EXCUSES to avoid exercising are dwindling thanks to a mixture of unusual new activities, and imaginative hybrids of existing ones, that are spicing up the fitness landscape here. There has been such a boom in the past year that one can find almost everything under the sun, from Bulgarian bags to "flying yoga".
It wasn't so long ago that Pilates and pole-dancing were considered niche activities here, but now these are seen as comfortably mainstream. This shift in mindset comes partly from fitness choices moving up the value chain and becoming more complex, to the extent of demanding multiple sporting skills from adherents.
An example is how volleyball, soccer and sepak takraw skills meet in Bossaball - which is essentially a freestyle sport played on a giant inflatable court fitted with trampolines. "It's a challenging game, which is what hooked me, as I had to combine my soccer and sepak takraw skills," says 27-year-old Dino Mohamad Nuh, who works for PSA Singapore.
There are between three and five players on each team and the aim of the game is to make the ball touch the opposition's end of the court. Each team can only come into contact with the ball for a maximum of eight touches - using any body part (with certain restrictions); and it's played to blaring Bossa Nova music in the background, hence the name.
Mohamad Saifudin, 46, who was formerly part of the faculty at a local polytechnic, brought Bossaball into Singapore six years ago, when its novelty was used to market it as a speciality game at sporting events. Just three months ago though, he started conducting courses for the game as it begins its gradual shift into the mainstream.
"We were doing it on mobile mode for quite some time because it's quite a portable game and can be played outdoors or indoors," says Mr Saifudin. "We went to schools and then for corporate events like family days and team-building, and then there was a demand for birthday parties and private groups so we made it available on the weekends. Now, as demand has grown, we've started conducting classes for enthusiasts since August," he adds.
Mini-leagues and tournaments are held occasionally, with anything from four to 12 teams taking part, says Mr Saifudin, but he thinks it will take a while more before there's a Singapore team that can play at a competitive level. Mr Dino is optimistic, however, that his students will eventually become ready for the Bossaball World Cup.
Bossaball is a great example of a standalone niche sport that's been picked up here, with some of its fans not having previously indulged in a regular sporting activity. But there's something just as interesting happening among enthusiasts who have outgrown their existing passions and are eager to up the ante. Pole-dancing and yoga fans, for instance, have moved on to more challenging variations of their pet passions.
The majority of the participants in Pure Fitness's aerial silk and hoop classes were formerly in its pole-dancing class, for example. Aerial silk and aerial hoop are even more challenging vertical strength exercises because the silk and the hoops are less stable than a fixed pole, explains instructor Ming Leong.
Pure Fitness added this to its curriculum just about six months back, says Ms Leong, and it's been popular, especially with the group of pole-dancing enthusiasts because this an an upward evolution of the art and exercise form.
"It's harder to perform vertical exercises with fabric as it requires more core strength and stronger upper arms," she notes.
Aerial silk and hoops are still quite new in Singapore but an increasing number of people are going for it, says Ms Leong. "It's become another fitness option for people," she adds, of the 30-minute classes offered about three times a week at Pure Fitness. The club has now added a one-hour class for the new year. But because it's so new, there are a lot of things still to explore in the exercise, she adds.
Pole-dancing isn't the only thing that's evolved. YogaFly is a regime that - Bossaball-style - combines several fitness methods such as Yoga, Pilates, Dance and Aerial Acrobatics. Originating in Bangkok just in 2010, it was introduced in Singapore just over six months ago, by Upside Motion.
The key component in YogaFly is its inversion exercise that helps decompress the spine. "So it's great for working adults who sit in the office a lot and those who have lower back pain issues," says Beh Hwee Sze, co-partner of Upside Motion.
The upside down motion releases tension in the vertebrae as gravity pulls the spine downwards. Yoga poses are done standing on a hammock above ground, but the whole dynamic is different from yoga, she explains. When she and her partner, Lynn Ong, had planned for the studio, they wanted an exercise to differentiate themselves - so besides offering Pilates, they do Xtend Barre and YogaFly.
For Avelyn Teo, 28, who markets office furniture, YogaFly was more than an exercise for stress relief. It turned out that after 40 classes, she's managed to grow 2cm taller.
