If you are unable to touch your toes or cross your legs, you’re in dire need of rehabilitation, according to professional fitness coaches Twain Teo and Tan Chee Chong.

The two not only founded Singapore Powerlifting Alliance (SPA) in 2014 with an aim to encourage and facilitate the growth of the local powerlifting community, but also co-own and run Elevate Gym – a training, nutrition and rehabilitation facility located along Upper Thomson Road. Its branch outlet, Elevate 360, launched last year at Serangoon Gardens in September 2017.

“We see it as a form of dysfunction. In fact, I would think of it as a health issue as touching your toes and crossing your legs are very basic movements,” shares Tan, as he and Teo each nurse a black lager at the bar we are huddled at.

“If you don’t have full control of your body, it’s kind of sad… Isn’t it?”

This is also one of the reasons why the two are firm advocates of powerlifting as more than just a sport, but as a springboard to achieving, or maintaining, a fundamental level of fitness.

For starters, competitive powerlifting requires one to accomplish three types of lifts that essential form the core of building physical strength: the squat, the bench press, and the dead lift. These are the basics of human movement, say the business partners, who explain that a variation of such movements are required in any strength training program.

Aside from achieving coveted effects of weight loss and muscle-building, powerlifting can also be practiced to maintain tissue connectivity, bone density and the body’s responses to adverse stimuli, and hence inadvertently warding off diseases such as osteoporosis, they add.

For those who may be thinking of picking up powerlifting as a competitive sport or simply want to lift as a form of strength training, keep in mind these words of advice from the coaches themselves:  

1. It doesn’t take much to lift.
Contrary to the quantitative aspects of competitive powerlifting, the sport itself is very qualitative in nature, say Tan and Teo, although there are still certain standards to adhere to. “When you squat, the hip has to be lower than the knee and come all the way up. If manage to do that successfully, then you’ve gotten the lift. It’s very simple,” they explain. “A lot of people are drawn to powerlifting because it is so simple – and that if they win anything [in a competition], they can be sure it’s by their own merit, and not because of ‘politics’.”

2. Engage a personal trainer or coach if you’re over 30.  
The older you are, the less time you’ll have to spend “mucking around”, says the duo. While the bodies of younger adults are, on average, more pliant and can therefore afford to go through more trials and errors of self-taught strength training, those who are getting on in years lack the muscle mass to heal quickly from physical injuries. In Tan’s words, “if you want to do it [pick up strength training], you might as well start off on the right foot”.

3. Train to ‘prehabilitate’.
Strength training is one of the most essential forms of “prehabilitation” – enhancing the body to prevent injuries before they even occur – and its effects can go a long way. For instance, the coaches share that knee and lower back pains are usually associated with a lack of muscles in the hip area, and can easily be avoided with suitable strength and endurance training.

4. Remember to breathe.
According to the coaches, most people simply have forgotten to breathe due to poor posture and stress. Restrictive breathing patterns and neck tension are some of the common symptoms that could adversely affect the body, and prevent it from attaining its full potential in strength training.

“Breathing is one of the ‘not so sexy’ fundamentals of strength training that people often overlook compared to lifting weights, getting strong, and so on. How often do you find yourself drawing in a long, deep breath of air throughout the day? Chances are, you are often just respiring instead of breathing, which actually requires a conscious effort,” says Tan.

5. Female powerlifters can be strong – and feminine.  
Ladies tend to shy away from the idea of powerlifting in fear of growing excess muscles and looking more masculine than intended, when in fact they have little to worry about, says Teo. “Strength training is not going to turn women into ‘Hulks’ because they generally do not have the capacity to grow muscles at the rate men do,” he opines.  

“Those pictures of extremely muscular women you see on the Internet, like female bodybuilders, are basically the result of training very hard and keeping to specific diets. Their routines are very performance-driven in that sense, which may sometimes include other methods of enhancement.”

6. Size doesn’t matter.  
Tan observes that people often wrongly assume that competitive powerlifters have to be of a certain size. “The truth is, there are so many weight categories [in competitive powerlifting]; if you want to lift within a certain weight class, you have to stay within a certain body range,” he explains. “Strength training will generally not get you very ‘big’ unless you specifically try to tailor the routine to include more muscle-building, such as in hypertrophy-specific training (HST). I’ve seen girls under 52kg who can squat twice their body weight, or more.”

7. Choose growth over instant gratification.
Always start off slow, caution the duo, as even the most ‘hard-core’ of results are the result of beginning the journey with baby steps. This means taking care of your body from all perspectives; it is always ideal to engage in prehabilitative exercises, maintain your posture, and give the body time to adapt to whatever training it is you’ve set yourself out for, says the coaches.  

See: Elevate Gym