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Fit For Business
WHEN Portia Chua spotted a barre class three years ago and signed up for it out of curiosity, little did she expect to be so hooked on it that she ended up becoming a teacher herself.
That's what this petite marketing manager who works in the beauty industry has been doing for about two months now on a part-time basis at boutique fitness studio SouthEast Active, which also offers other cardio-driven classes and Yin Yoga.
According to Ms Chua, barre started in America a few years ago before gaining popularity in Australia and making its way to Singapore. She stumbled upon it while looking to sign up with an exercise studio near her then-office in town.
"Barre is a combination of ballet techniques with cardio elements and Pilates fundamentals," she explains, "Sometimes it also incorporates hand weights, resistance bands and barre balls."
The dynamic workout, which is done to music, is supposed to strengthen all the muscles in the arms, thighs, calves, and butt through small micro movements. It is often dubbed the Victoria's Secret workout because the lingerie brand's models are known to practise it to stay in shape, as well as to build long and lean muscles.
Hence, unsurprisingly, Ms Chua says her classes usually draw "99 per cent" females: "But whenever we have guys, they are the ones huffing and puffing at the end because it's nothing like the weight-lifting they are used to doing at gyms - barre movements are high repetitions with low weights so you don't actually bulk up but build muscles instead."
She adds that the exercise also promotes good posture because of the ballet techniques; and although it looks graceful, it is nowhere as easy as it might look.
"A lot of girls love it because it's a fun workout," quips Ms Chua, who shares that it was the dance element in barre that piqued her interest. Although she has never trained in ballet, dancing has always been her passion and barre was a novel way for her to achieve a lean, lithe and strong dancer's body.
The more she did it, the more she decided she had to spread the word of the workout's benefits; hence her foray into teaching. Barre's growing popularity means it's now offered at more studios than just the handful when Ms Chua first signed up for it.
She shares that when she started barre, she was not expecting much - she was already playing badminton or swimming once a week - but she noticed that her body was toned and she became more energetic at work. "You can really see the difference in your body - muscle tone improvement, better posture and coordination - if you do it continuously for a month."
Ms Chua, who conducts lessons at least once a week, says her biggest satisfaction from teaching barre comes from passing her passion for it to her clients; and no matter how tortured their faces might look during classes, she says they usually leave with a smile.
You'll definitely feel good after every session!" she declares.
To book a class, check www.southeastactive.sg, @southeastactivesg on Facebook or WhatsApp 9366-5000.
The Singing Athlete
by RACHEL LOI
IF you're a music lover, you may know Alfred Sim as a singer. If you're a sports lover, then you may know him as an athlete. Actually he is both - the 35-year-old was a professional athlete (and now sports coach), with a love for singing Mandarin songs.
Though the two personas seem worlds apart, Mr Sim believes that the one thing that ties them both together is the fact that they are both things he is good at, but had to persevere in order to make a name for himself in each field.
For instance, he had started joining singing competitions since his days in Temasek Polytechnic in 1999, but it was only 15 years later that he got his break after winning MediaCorp Channel U's Project SuperStar. This led to him representing Singapore on stage overseas, like at The Voice Of China in 2015 and the Hong Kong Asian-Pop Music Festival earlier this year.
It was this same spirit that established him in the sports scene as well. In 2001, Mr Sim's career as an athlete failed to kick off when he didn't manage to qualify to represent Singapore in the South-east Asian (SEA) Games. "But I didn't give up, even after I was rejected I trained even harder, even more seriously. I just got myself even more involved in athletics," he says.
After much training and working with multiple coaches, he eventually represented Singapore as a sprinter (100m and 4x100m) in the SEA Games in both 2005 and 2007. He later started his own fitness company Reactiv - which specialises in track and field training and speed conditioning for future athletes.
Just last month, Reactiv officially launched its own gym on the seventh storey of an industrial building in Geylang called the Victory Centre. With a capacity of about 18 to 25 people, this gym is used as a space for activities such as personal training, fitness classes and workshops. The rest of the speed-related exercises still take place at the Kallang Practice Track.
Says Mr Sim: "I wanted to start this gym a long time ago but I was stopped by my wife. She said to just go to the stadiums and coach there, why do you need to rent a place and bear the overheads. But to me it's not about that. To run a legitimate business I wanted an office for meetings and discussions, and a space of my own to conduct our sessions."
He acknowledges that the fitness industry has been booming in the last few years with the launch of many boutique gyms, so when he started his gym he kept in mind that he had to find a niche beyond simply providing get-fit-quick programmes for the masses.
So aside from training athletes, Mr Sim also helps train people who play various team sports, whether for their own recreational or even corporate teams.
