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How to whip yourself into shape in time for Chinese New Year

CNA Lifestyle's Genevieve Loh tries out three high-intensity workouts to experience how much of a calorie burn they deliver.

Like most people who do not (read: Hate) exercise, I often delude myself into thinking I’m fit-ish simply by association. I’m good friends with cross-fitters, gym rats and half-marathoners. Some of my closest buds have even quit their jobs to become bikram yoga instructors. Therefore, I’m fit, right? It’s a concept that usually serves me well for most of the year.

Then, Chinese New Year sneaks up right round the corner. Struggling into the new dress bought specifically for the festive season, it hits me like a ton of bricks: I’m not fit. Nor am I able to fit into the dress size I was mere months ago.

No one likes to be judged by their looks. Especially not by relatives you only see once every year, who offer up "confidence boosters" like, “Don’t you fill out nicely every time I see you. You're looking very 'prosperous'! You must be really enjoying life, hor?"

So, how does one – who hates working out and is allergic to gyms – get in shape in time to combat the comments? With Chinese New Year less than three weeks away, is it even possible?


Pound Fitness Class by Grace Sagaya (Photo: Joyee Koo)

“Absolutely yes!” says Grace Sagaya, a pint-size 43 year-old dynamo, who teaches Pound at her studio Rhythm In Me at Depot Road. “But it’s all about how much effort you put in each class, and not just coast by. You can’t just turn up for class, do the minimum and expect results.”

I try my best to keep that in mind. But it’s not an easy thing to do during a sweat-dripping workout session inspired by drum playing – all while trying not to drop the specially engineered sticks. 

A workout that involves lunges, squats, and crunches might sound like a tedious exercise routine. But if you add thumping music, drumsticks, and a kick-ass instructor like Grace, Pound class actually is, dare I say, fun.

"Usually, when I say you'll burn 400 to 900 calories without even realising it, people are immediately in," said Grace. "Not only does Pound bring a fun factor to the mix, it also combines music with the most effective exercise plan into one simple format."

READ: When it comes to exercise and eating habits, the mind can trick your genes

It's a group fitness class that combines some strength training with yoga- and pilates-inspired movements, cardio, and conditioning with drumming. And, to the excitement of the wannabe rockstar drummer in me, we got to use lightly weighted drumsticks called RipStix as we move and sweat. And you don’t have to be musically inclined or be an actual drummer to get the hang of it.  

Truth be told, I was close to passing out on the floor just on the first set alone. But focusing on the rhythmic beats distracted me from the fact that I was attempting a high-intensity workout. And an instructor like Grace, with her boundless energy and encouraging words helped, especially during the difficult, seemingly unbearable moments.

GO for class three times a week to see a change in time for Chinese New Year.

BURN 400 calories and up per session.

WORKOUT AT Pound With Grace Sagaya,, Rhythm In Me Studio, 108 Depot Road, #02- 01


SURFSET Fitness Singapore is a workout inspired by surfing, which combines elements of aerobic fat burning, lean muscle building, and balance and core training (Photo: Joyee Koo)

There's something about the surfer body. Long and lean with toned abs, it is simultaneously strong and feminine. But living in surf-less Singapore rather than sunny California poses a big problem in the quest to attaining one. Plus, I am too beginner (not to mention, chicken) to hang ten on a 10-foot ocean swell. 

Enter Surfset Fitness Singapore with the perfect solution. It is a surf-inspired workout class that uses a custom-built, balance-training board to mimic the ocean’s waves. Surfset Fitness Singapore founder Yu Shuyi (who previously ran it with her sister-in-law Melissa) is the first to bring it to Asia and the only one offering the workout programme in Singapore. 

I’ll be honest. Getting on an unstable surfboard machine was initially as difficult as it sounded. But thanks to Shuyi, who patiently and encouragingly led me through the three different levels of classes – Balance for flexibility and core control; Core for strength building and lean muscle development; and Sweat for an intense cardio workout – my fear of falling over dissipated. 

READ: 2018 Year in Fitness: How exercise keeps us young

While trying my darndest to stay on my wobbling board as I did planks, pop-ups and duck dives, I was actually exercising without realising it. The device requires users to engage their entire bodies, including small stabiliser muscles, core, glutes, arms, and back muscles, explained Shuyi. There's no isolating one muscle group at a time with the Surfset workout – you hit everything at once. "It's a well-rounded workout because you work the whole body," said Shuyi.

“My core is on fire!” I yelled at Shuyi midway through class. “And I’m using muscles I didn’t even know existed!” There I was, sweating buckets in an air-conditioned gym and yes, working out, but I was actually enjoying myself. 

Sure, there were a few hairy moments when I thought I was going to fall off the board and land face first. But if an 82-year-old man (Shuiyi's oldest client) can successfully pull of a pop-up, then so can I. 

It might not be as scenic as actual surfing, but Surfset lets you experience all the fitness benefits of surfing without getting wet or wiped out. Which means I could focus on strengthening my core, build muscles I never knew I had, and burn off calories at the same time. As for increasing my agility and upping my balance, they'll come in handy when I finally decide to try actual surfing. 

GO for all three classes once a week to see a change in time for Chinese New Year.

BURN 300 calories and up per class.

WORKOUT AT Surfset Fitness Singapore, Singapore Sports Hub, Fitness Studio, OCBC Arena, Level 2


Boxing X HIIT at Box Office Fitness (Photo: Joyee Koo)

Whether you're doing jumping jacks, lateral dips, Russian twists, power lunges or any manner of crunches, the main obstacle you’re overcoming during HIIT or high intensity interval training is your own body. But at least it stops. Oh, the sweet relief of stopping. Then, it starts again, and it’s torturous. 

Yet, somehow, in the back of my exercise-hating mind, I knew calories were most certainly being burned. And by the time I donned gloves and hit the water-filled aqua training bags as instructor Abel Koh yelled out the moves, it actually felt good. I was all set to punch, jab, cross and hook my way to a fitter me. Welcome to Boxing X HIIT class.

Abel, 33, who co-founded Box Office Fitness with exercise-averse fiancee Nerissa Assudani, brought it to Singapore after she found her overseas experience at her first boxing-inspired group fitness class "fun". At Box Office, each class features high-intensity boxing-inspired cardio, muscle-sculpting, strength training and metabolic conditioning. All in just 45 minutes. 

READ: No time to work out? Try express weight training

It was a lot after enduring 10 three-minute rounds, split between exercises on the floor and punching the tear-shaped aqua bags. But at least I could take comfort in knowing that this boxing experience is supposedly easier on the joints, and reduces the risk of injury for beginners.

Overall, the class didn’t feel as intimidating as the hardcore boxing gyms. It is dimly lit, the music is cranked up high, and you don’t feel like anyone is looking at you. You can just focus on your workout, and you’re done in less than an hour. It’s a great combination if you want to get into shape, strengthen and tone your body up. Plus, it increases your stamina.

GO for two classes per week to see a change in time for Chinese New Year. Abel advises not to attend classes more than three times a week as the body needs to recover and rest is just as important as the workout itself.

BURN 300 to 500 calories per session.

WORKOUT AT Box Office Fitness, 35 North Canal Road, #03-01

Results vary from person to person. If you haven't been exercising for a while, it is advisable to check with your doctor before starting any fitness regime.

Source: CNA/gl