Ready, Steady, Lift!

Want to lose weight or have a sexy, toned body? Just start lifting! More women are embracing the physical and mental benefits of weight training, and they tell ESTHER AU YONG that the afterburn is calorifically good.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Want to lose weight or have a sexy, toned body? Just start lifting! More women are embracing the physical and mental benefits of weight training, and they tell ESTHER AU YONG that the afterburn is calorifically good.

Cheryl Tay, Sports Photojournalist, 29
Cheryl Tay, Sports Photojournalist, 29

Cardio bunnies, lifting or weightlifting is in. Pop darling Ellie Goulding strength trains with weights, Jessica Biel (Justin Timberlake’s hot actress wife!) lifts weights, and Daisy Ridley – Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens – can dead lift like a pro.

Judging from the increase in the numbers hitting the free weights and barbells, as well as joining the many strength and conditioning classes here, women in Singapore are embracing the trend as well.

While Olympic weightlifting and bodybuilding training are more specific and target niche groups, women are increasingly adding aspects of such training to their regular regime.

Wendy Cho, Fitness Development Manager at True Fitness, says, “Up until about six years ago, one out of 30 or 40 would do resistance training. These days, four or five out of 10 women are into it.”

Vanessa Koh, a Pure Fitness personal trainer (PT), shares: “On average, we have seen, in 2015, about double the number of females doing weights compared to the year before. Lifting weights helps to transform a woman’s figure in ways that cardio can’t.”

Her colleague, powerlifter and Pure Yoga instructor Kiki Tan, adds, “It [the trend] is likely a result of more exposure to the benefits of weight training, both at the gym and also through social media. Social media provides access to information and support, inspiration and motivation from athletes and professional trainers from all over the world.”

Experts have agreed for some time now that weight and strength training, especially when combined with a balanced cardio routine, is a super effective way to lose weight and get fit and sculpted.

Grit Gym trainer Gene Leong says, “The increase in high-level female athletes also helps. This is especially so in the mixed martial arts (MMA) world where world-class athletes, like Ronda Rousey, show that they can have an incredible level of physical performance and be physically attractive at the same time.”


Previously, it was thought that women should not be training with weights as they would “bulk up”. That myth has since been dispelled, says Kiki. “Strength training builds more lean tissue, which increases one’s metabolic rate (the amount of energy expended while at rest) and leads to weight loss.

“Lean tissue also promotes the longevity of such muscles as the heart and reduces chances of disease and injury as we age. So, depending on your goals, any movement will do you good, but strength training is essential to living longer and healthier.”

Wendy adds: “Weight training also gives women sexy arms, tight glutes, shapely calves and a fl at stomach. Plus, the more muscle mass you carry, the more calories you burn even when you’re at rest. You’ll even improve your bone density as strength or weight training can help fight off osteoporosis.”

Despite these benefits, Gene says the increase in women signing up for resistance training isn’t dramatic. “There needs to be a lot more education as there are still many misconceptions about resistance or weight training. However, the fact that women are now willing to give it a shot is a big step forward!”

Nadiah Seah, Sports Educator, 26
Nadiah Seah, Sports Educator, 26

Why did you start weight training? I love lifting because it gives me a sense of empowerment. I first started in 2013. I hired and worked with a PT for six months. He introduced me to dead lifts, back squats, lateral rows, bicep curls, shoulder presses, and so on. During the training, I began to understand the functionality of our bodies and the beauty of having strength instead of just chasing a number on a scale. Of course, I’m still lifting. I’ve also recently started Rock Your Naked Truth, a body image movement to help people find confidence through fitness, such as lifting weights.

What is your routine now? I lift three times a week as part of Crossfit training. Physically, I’ve become more toned and I like it. My shoulders are broader and everything else is tighter, and firmer. I’ve also become stronger mentally.

What were some of the challenges? As someone who went from a cardio bunny to enjoying weight training, my body naturally gained muscle and my weight went up. Initially, because I used to be obsessed about losing weight, I wasn’t comfortable with the increase. But in reality, my body composition was changing; I didn’t gain more fat but had gained more muscle. Now, when I look at myself in the mirror, I don’t worry about the scale. Instead, I tell myself that what I have is a healthy, strong body.

Why did you start lifting weights? In early 2013, I spent a lot of time at the gym with two of my best guy friends to get over a break up. That’s when I started training with weights. I was surprised by how strong I became in a few short weeks and got hooked on it. Being a woman, I sometimes catch male gym-goers looking at me with doubt in their eyes when I am getting ready for a heavy lift. I get great satisfaction from proving them wrong.

What is your routine now? I lift weights four to six times a week, targeting specific muscle groups at each session. My style of training leans more towards bodybuilding. The weight and number of reps vary with each training programme, and according to the body shape I am trying to mould. On heavy-duty days, I may lift up to 100kg in dead lifts. On high-volume training days, the weights are relatively lighter, but the number of reps and sets increase.

What message would you like to send to other aspiring women weightlifters? I would like to break the traditional mindset that women are supposed to be skinny and fair. We can be whoever we want to be. What lifting weights does is help a woman gain physical and mental strength. The nice body is a bonus!

Devina Pronolo, Personal Trainer, 28
Devina Pronolo, Personal Trainer, 28

What attracted you to weightlifting? I started lifting because I had a really bad shin injury from overexercising. Besides running 10km to 15km daily, I was teaching group exercise classes while in college. My physiotherapist told me I needed to lift weights to strengthen my muscles and bones. That’s how I fell in love with weightlifting. It was fun to see little baby muscles popping out, and my body get leaner as I became stronger. So, here I am, 10 years later – and still in love with lifting. I’ve gained a husband, too. If not for our shared love of weightlifting, we probably would never have met.

What is your routine now that you’re five months pregnant? My doctor told me not to lift anything for the first trimester. So I didn’t. I swam and did light yoga instead. When I entered my second trimester, I started lifting again, but nothing heavy. I lift up to 30 per cent of what I used to carry. I listen to my body. Not all my workouts go according to plan, so I have to improvise.

What advice do you have for women who may want to train with weights? You need muscles to lose fat. Cardio exercises do not build muscles. So, start lifting and stop worrying about bulking up!

Photos Frenchescar Lim Assisted By Angela Guo Art Direction Ray Ticsay Hair & Makeup Gigi Sng Location Pure Fitness