Don’t know about yours, but my entire neighbourhood became joggers in 2020. Everyone was looking for an outlet—a safe, sweat-breaking activity to release all that pent-up energy and anxiety or to ward off claustrophobia, cabin fever and the chaos of being trapped at home.
But what was once a need to escape has evolved into the deep desire to elevate. Significant moves are being made not just physically but mentally, emotionally and metabolically, with many investing more time and effort into transforming themselves—and the active self-care needed to take things to the next level. This burgeoning demand has led to an influx of freshly minted fitness and trendy wellness programmes across the city. It has also shone a fresh light on established, under-the-radar workouts that have been upgrading lives and helping individuals achieve their health goals.
Your body, your gym
Mention the words ‘bodyweight exercises’ and flashbacks to pre-gym workouts come to mind—like basic military training or doing push- and pull-ups in school. But mention ‘calisthenics’, known as kalos sthenos or ‘beautiful strength’ to the Spartans, and suddenly everyone is hyped. The impetus for this fuss-free, home-friendly workout spiked during lockdown, what with the only equipment needed being your own body weight, gravity and well, lots (and lots) of self-motivation.
As opposed to training with machines or dumb-bells, body resistance exercises engage specific muscles at a time, emulating a natural, controlled course of movement that not only improves muscle endurance and builds a lean, athletic physique, but also hones bona fide human power—versus bulk—while improving joint mobility from a sports medicine perspective. A personal trainer at Level, Kenneth Seow, explains: “Each exercise has its regression and progression which allows for anyone to do it just about anywhere. And everyone who attends class has their own goal—it can range from something as simple as improving their push-ups to members who are already strong and want to muscle up but don’t understand why they aren’t able to achieve it. I then help them with their technique and body awareness as it’s not just all about brute strength.”
“I then help them with their technique and body awareness as it’s not just all about brute strength.
Cycling for the psyche
Over the last two years, we’ve witnessed possibly the greatest bicycling boom of our generation. Beyond cycling for obvious reasons like staying fit, many turned to two-wheeling as an outlet during the pandemic, sparking a ‘psychling’ ridership that’s seen individuals harness the sport as a form of psychological relief. Because of its regular, repetitive motions, cycling is proven to have a relaxing effect on the brain, on top of its multiple benefits for the body like increased stamina, joint mobility and decreased body fat levels.
This greatly influenced a surge in indoor spin classes—from Asia-leader Absolute Cycle and CruCyle that launched its very own CruTV Bike last year, to newer players like CRNK, Revolution and Popsicle Rhythmic Cycling by the Active Fitness group, all of which dish out high-octane, themed rides all day, every day. Think cyclists bouncing up and down on stationary bikes to equally adrenaline-pumping music—it recalls a clubbing atmosphere that many of us miss from our pre-COVID-19 lives.
Besides producing a seriously stress-busting endorphin high and 600-calorie burn, spinning is a superior high-intensity workout for multiple reasons. Not only does it target the gluteus maximus and quadriceps, which are some of the largest muscles in the body, spin classes have been found to trigger the release of blood chemicals that signal an optimal heart workout, which can lead to blood vessel repair and an increase in both heart and lung capacity, all while improving body composition and potentially lowering blood pressure or cholesterol—according to multiple doctor-led studies. Plus, the low-impact nature of spinning provides a great option for older enthusiasts or those with injuries.
High impact flow
You don’t have to be a fitness junkie to know the benefits of getting down onto all fours for the ‘downward dog’. Yoga’s fitness phenomenon is credited to a slew of benefits for all ages, stages and desires in life—from injury recovery, senior mobility and building a svelte, stretchy physique, to creating mental clarity and calmness through the incorporation of meditation and breathwork. But not everyone revels in the inward connections made in holding core-strengthening poses and ambient music, which is reflected in the equally industry-dominating world of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Striking a balance between the two contrasting workouts is Yoga Movement, with the anticipated launch of HIIT Yoga.
Co-founder Alicia Pan muses: “It’s the lovechild of HIIT and a flow class. Anyone who has an hour to spare gets an all-encompassing, gratifying sweat and stretch session, comprising 20 minutes of warming up the body through a gentle yoga flow, 20 minutes of non-stop movement that builds on intensity with each round, and a sweet 15-minute active recovery cool-down to stretch the major muscle groups that were targeted during the class.” This fast-paced class is perfect for those looking to boost their cardiovascular endurance, flexibility and muscle toning with a mix of movements that you have complete control over—go slower for a deeper, more mindful stretch, or opt for explosive motions to really get your heart pumping.
