Ritual Gym’s co-founder Ian Tan on the foolproof 20-minute HIIT workout, expansion plans, and his personal training regime
Fortress in session
An experience at Ritual is systematic. From the moment you step in, the process is seamless and welcoming (even if you're here for the very first time). You don't have to come in your workout clothes, or lug around a shoe bag because Ritual has your attire sorted while encouraging that you go barefoot during a session here.
Everyone is allocated in their own space — cordoned in a spacious rectangle as you follow the workouts explicitly written on a chalkboard. On it, there are various categories to where your fitness level would fall under — with slight alterations made. But essentially, a class at Ritual executes a similar form of HIIT workout all together. After 20 minutes, you're done and a cleaner stealthily gives the floor a quick glow-up before the next class is in session. Sometimes, you don't even notice when it happens. That's how good he is.
Through this, you're not basking in neon strobe lights nor will you align your movements along to a EDM playlist. Ritual's formula is foolproof, "old-school" (if that's what you want to call it), but essentially a successful leading prototype in today's veritable fitness landscape. It's also a local business established in 2012 (before working out became cool and sexy) and since then stood firm, distinguishing itself from emerging fitness concepts that are now peppered around our shores. Recently, this homegrown brand has also travelled far and wide — to new openings in US, Spain, Brazil, and South Africa. We had a quick word with Ian Tan, co-founder and COO of the reputable gym to dissect the success of Ritual and how it benefits an individual in just 20 minutes.
How did the formula of a 20-minute workout come about? And how effective is it as compared to pushing yourself in a HIIT session that lasts up to an hour?
It might sound a little cheesy, but the 20-minute workout was really born out of necessity. The traditional hour-long block of exercise had been the dominant option for decades, and people were ready for the next evolution in fitness because the old model wasn't working anymore.
In the last decade or so, the science has also really stacked up in support of shorter but more intense workouts (there are literally hundreds of studies on the topic now), and I think Ritual is an attractive option for a lot of busy people because of this. Everyone is time-starved and would rather get their exercise done in half the amount of time if they can.
Tell us more about the key exercises that are done in a training session at Ritual. How are they beneficial?
We focus on the fundamental human movement patterns. The exercises we select are safe to do, give you the largest bang for your buck (as you can tell, we are big on the efficiency thing), and allow you to work both strength and cardio at every session.
That being said, HIIT does not need to be scary — it should be scaled to your fitness level. We take pride in our ethos of quality over quantity, and help you personalise the journey according to what you're ready for, from whatever starting point you're at, even if you haven't exercised in 10 years.
Some of these exercises can sometimes be done on an individual's own time in a home gym — but why do you think people still visit Ritual well as a ritual?
It is true, many of the exercises we do can be done at home. But with good coaching, you get a safe environment, accountability and motivation. Even the fittest people struggle keeping perfect form once fatigue sets in, and even the fittest people struggle to stay consistent sometimes.
I think one of the reasons people keep coming back is that we have a rational approach to fitness and wellness. While this sometimes isn't as sexy at the outset, the sustainability of the ritual is what makes consistent exercise possible, and it is through consistency that you get lasting results and a strong impact.
Through the years, the fitness sphere got increasingly more saturated. Yet, Ritual remains to be a gym that holds its own loyal fan base. What's the secret to Ritual's success?
At risk of oversimplifying what we do, I think we offer convenience and efficiency. We take away all the excuses that people give for not exercising today, and we make it bite-sized so it's easy to squeeze in between meetings. We make it easy for you to just show up, then we back it up with a client experience that is unparalleled in group fitness.
Congratulations on the recent expansion abroad! How does Ritual plan to maintain its consistency and deliverance as it did in its very first gym?
Over the last four years, this consistency has been a central focus in what we do. Which is why we've invested in building all of our own tech behind the scenes. The tech team works closely with our support and education teams to not just keep our fingers on the pulse of what's going on, but so we can keep innovating and keep improving. But before all that fancy stuff, it really does start with having the right people leading our teams around the world. If you put in the effort to find the right people who can perpetuate the culture and ethos, it makes things much smoother in the long run.
Good staff training programs are essential too. We try to be methodical not just about knowledge transfer, but with decision-making filters, valued behaviours and the philosophy behind what we do. We don't just teach them how to do the job well, but how to represent the brand well, and how to find alignment with what we do.
Can we expect to see Ritual expanding in anywhere in Asia?
Regarding our Asian expansion, we've got a few exciting things cooking, but it's generally the same approach —it's about finding the right partners and making sure we are a good fit because we're interested in growing a brand, not just selling franchises.
Personally, what would your typical training regime look like — how often do you work out?
Honestly my schedule is pretty hectic, so gone are the days of extreme sports and long training sessions. I exercise primarily to keep my brain functioning well, my general health in check, and so my wife continues to tolerate me. I train at Ritual three to four times a week, try to go for long walks a couple of times a week, and do about 15 minutes of stretching and mobility work a couple of times a week.
Do you have a least favourite exercise to do at Ritual — and why?
My least favorite exercise is definitely the overhead press. Because of some old martial arts injuries, this is a really difficult one for me. That being said, I try to smile when I see them on the programs because I think it's a great reminder to keep my ego in check!