She'd been taking Pilates for about two years before being one of the first registrants of YogaFly when it was offered. "I'd always complained about shoulder pain and Lynn, my instructor, told me this would help. It's not that difficult once you've done it once or twice, even if photographs look daunting," she quips.
It turns out that going upside down for lengths of time, does extend the spine, so over the course of six months, Ms Teo recently found out that she's grown 2cm taller since her last medical check-up. "So now I'm 164cm."
And yes, her shoulder and lower back pains have been alleviated too, as different muscle groups have been impacted by the unusual exercise.
Happy new gear
If the number of members and newbies trooping into Pure Fitness earlier this week is any indication, a lot of Singaporeans are beginning the new year with a resolution to lose weight and get fit.
It's the norm the world over, observes fitness manager Ben Salter at the gym's new branch at Asia Square, after the Christmas and new year season. But even he was surprised at how early the crowd came rushing in. "I was expecting this crowd next week. We've seen more people than we thought we would."
Many were members that they hadn't seen in a while, while there were also people enquiring about gym programmes and membership.
"A lot of this is resolution and a lot of them are keen on getting back on the horse, so to speak," says Mr Salter, but he notes that Singaporeans are big on exercise, much more so than Hong Kongers.
And when he brings visitors on a tour of the gym, it's the ancillary gym equipment like the oval-shaped Bulgarian Bag that grabs their attention. A weight bag filled with sand, which comes in five different sizes, weighing between 5kg and 23kg, it's used in functional exercises that that build strength for practical activities, in contrast to training traditionally with weights.
"The signature movements used with the Bulgarian Bag are very good, and this is a versatile piece of resistance equipment - one of the best I've seen in a while," declares Mr Salter.
The Bulgarian Bag is part of the unique gym equipment - all of which focus on functional training that mimics human patterns. It's used in personal training, he explains. "We have to stay up to date in the market, and it's equipment like these which attract people. They also spice up a personal training routine."
With the growing awareness of personal health and fitness, even dance has been modified to meet fitness goals these days. There's K-pop and then the even more exotic Tahitian dance classes to pick up, for those who want to pick up some sultry moves while they exercise.
While the core group at Celine Jessandra's School of Performing Arts comprise Korean pop dance and song fans, the institution is seeing more people from different backgrounds joining the classes, says Clement Chen, who's in charge of the school's marketing communications. "We try to work our schedule around offering songs more suited to the working adults especially during weekday nights," he says, of the growing demand among working professionals.
When the school first started in 2006, working adults were often self-conscious about their ages, but there's less stigma now, Mr Chen notes. "We also have a lot of companies and organisations sending their staff over to pick up dance for staff recreation, or for their company dinner and dance events. A lot of our business is via word of mouth," he adds.
Polynesian dancing might be a cultural thing in Tahiti, but over here, two Tahitian women in Singapore have made it into a fitness regime, touting the hip-rolling dance's fitness attributes. "We've designed it to be fun and to promote wellness - as our participants get fit and confident, improve their focus and grace, increase their coordination and stamina and release stress," says Beatrice Heitiare Caisson.
And while some may be hesitant about venturing off the beaten path, there are testimonies - such as Ms Teo's growing taller through YogaFly - about how doing the unusual will actually improve one's fitness, beyond what traditional activities can offer.
The fitness industry looks like it will continue to expand, says Pure Fitness's Mr Salter. The gym just opened its biggest single-floor gym space yet, at 33,000 sq ft, at Asia Square in Singapore last year. "More people are aware of exercise benefits now, and people are getting more inactive as they are getting desk-bound. More people, and especially Singaporeans, are realising how fitness and health, and a holistic approach can benefit them and their bodies."
Of course, it helps that when something as trendy as the Korean pop wave comes along, it boosts fitness as well. Celine Jessandra's school just doubled its floor space two weeks ago when it acquired the next door unit to accommodate its 3,000-5,000 dance students. Frankly, the majority of her students are influenced by the K-pop wave, says Ms Jessandra, but there's no cause for complain if health benefits are its downstream benefits.
There's really no excuse not to get in shape now. Between traditional sports, new niche activities, and challenging combinations of old ones, everyone from the novice to the Iron Man is spoilt for choice.