Caroline Aksich and Karolyne Ellacott outside SWAT Health’s Toronto Harbourfront location wearing bras by Peppermint Cycling Co.
A gym with the name SWAT evokes images of Navy Seal-inspired workouts: diamond push-ups, pull-ups, and militant instructors who bark unrelenting orders. This is the antithesis of Harbourfront’s SWAT Health (which is actually an acronym for Synergy Wellness Attitude Training).
SWAT isn’t just a gym, this is a temple dedicated to honing perfect bodies. Here, a perfect body isn’t just one that looks good for the ’gram. A perfect body is one that feels good and is in tip-top mechanical condition, which is why SWAT has chiropractors, physiotherapists and acupuncturists on staff. At SWAT, healers are coupled with personal trainers who work together to build personalized programs suited to exactly what each body needs. Athletes with nagging injuries will have tailored programs that differ drastically from those looking to lose weight and tone up, but general wellness is the theme that ties it all together.
Co-founder Kyle Ardill was an aspiring professional athlete. His baseball career (he hoped to be a catcher) was marred by a shoulder injury. The jock didn’t let that stop his pro sports dreams, and shifted to football. Unfortunately, a torn ACL would stymie his CFL dreams. While rehabbing both these injuries, Kyle realized that being fit was so much more than how much you could bench or how fast you can sprint, which is why SWAT puts the health of your body before any gains.
Kyle had my number from the moment I walked in there. “You only like doing things you’re good at,” he noted while forcing me to slow down into a stretch that pushes my shoulder out of its comfort zone (my left arm has been suffering from overtraining in boxing).
Kyle can tell I’m not into the 12 minutes of dynamic stretches he has us run through. I know stretching is important, but somehow it always ends up at the very bottom of my to-do list. (Probably why I’m often injured in some capacity.)
While we do our dynamics, Kyle silently assesses us—our gait, our posture, the way our feet plant on the floor. “You’re great at explosivity, but you need to slow down,” he tells me. For the remainder of our session, Kyle has me work exercises that challenge my balance, stability, and range of motion. The heart rate might be low, but my concentration is maxed out; this really is a challenge.
Although I know these types of exercises are necessary, Kyle can tell I’m going to leave the morning’s workout annoyed if I don’t at least break a sweat. A few rounds of sled pushes, pulls and walking lunges aim to attack my quads. Kyle must know I’m a secret masochist because burning quads are a very good thing in my books.
Admittedly a name like SWAT made my insides curdle and the 6 a.m. workout date loomed like armageddon. I’d also seen Kyle on the cover of Inside Fitness mag, which was horrifying. But with his quick grin and plenty of sass, Kyle disarmed me.
To start, he put us to work for exactly three minutes on the air-resistant hybrid bikes. I noted that I spin; he asked about the state of my knees to which I quipped that I eat many an almond. Unimpressed. I was starting to break a sweat and feared what was next. But instead of moving on to throwing rocks or another heathen-like activity, the ensuing sets of stretches were manageable and provided much-needed physical release.
Kyle was quick to assess both of our physicalities, tweaking the exercises slightly for each of us. He identified that I have lower back issues—but that I might not know it. This made sense given my hunched-over-laptop style of life.
Walking lunges with weight in-hand—never something in my repertoire—were just difficult enough for me. We were told to “squeeze a coin between your cheeks and an orange under your armpit” before being handed a weight. Caroline got 15 lbs while I got 5 lbs. before we switched, much to Kyle’s glee. Somehow during all of my tongue-out concentration I neglected to actually breathe; Kyle had to remind me.
Later, I was pleased to discover I was reasonably adept at balancing and doing the raised A-steps. Maybe those spottily attended yoga sessions have left my body with muscle memory after all. Sled pushes were fun and doable; pulls were cumbersome.
I left the not-super-sweaty sesh feeling pretty capable — more than I give myself credit for. The next day my quads were done for. I could barely walk.
What: SWAT Health
Fun Factor: 6/10
Sweat Level: 5/10
Calories burned: 290
Max heart rate: 147
Duration: 60 minutes
Cost: $105 per session, which can be split in half for a ‘buddy session’ with a friend
In another installment of this series, Car and Kar review the Soulcycle of boxing. Check out their review here.