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the Gauntlet

Flamingo Challenge: Fit, but you know it

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As part of the deal of being the test group for Pink Flamingo, me and my nemesis were put through various physiological assessments to determine our level of fitness. These same tests are employed on Olympic-level athletes, to help their training program and to monitor their progress. In case you didn't watch the Turin 2006 Olympics, the bulk of Canada's winter olympic team trained at facilities around Calgary, and were probably all put through these very same tests. Though I think they probably had lower body fat percentages and better results in the flexibility, endurance and strength tests than two students who edit a newspaper. I think.

First the professionals in the lab took basic measurements, like our standing pulse and blood pressure. My arch-enemy and challenge rival, Chris Beauchamp, had a slightly higher blood pressure, which I attributed to his high-strung, quick-to-anger nature. It was fitting of him to be doing the old-school drill sergeant style because, well, old-school drill sergeants are fairly angry creatures. Myself, I find zen-like calm in everything I do and unsurprisingly maintained a typical pulse and blood pressure.

They then herded us into a room where they brought out the calipers and began pinching. Though you may have heard about body fat tests before, it's quite a different experience to actually have one performed on you. Our tests were composed of seven body fold measurements, taken two or three times. I felt lucky that I was not an Olympic or high level athlete at this point, who go through 20 or more different body folds.

After returning my shirt, gaining a generous knowledge of how calipers feel pinched on my man-breast and losing my dignity, I was looking forward to my hated foe going through the same prodding.

The fitness part of the physiological assessments was broken into an aerobic section, a flexibility test and several endurance and strength tests. My goal going into it was to try not to embarrass myself as much as possible. Luckily, I started out with a flexibility test, something I felt I was fairly good at.

I sat down on a mat, and tried to reach as far as possible stretching forward, while keeping my feet against a piece of wood and my knees from raising up from the floor. I managed to do better at my second attempt, but I realized I'd probably be much stretchier by the end of the training session. It's a good thing I'm still young and able, unlike my poor old counterpart.

Following the flexibility was the grip test to determine upper body strength.

"The reason we measure your grip strength as opposed to your whole upper body strength is we've actually been able to correlate it with high upper body strength in general," said Mike Patton, an exercise physiology technician at the Human Performance Lab and one of the trainers leading me through these various tests. "It's a good easy measurement we can do without going and doing a whole series of bench press testing and chin-ups and all that kind of stuff."

I quickly realized I don't often use my hands to grip things--unless I'm opening a delicious jar of salsa--and my upper body strength is comparable to a 12-year-old girl. These realizations made me think embarrassment was perhaps still on the menu.

Overall I had very similar grip strengths in my two hands--later determined to be weak when compared to my counterpart. Fortunately youth is again on my side. As poor Beauchamp's hands are likely already arthritic, it's only a matter of time before his brittle old-man bones start giving in and deteriorating like his hair-line.

Next up was two different types of endurance tests: the classic push-ups and sit-ups. Now, I had signed up for the new-school challenge in hopes I could avoid doing such outdated manoeuvers, but it turned out I had to do a few to continue with my fitness assessment.

The push-ups had to be of perfect form--no lady's push-ups here. I managed to complete either four or 34,905, I lost count and moved on to the sit-ups. Sit-ups are a good measurement of abdominal strength, a factor in determining your overall core strength. Since the new-school is focusing on core strength, I hope to be able to complete about 50,000 sit-ups by the end of the program and still have enough energy to beat old-man Beauchamp.

They started the sit-up portion at level one, where I put my hands at the side along the floor and moved all the way up to level five, where my hands were straight ahead. The last level of sit up completed properly determines strength level.

To test endurance, they made us do as many sit-ups one level under the determined strength level as we could. My strength level was somewhere between two and 49,900­--I lost count--and I managed to complete 21 in my endurance test at level one.

The final fitness test was the vertical jump, a two foot take-off with our hands on our hips. A machine measured the amount of time spent in the air and we couldn't cheat by bending our knees in the air before landing.

"The vertical jump test is going to be a measure of your ability to generate leg power," said Patton. "Strength is one thing and power is another thing. Power is a function of strength and time. You can be as strong as you want, but if it takes you forever to do anything then you're not very powerful. How high you can jump measured with your body weight will give us a measure of how powerful you are."

Though I'm unaware of how well or poorly I did on this assessment, I'm certain I did better than my foe. I've played basketball once or twice and consider myself the Gauntlet's local Rafael Araujo whereas Chris Beauchamp is definitely the Gauntlet's equivalent of Matt Bonner.

Overall, embarrassment was avoided, but my poor fitness assessment is a good reason to go through with the challenge. If I ever want to open more than just jars of salsa, and if I ever want to have ripped abs I could possibly use to slice sandwich-grade meat, the Pink Flamingo is my only hope.

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