The Five Labours of Marty Chan

In which the couch potato tries to shape up for the New Year.

I’m the Sisyphus of exercisers. One week, I’m at a personal peak of fitness; the next, I’m rolling back down into the butt groove of my couch. I’ve tried various tricks to motivate myself. During the last 10 minutes of a run, I’ll start listening to a 20-minute podcast to stretch out the session, because nothing gets your heart rate up like an NPR program on biomedical engineering. I’ll cinch my belt around oversized blue jeans before a workout, so that after I can lose the belt, slip into my baggy pants and claim the gym is working.

Lately, my gym bag of motivational tricks has been filling up with excuses. If the weather was hot, I worried about getting heat stroke. If the weather was cold, I worried about slipping on ice. If the weather was mild, I coincidentally found the Seinfeld episode I’d always wanted to watch again.

In hopes that an instructor could push me off the couch, I sampled a few drop-in sessions at the City of Edmonton’s many facilities (admission: $6.10 to $10.50, $376 for a basic one-year adult pass). Despite my fears of never learning the routines and, worse, letting onlookers judge my epic fails, I decided I had nothing to lose but pride and a few pounds.


Before the session, I was reminded of my junior-high prom, where I braced the wall with my back. Two minutes into the Latin aerobic dance, I became very aware that I lacked both rhythm and swivel-able hips. Our instructor told us to concentrate on our footwork and forget about how we looked while we danced, but if she didn’t want us to worry about looking silly, move the session into a room without mirrors, turn off the lights and serve Crantinis. Five minutes later I could care less about my Pee-wee Herman moves because I was more concerned about catching my breath. Eventually, my Zumba steps became a Frankenstein of the Macarena, but by the end I’d worked up a good sweat to go with my goofy grin. 

Intensity: 4/5 Fun: 4/5

Circuit Training

This program answers the question of how Pavlov‘s dogs must have felt when he rang that feeding bell. My trainer’s stopwatch beeped every 50 seconds, signalling exercisers to switch from cardio machines to weight-lifting stations and vice-versa. Circuit training was a game of musical chairs where the chairs never went away; they just got sweatier. Perfect for my short attention span, I channel surfed from one machine to another, getting the gist of each exercise and moving on before boredom ensued. My only concern was that the quick rotation might cheat me of a real workout, but when I crossed my arms over my chest for sit ups, the Rorschach sweat blot on my t-shirt convinced me otherwise.

Intensity: 4/5  Fun: 4/5

TRX Suspension Mixer

When I spotted the suspension straps and Bosu balls, I felt like a freshman who had stumbled into a master class. Between the gymnastic rings attached to the swing set and the Cyclops’ half eyeball, I feared epic failure was in my near future, but my instructor eased me into the session. She helped me climb on to the wobbling Bosu ball for the warm up. I surfed the angry Jell-O for several minutes, trying to stay upright before she mercifully moved us to the TRX suspension straps, where I wiped out. My body listed to one side as I struggled to pull myself up on the straps, and my arms soon felt as rubbery as the Bosu ball. By the last lift, I couldn’t wait to return to the portable moon bounce, and I knew this session was for fitter people than me. 

Intensity: 5/5 Fun: 2.5/5

Spin Class

At first, I felt like I was racing against Alice in Wonderland‘s Red Queen, but at least I didn’t have to flick caterpillars out of my hair. The variety came from simulating different riding situations. On my instructor’s signal, I ramped up my bike’s resistance level to replicate a hill climb or pedalled fast for 15 seconds to recreate what it’s like to pass another bike. Most of the session, I stayed on the seat so as not to overtax my legs, but this turned out to be a painful mistake. Let’s just say there’s a part of the male anatomy that shouldn’t be treated like a sandwich in a panini press. Next time, I’ll ask for a cushion.

Intensity: 5/5 Fun: 3/5 (With butt cushion: 4)


The biggest challenge of this session was overcoming my fear of drowning. To ease my tensions, my wife joined me in shallow-water aerobics as moral support and personal lifeguard. I quickly discovered how hard it was to jog in water. I did my worst imitation of Marcel Marceau moving against the wind as septuagenarian women cruised past me. The instructor handed out water weights to increase the resistance, but the foam dumbbells were also flotation devices. While sweeping the weights back and forth in front of me, I inadvertently drove myself backwards to the edge of the pool’s deep end and, for a brief second, my feet couldn’t touch the bottom. Getting back to the shallow section, I’m pretty sure I invented a new water aerobics move: Cat-clawing-out-of-bathtub scramble. Still, I had fun, and even though people may have heard me scream, thanks to the water, no one could see me sweat.

Intensity: 3/5 Fun: 3/5

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