Females in Singapore who lift weights: For strength, endurance, and reforming body stereotypes

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It’s hard to realise this but from the moment that we were little kids, the idea of a perfect woman’s physique had already been dictated and implanted into our heads. Starting with our innocent Barbie dolls, which we grew up playing with, then moving onto the glossy pages of fashion magazines, the annual Victoria’s Secret parade, just to name a few. And although it has taken longer than we would have liked, there has been a recent shift whether it be mass media or the public’s opinion to assert that a woman’s body shouldn’t be confined to the measurements — re the lyrics of Nelly — of “36-25-34”. Publications worldwide are now declaring that their covers haven’t been retouched and a couple of fashion houses have also incorporated plus size models for their seasonal shows. Finally, we’re making headway…

But the thing is, body positivity isn’t something to be celebrated or glorified, in fact, it should have been there all along — way before teenage girls fell into illnesses like anorexia and bulimia just because they didn’t look like Cindy Crawford, or in today’s world, It girls like Kendall Jenner and Kaia Gerber.

It’s still a work in progress, and even in the fitness realm, females have grown to find their place in the male-dominated industry typically awashed with masculinity. It’s a co-ed playground where a woman can be muscular (without justifying it as a professional bodybuilder), and to own guns equivalent to a man. They might also be able to lift weights as heavy as the opposite sex would. Weights that go up about to a hundred kilograms. Because they can and they like it. To draw out real-life experiences, here are the stories of three women in Singapore who shared their personal stories on weightlifting, their fitness journey, and overcoming body stereotypes.

Tyen Rasif

What got you interested in weightlifting or lifting really heavy weights to begin with?
I started weightlifting and bodybuilding because of both the physical and mental strength it gave me. Before that I was skinny and unhealthy, and when I picked up weights I gained a form of strength I never knew I had. The feeling of overcoming challenges in the gym made me confident about taking on challenges I faced in other aspects of my life. The fit physique was a bonus.

Tell us about your daily fitness regime. What do you do and how heavy exactly are these weights?
I do a mixture of weights and cardio. I lift weights four times a week focusing on compound movements like squats and deadlifts, and do cardio three times a week. My personal best is 100kg squats and 120kg deadlifts, but I don’t lift heavy every day. I often do high repetitions along with my cardio for maintenance and overall fitness.

Along with this regime, do you have to stick to a certain diet?
When I’m bodybuilding for a competition, I eat five meals a day of chicken breast, egg whites and spinach. I eat a plant-based diet that is high in protein with minimal processed foods. I am pretty flexible when I eat out, and have a soft spot for fries so I don’t restrict myself. But I practice portion control.

Since gaining muscle, was there any feedback from people around you?
From time to time, I receive negative comments online telling me that a girl shouldn’t get “too big” or “too muscular”. I personally think muscles look beautiful on a woman’s body and we should embrace and appreciate all body types.

Have you ever experienced any sort of discrimination as a woman who lifts heavy weights in the gym?
I don’t feel like I get discriminated for my muscularity and lifting heavy weights. If anything I think it inspires more people to want to strength train because it helps you burn fat more effectively than cardio , and helps you build lean muscles, giving you that desirable “toned” physique.

Where are you now in your fitness journey?
As a fitness Youtuber and personal trainer, I feel passionate about strength training and fitness, and want to share that passion with more people through my platforms. My philosophy is that it’s not just about the way you look but the way you feel. Fitness is a lifestyle, and adopting it will help you grow both in and out of the gym.

Clara Tan

What got you interested in weightlifting or lifting really heavy weights to begin with?
Initially, I started going to the gym because I used to be extremely skinny and wanted to put on some muscle. I wanted to be fit and look ‘athletic’ and thought I could do so by just doing tons of cardio and some squats (which I believe is a common misconception by a lot of females). Then a friend recommended that I do StrongLifts and that kickstarted my interest in strength training.

Tell us about your daily fitness regime. What do you do and how heavy exactly are these weights?
I train four times a week and follow a strength-based program by American powerlifter, Megan Gallagher (@megsquats). There are two upper body and two lower body days, where we focus on increasing our weights for squat, bench and deadlift. So for example, on a lower body day I squat, deadlift, and do other lower body accessories like lunges, bicep curls etc. On an upper body day, I bench and do other upper body accessories. From what I can remember, I weighed 48kg and my deadlift came in at 105kg.

Do you train with a professional or on your own? Where do you usually train?
I train on my own at Anytime Fitness

Along with this regime, do you have to stick to a certain diet?
Not following any kind of diet, but I try to eat as healthy as possible and of course eat foods that are high in protein. I also ensure that I get my vegetables every day and drink sufficient water.

Since gaining muscle, was there any feedback from people around you?
Yes! People who knew me from when I was super skinny are quite shocked since I’ve always been the small and frail kid. In fact, some of them actually think I went through some sort of trauma that led to my muscle gain. My family is also always telling me to take it easy as they think I am starting to look quite masculine, which I really don’t think I am.

Beatrice Bowers

What got you interested in weightlifting or lifting really heavy weights to begin with?
To sum it up, my journey with fitness came out of a need to manage my body in a healthy and productive way. I’ve struggled a lot with chronic health issues and medication that made my weight and body balloon and shrink, and I was tired of letting pills control how I looked and felt. So I followed my mum to a gym, as she was, at the time, a physique competitor, and I just felt more inclined towards lifting weights than doing cardio. I liked the challenge, and that it made me feel strong, so that escalated into pursuing weightlifting as a means to keep fit.

Were you working towards a certain body type, or was it to improve your fitness level?
Both goals went hand-in-hand when I first started out a few years ago. I wanted the abs and the toned body, but I also wanted to become stronger. After a while, I realised my focus on how I wanted to look began to mitigate my enjoyment of the process, so I recalibrated. And now, I prioritise improving my abilities over my physique or what I weigh. Sure, there are times where I wish I were more muscular or defined, but everyone has thoughts like that. I just learned to not let those affect my end goal.

Tell us about your daily fitness regime. What do you do and how heavy exactly are these weights?
I go to a CrossFit box about four to five times a week, and sport climb the other days. I currently follow a couple of programmes the box offers, one focusing on building strength through compound lifts (squats, deadlifts and strict press) and the other on the Olympic weightlifting movements (snatch and clean and jerk). The numbers vary depending on what the programme prescribes.

Do you train with a professional or on your own? Where do you usually train?
I go for sessions at CrossFit Mobilus, and these sessions are conducted by in-house trainers.

Along with this regime, do you have to stick to a certain diet?
I try to eat as clean as I can, with a huge amount of proteins. But I love food too much to restrict myself heavily. As long as I practise moderation, eat healthy, and exercise regularly, I let myself indulge when the occasion calls for it.

Since gaining muscle, were there any feedback (be it the positive or negative) from people around you?
Occasionally, I get comments from people warning me against becoming “too big”, and sometimes questions as to why a woman would lift such heavy weights. I shrug them off. I love lifting and it’s going to take a lot more than uneducated opinions about my gender and capabilities to make me stop. On the brighter side, there has been positive feedback.

Where are you now in your fitness journey?
I’m currently suffering through the CrossFit Open 2020, because I wanted to see how my overall fitness has improved since I started doing CrossFit in June. Beyond that, there aren’t many tangible goals except to keep lifting, and to enjoy the mental and physical health it accords me. My friends and I have talked about a team CrossFit competition next year, but who knows. Physique-wise, I foresee myself gaining some mass, but only so I can gauge how that might improve the numbers I lift.

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