. But the wait wasn’t that bad… got to chat with some tourists who mistakenly came to the Tower during the Climb and were hoping the wait time wouldn’t mess with their schedule, and a mother-daughter who amazingly did the climb even though they both have a fear of heights. I was on the elevator down just after 10am.

Trekking back to the Atrium, I collected my donation prize (whoo-hoo, movie tickets!), my official WWF T-Shirt which had my time of 22 minutes, 2 seconds on it, and collected my coat and headed home after a great morning. Of course I had to make a pit stop first for some well-deserved poutine (I was starving)!

If you have never did one of the bi-annual stair climbs at the CN Tower, I strongly encourage you to try at least once. For me it was an amazing experience, and I learned what my body can handle in terms of exercise.

Stair climb tips that worked for me:

  • Eat a decent breakfast – This is important before your climb, as you don’t want to end up passing out due to an empty stomach with all that exercise. Plus, your body needs the energy and nutrients.
  • Get there early – If you don’t want to to spend the entire morning in cues, then try to make it to registration before 7am.
  • Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth – Aside from the fact that it makes the breathing process more effective by supplying sufficient oxygen during exercise, do it if you’re worried about foreign pathogens being exuded from a concrete shaft full of sweaty stair climbers.
  • Dress for fitness success – A good pair of running shoes is a must (make sure they have good cushioning). Workout leggings/capris, shorts, T-Shirt, tank-top (and ladies, be sure to wear a sports bra), etc. Remember: deodorant is your friend.
  • Pace yourself – Don’t start off too fast, because it’s going to catch up with you by the end. Take your time: You’re only racing against yourself. Use that handrail if you need to. It will help pull you up while your legs do their work
  • Enjoy the day – Everyone there is aiming to make it to the top, whether it’s in 15 minutes or in 50, with your friends or by yourself. Be encouraging to others who might not be able to go all the way. And also appreciate the hundreds of WWF volunteers and staff that help pull off this wonderful charitable event.

The only think I regret about my first stair climb experience was not being able to capture myself on camera just before and after the event (I wanted to pose with the WWF panda mascot… haha), because I participated on my own, plus the hands-free rule kind of got in the way.

I would definitely climb those stairs again. I already recruited a couple of my friends to join in on the festivities for the United Way CN Tower Climb in October. Perhaps I’ll try to aim for a personal best and beat my time of 22 minutes.

A big thank you to all the people who sponsored me for the climb. I truly appreciate it. I managed to raise $254 in donations to help the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Online fundraising is still open until the end of May, so you can visit my page during that time and donate for a good environmental cause.

It’s one step at a time for the planet.