"We have to find something we are already good at. I was a sprinter so teaching speed conditioning is the most natural path. There are a lot of team sports like basketball, football, and rugby that need speed and agility. A lot of them focus on the tactical art rather than physical ability, so I want to help provide that balance in the training," he explains.
For him, the long-term goal is to nurture young, up-and-coming local athletes, and possibly even provide them with a career path as a coach after their retirement. As for his general fitness programmes however, it's all about education.
"We go by packages, not membership. After a package of 10 sessions you are equipped with a number of exercises that you can do at home. What we do is just teach you how to do these exercises properly, and then you can go and share it with your friends, and exercise together. We don't believe in keeping the same people coming here for years," he says.
Reactiv 6816-2776 Victory Centre, 110 Geylang Lor 23. #07-10
Yoga for All
Alicia Pan & Peter Thew
by HELMI YUSOF
ALICIA PAN, the co-founder of Yoga Movement, pauses for a second to confirm how many branches the yoga chain has:
"Is it five - no, wait, six - yes, six! - sorry, even I struggle to remember," she says in rapid-fire speech bursts.
The high-octane singer-songwriter and yoga enthusiast was 28 when she opened the first Yoga Movement studio on Carpenter Street in May 2012 with her husband Peter Thew just after they were married. Business has since taken off in a big way.
Mr Thew recalls: "We were being borderline reckless, opening a joint account and putting our life savings - which wasn't very much - into this venture. We weren't entirely sure what we were doing, but we knew that we both liked yoga and wanted to open a studio that made yoga accessible to everyone."
Ms Pan says: "At that time, our focus on health and lifestyle - instead of the more spiritual, meditative aspects of yoga - was new. There weren't many boutique yoga studios with that concept. And we saw our membership numbers grow from a few hundred in the first six months to more than 50,000 now."
To cope with demand, a new outlet had to be opened in Tanjong Pagar six months later, in Orchard and Tiong Bahru in 2014, in Robertson Quay in July 2016, and in East Coast in January this year. All the studios are cosy, unintimidating environments that play radio hits, hip hop music and "whatever is trending at the moment", says Mr Thew.
The Robertson Quay outlet is directly connected to a coffee joint, Common Man Coffee Roasters. And membership is affordable at S$220 for 10 classes.
Mr Thew says: "We made sure that we have studios that look, sound and smell like what people would walk into anyway - like a café to meet friends, not for five or six times a week, but maybe just once or twice a week."
Ms Pan adds: "We don't do meditation classes either - even though we know they're wonderfully beneficial for a lot of people, as are other spiritual aspects of yoga. But that just wasn't the direction we wanted for our brand. We wanted to emphasise friendliness, accessibility and affordability."
In the same way that fast fashion brands Zara and H&M sell on-trend designer looks for a fraction of designer prices, and Affordable Art Fair makes art-buying less intimidating, Yoga Movement attracts newbies who want an alternative to rigorous gym workouts, but are afraid of what some popular yoga chains offer.
As Mr Thew puts it: "Some of the other studios may seem 'cultish' to the beginner, with the incense-burning and the chanting over the speakers and everyone dressed a certain way, as if they'd just come from a vegan meal."
The relentless upward trajectory might continue, if not for the fact that Ms Pan is four-months pregnant and needs to slow down.
Reflecting on the company's success, Ms Pan admits much of the press interest they got in the beginning stemmed from her popularity as a singer. Ms Pan had started pursuing her entertainment career when she was just 19, ditching her university education just one year shy of graduation to sign a contract with a Taiwanese entertainment firm.
She recounts: "I lived in Taiwan for three-and-a-half years on my own. And when you're trying to make it in the entertainment world, there are a lot of sucking up and dodgy things to be done. As a young woman, I was exposed to a lot of much older, scary people, and I quickly learnt to interact with different types of people without compromising myself. All that helps me as a businesswoman."
Not that running a business is any easier. Ms Pan speaks candidly about its challenges, from the long sleepless nights doing up the studios, to the fights with "landlords who want to increase the rent just because they see the tenants' businesses doing well".
But Ms Pan credits her extreme never-say-die drive to helping her get through the worst of it - and, of course, having a business partner who is also her husband. Her singing career, however, has taken a backseat as a result of Yoga Movement.
She and Mr Thew think that "stamina is a completely underrated asset" in business. Mr Thew says: "The best thing is that if she's sometimes falling off, I pick up and run with it for a bit, and when I'm falling off, she picks up and runs with it for a bit. Not a lot of business owners have that kind of support in the leadership role."
For more information on Yoga Movement, go to www.yogamovement.com