Serious fun for all
But amid the deluge of buzzy fitness studios and body-pumping programmes lies an industry icon that has served tens of thousands of members over the last 36 years: Amore Fitness. Once known as an aerobics studio, the all-ladies establishment has evolved into a health-boosting haven of what can only be described as happy hardcore workouts where women of all ages get fit, bounce back from all stages of life, and let their hair down with their girlfriends.
The secret to its success lies in that sweet spot between high-impact cardio and dance workouts that build stamina, agility, coordination and even sensuality; and a host of strength-building, body-conditioning yoga, Pilates and weights classes, all of which come with options to break a sweat at your own pace. “I teach a variety of classes such as Energy Sculpt, which improves overall strength and endurance with the help of gliders, dumb-bells and resistance bands, and I also believe that it helps improve mental health by increasing energy levels while burning 400 to 600 calories per class,” describes Claudia Tan, an instructor at Amore Fitness. “I also teach Aero Groove, which integrates rhythmic aerobic moves with a dance routine, one of Amore’s signature classes StretchFit, which involves dynamic and static stretches to release muscle tension and increase flexibility, and Belly Dance, which improves posture, balance and body coordination and easily burns 300 to 500 calories.”
“I’ve lost eight kilos, but I’ve gained agility, discipline, confidence and precious friendships.”
From the outside, it may look all fun and friendly, but the calories burnt, the moves made and the very real—and relatable—transformation stories are as serious and inspiring as they get. Just ask mum of teenage boys, Suyan Hong, who is one of the countless members who credits her elevated health and dopamine levels to the back-to-back classes they attend. “Appearing young isn’t just good skin—an often-overlooked aspect is the way one moves. The young move with poise and a certain fluidity, and dance classes maintain this; I like the ones with choreography in particular. One has to lose inhibitions in order to emote and dance with the flow. The mind is kept sharp trying to catch steps, and my motor skills are continually challenged.” The same goes for regional marketing head Serina Su, who joined six years ago. “I joined with the goal of losing postpartum weight and regulating blood sugar levels, but I stayed for my new-found love for dancing, and a community that I can share this passion with. I’ve lost eight kilograms over time, but what can’t be measured is the increased agility, self-discipline, confidence boost and precious friendships I’ve made since.”
Recovering with Rolfing
With fitness enthusiasts becoming savvier by the minute—and with each #fittok—body optimisation and recovery methods are finally getting the attention they deserve. But beyond the right stretches, smarter nutrition and cryotherapy, there’s still a “secret tool that global elite athletes use: Rolfing, or structural integration that focuses on fascial management”, explains Maria Hussain, a Rolfing expert and structural integration therapist at Foot Practice and Como Shambhala.
Fascia is the connective tissue right beneath the skin that surrounds and holds organs, muscles, bones, nerve fibres and some ligaments in place, and Rolfing, often described as a much more technical deep tissue massage, targets these layers to improve body alignment, function and freedom of movement. “Fascia doesn’t arrange itself like muscle fibres; it has a double lattice-like arrangement and if you don’t exercise it, it becomes dehydrated and brittle. We need to keep moving with varied movements to train and keep fascia springy and resilient,” she advises.
“I use my hands to assess and manipulate the fascia as a way into the body and its inner systems. The end goal is to assist the body to find its centre with all the systems working together”
By keeping your fascia healthy—something many neglect or don’t realise they need to do—it enables one to move more easily, have a better range of motion and experience much less pain—pain that may be mistaken for muscular or joint problems. “I take a body-centred approach and start each session with a consultation, a body reading and a gait movement screening. I use my hands to assess and manipulate the fascia as a way into the body and its inner systems. The end goal is to assist the body to find its centre with all the systems working together,” Hussein says, adding that world-renowned athletes, including Olympic track athlete, Amy Acuff, harness the effectiveness of Rolfing to increase their elasticity and muscle control, enhancing postural efficiency, refining the use of their proprioceptors and streamlining their motor pathways. “Fascial health and suppleness are vital for healthy everyday movement and stability, as well as improving sports performance and helping with recovery.”