To get a much-needed pep talk and words of fitness wisdom, we headed to two-year old boutique personal training gym, Level, on Telok Ayer Street. We had a chat with their founder, Alexander Salihin, to learn some nifty little tricks about reaching our goals, staying on track and how to deal with life’s (and our body’s) curves.
The layout of Level is unlike most conventional gyms. There aren’t endless lines of treadmills whirring constantly. No fancy machinery built to work out muscles in your legs that you didn’t even know existed. No dreaded elliptical or Stairmaster, either. Instead, the vastly empty space is purpose-built to optimise functional floor exercises.
All around, men and women alike are thrusting bar bells into the air, swinging kettlebells between their legs and hanging from gymnastic rings that dangle from the ceiling. The room is filled with energy and focus, a kind of infectious buzz urging you to get involved.
While it may sound like one, this is not a cross-fit box. Instead of focusing on how fast and how hard and fast you can push yourself, Level focuses on technique through functional exercises that help everyone reach their maximum physical potential. As Alex puts it, “a coach can tell you what to do from [a distance] and I prefer position and form over how many you can do in two minutes. I prefer doing things very well.”
Curious to see what a Level workout entailed, I signed up for a personal training session with Alex himself. From the start of a typical hour-long session, he first analysed a range of basic movements and gave feedback on both my posture and form. Then, we began a series of quick circuits that would leave my legs feeling like jelly, my heart racing and my mood elevated. Challenging, but not impossible… muscles I didn’t know existed began to feel the proverbial burn. It revealed a glimpse of my own physical potential, but more importantly, it revealed what work I needed to do to reach it.
Hiring a personal trainer is not for everyone. If you struggle to find the motivation on your own but getting a trainer is simply out of the question, Level hosts plenty of group workout classes throughout the week that are open to everyone. Be warned. These aren’t Richard Simmons-style aerobics. Primarily HIIT-focused (High Intensity Interval Training), they entail 30 to 60 minutes of a range of different exercises to raise your heart rate, burn fat and give you that endorphin high that gym bunnies incessantly rave about.
At Level, “the classes we hold today are rather diverse. It’s not one generic type of workout. ColeMine is our most popular class to date. When we first started, it was an hour long and then the feedback we got was like ‘look dude, I can’t. I’m still sweating by the time I get back to the office, even after my shower!’ Also, a lot of guys and girls had only slightly over 60 minutes to leave their office… so 30 minutes became our thing. People wanted to come in, get their fix and leave. But [the workout] is in no way easy at all.”
Fortunately, these short power-packed workouts have been on the rise, with more and more studios offering similar classes that are as efficient as they are challenging. As terrifying as it may sound (this definitely won’t be your regular walk in the park), Alex reminds us that there is indeed a bright side!
“There are so many bodies on the floor… it’s great because there’s that community-like feeling. If you’re super duper brand new to fitness, it can be a little intimidating [but] you also get very, very motivated by the fact that people you know who started from zilch [start] doing things they never thought they could do.”
This breed of fitness classes can help get people moving, get us to be more social, help us enter the fitness community and most importantly, improve our health.
But what happens when you’re suddenly called away on business? With dire in-flight meals, back-to-back meetings and rich business dinners expensed to the company account, keeping your fitness goals in check is a definite challenge. Fortunately, Alex’s own little health hacks are easy to adopt.
“I tend not to eat the meals on board a plane… If all else fails, I go for the fruit because it’s lighter, it’s got high water content for when you get dehydrated in the air. I don’t really do starch in the air – not because I don’t like my bread, I love it – because I don’t want to feel like a rock when I land… The key is water, water, water. At least a litre and a half a day.”
Then again, while we can quite easily turn down an in-flight meal, who can resist the lavish buffet spreads often offered at hotels? For that, Alex has some potentially controversial advice that may not sit well with everyone, but is worth considering.
“Many years ago, this used to be an unorthodox subject but it’s not anymore; a very healthy version of intermittent fasting (IF). More realistic IF is pushing your breakfast closer to lunch, maybe by making it a brunch… then having a bigger dinner. So you actually skip the whole ‘need’ to put food in your body in the mornings. It does two things: it lowers your insulin levels, which is great for people who want to keep body fat off, and you don’t need to stress about what to eat at breakfast.”
Yet, diet is often only half the battle and as anyone with a newfound passion for fitness knows, trying to maintain your progress feels crucially important. A common question is always: how do you maintain cardiovascular fitness or, most importantly, strength levels?
Alex replies with one suggestion.
“Very simply: time. Use time… There are apps that are called Tabata. It’s the most efficient way to train. You set the Tabata timer on for four minutes and it can be a combination of anything; like 45 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest, followed by the same until your four minutes are up. Or, you can keep going for 15-seconds for each exercise non-stop. There is no right or wrong.”
And what do these 4-minute workouts look like?
“Take four unique exercises like squats, lunges, push ups, planks; give them each 15 seconds then do them constantly for four minutes. I promise you, you will be sweating and you will have your heart rate up through the roof. There will be a fair amount of lactic acid build-up and for some people who are holding positions… you’re taking an endurance exercise and turning it into a strength movement.”
For example, if focusing on conditioning and strength, Alex suggests 45-seconds of each exercise with 15-seconds of rest between each:
Exercise 1: Bodyweight squats as fast as possible
Exercise 2: Chaturanga push up (or ‘Hindu’ push up)
Exercise 3: Hip thrusts
Exercise 4: Wall walk-ups (start in a push-up position then walk your feet up a wall until you’re in a handstand position)
The best part is absolutely no equipment is required, so you can leave your lululemons and trainers at home! Though if you can afford to fit a bit of equipment in your luggage, Alex suggests a high resistance band and a skipping rope to incorporate into your routine, as they make for a very effective cardio warm-up.
With all that is said and done, a critical bit of advice remains. When it comes to maintaining your exercise habits, if you are travelling, it is perfectly okay to take a break and rest. “To be honest, if you’re only going away for a while, don’t sweat it. You’re not going to come back weak and fragile!”
Level is currently running a special promotion, offering five personal training sessions at $250 for first time customers.
For more information, visit: level.com.sg
Level, 01-03, 137 Telok Ayer Street,
tel: 6222 4766, level.com.sg
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