Flamingo Challenge: Introducing the combat

By Chris Beauchamp

Despite a host of other responsibilities, the challenge was too intriguing to turn down. A chance to try something new, write a few entertaining stories for the paper and sculpt this hunk of skinny flab I call my body into a chiseled piece of man meat. I could put my quarter century of hard livin’ behind me and turn the page on fatty foods, excessive drink and my desk-pushing lay-about lifestyle.

Just imagine! No longer embarrassed to throw down when those random push-up contests pop up. No longer shy about trying to jog around the block. No longer afraid to don Speedos at the beach–well, maybe still afraid to do that.

When the offer came, the crazy idea seemed like a good one. I was going to join the University of Calgary’s Pink Flamingo Challenge, a test of the will open to anyone from the university community willing to step up. The plan is simple: Put half the participants through the kind of calisthenics training every U of C student had to go through when the university opened back in 1966, and the rest through some of the most advanced training currently offered in the U of C Health and Recreation Centre. Ten weeks and 40 workouts later it will be clear whether the latest developments in fitness are really better than the good-old fashioned ‘drop-and-give-me-twenty’ mentality.

To make things more interesting, the challenge has an added personal element, as kinesiology communications director Don McSwiney suggested pitting two Gauntlet editors against each other in what will surely prove a brutal showdown. I will undertake the 1966 regimen, while that pansy sports editor, Jon Roe, will try to complete the new-school training. In the end, one of us will earn permanent bragging rights over the other, but more importantly, we’ll both be able to run for the C-Train without collapsing into coughing fits.

“Back in 1966 everyone on campus used to have to take what they called activity classes,” said McSwiney. “Basically they’re fitness classes, and some of the original faculty members here remember teaching science geeks how to play basketball, or getting into shape by throwing medicine balls at them and having them fall over. And I think it was a neat idea that getting fit, and physical activity, is important. So they used to put a lot more priority on it than they do now.”

After half-heartedly assuring the medicine ball torture has been discontinued, McSwiney noted the calisthenics training has been updated to ensure all activities are actually safe. In the ’60s it was common practice to put everyone through spine-bending stretches and rapid motion jerks now understood to increase the risk of joint and muscle injuries. The old-school routine is focused around activities that can be done anywhere, and will subsequently consist of training using the subject’s own body weight with only some small weights to supplement the workout. Meanwhile, the new-schoolers will be put through circuit-style strength training, alternating workout stations with cardio activity in between. The circuit will be laid out for participants at the U of C Health and Recreation Centre, or there is a home gym option requiring only minimal equipment. Using buzz words like “core training” and “functional strength,” McSwiney said the new-schoolers will have the benefit of following a plan developed by a top personal trainer. Despite how impressive that sounds, I still feel sure I can whomp that buttercup Jon Roe with the old-school principles of hard work and sweat.

“I’ve noticed that the most popular fitness courses right now, both here on campus and around the city, are things like boot camp class, plyometrics and calisthenics–you know these old Royal Canadian Air Force programs that your dad used to do, wearing out the hardwood running in place for 15 minutes,” McSwiney explained. “And it started me thinking, why is everybody going back to these programs. Do they work better? Is it a more efficient way to exercise than what we currently do now? So that’s what became the challenge. It became an idea to see which workout regime would be more effective.”

“At the end of that we’re going to see who gets fitter, and you two Guinea pigs are going to be part of that overall equation.”

Being described as a Guinea pig is less reassuring than it sounds, but my desire to defeat Roe mano-y-mano is enough to get me into the world-renowned U of C Human Performance Lab for the battery of physical tests encouraged for every participant. The idea is to get a base-line of physical prowess for each “Guinea pig” in order to judge results at the end.

Though not all participants will be able to go through the expensive and rigorous tests, there are simplified versions individuals can do to effectively measure progress. To settle our little competition however, that little Roe boy and I needed the most accurate of scientific analysis. Luckily the professionals at the U of C’s Human Performance Lab were more than happy to help us out.

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