Afterburn Fitness is not your average fitness club - the facility is home to the GTA's only indoor dragon boat pool, and a 2000-square-foot strength and conditioning space outfitted with top-notch equipment for anyone in pursuit of fitness and wellness.
Afterburn is the brainchild of Andrew Liew and Lisa Huang who, as paddling and fitness enthusiasts, saw a gap in the training community. They wanted to service the niche market of dragon boat racing and help people stay engaged though physical fitness by offering multiple training options.
"Our focus is on sustainable training methods," Liew says. "We want our members to have the flexibility to train a variety of ways. Whether that training method is Olympic-style weightlifting, powerlifting, suspension training or through cable machines, each one encourages a different physical stimulus that keeps training fun and engaging."
I'm invited to take their group classes, and am greeted with smiles as I rush in. Liew leads the strength and conditioning class with a dynamic warm up of high knees, butt kicks, bear crawls and glute bridge windmills, followed by a series of seven circuits of 30 seconds of work - ours includes battle ropes, squats with kettlebells, planks, landmines and wood chops.
The class seems a little rushed and the transition to each exercise is somewhat frantic, but Liew makes sure to correct any movement flaws with cues and substitute exercises.
We cap off the class with a friendly team competition that entails a prowler push and plank plate pass. My arms take a hit from the intense battle-roping but the invigorating sense of team spirit (and the fact that the losing team gets stuck with the burpee penalty) keeps me pushing 'till the end.
Next up is the paddling clinic, and it's easy to see why its the facility's bread and butter. The indoor pool is simple, yet sleek: long, dragon-shaped boats are custom made to accommodate up to 20 paddlers, and are surrounded by a full wraparound deck for hands-on coaching.
I'm given a primer on the dragon boat stroke on their Kayak Pro Erg before heading into the pool, where resident paddling coach Jason Au is talking posture and synchronizing hip drive with stroke mechanics. The clinic is technical in nature, yet physically demanding enough to get a simulated feel of open water paddling.
Rest assured, anyone looking to get fit or rock the sport of dragon boat racing will get a unique training experience here. Au runs his clinic with discipline and purpose - and successfully manages to put my core, shoulders and grip in overdrive with deceivingly hard paddling drills.
Both Liew and Huang are business professionals by day, so they've installed an access card system for members to enter the facility as early as 5:30 am. It's worth noting there aren't any showers on site (but there are change rooms and ample cubby space to secure belongings). Lisa tells me they'd rather spend the money on high-quality equipment - whether that tradeoff will pay off, only time will tell.
Membership options range from paddling clinics and group fitness classes, to team facility/pool rentals (rates) and general memberships (rates) - there's something for everyone no matter the training purpose or budget.
Writing by Tracy Barbero. Photos by Jesse Milns.