Ah, the age-old question (not really, but now that I’ve gotten your attention, you’ll get what I mean in a second). In the exciting milieu of health and wellness, where multiple training styles and philosophies may co-exist in a saturated market (think HIIT, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, CrossFit, etc), many novices have indeed spent countless hours and sleepless nights ruminating on a specific training style they should embark on; when formulating their fitness goals or developing certain health habits.
In Singapore, there has been a recent burgeoning of boutique gyms and fitness spaces catering to highly specific training styles and techniques. These run the gamut from powerlifting-only gyms, spaces for perfecting your weightlifting techniques, and myriad other locations serving HIIT, CrossFit, kettlebell, rowing, suspension training, boxing, and general resistance training. Googling “best gyms in Singapore” would give you a clearer picture of what I mean. Presented with a bevy of options for the general population to choose from, it is not uncommon for proponents of a certain style of training to proclaim theirs as the “best” or “only” way of training; whatever your goals may be – shedding unwanted fat, attaining a leaner physique, developing a healthier lifestyle; among others. Just take a look at social media (be warned though, it’s a cesspit), and you’d be greeted with fitness zealots who swear by performing only the squat/bench/deadlift; or by staunch believers of getting your heart rate in a certain zone before you feel nauseous and pass out.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone tell me that their training style was far more superior to what someone else was doing, I’d be so flushed with cash right now I’d have no idea what to do with my sudden windfall. I’ve walked into (read: eavesdropping) bros debating why Olympic weightlifting should be the only way people ought to train, or why HIIT is just plain ‘nonsense’. I get it, once you’ve been indoctrinated into a specific idea of what a fitness regime should be, it’s hard to consider alternate viewpoints (this is very much like religion, but let’s not open Pandora’s Box now shall we?). People tend to take a huge dump on training styles that they feel do not match up to theirs. (I’m going to start a trend and call these people ‘Training Gatekeepers’. Go hashtag this and share it, I want to see if it catches on.)
But in all seriousness, not only does this act of ‘gatekeeping’ make one seem awfully pompous (especially on social media, but hey, it’s a free for all over there) but in the grander scheme of things, purveying the idea of an “optimal” training style only invokes doubt amongst novices wishing to take their first steps to achieve their health and fitness goals. Also, we really don’t need any more misinformation or false ideas cropping up in our digitally enabled lives, now that literally anyone wearing a set of fancy athleisure can post fitness content (I’m looking at you, Chloe Ting).
Well after all this incessant rambling, you may ask me, then, oh great oracle, what factors should be considered when deciding on the type of fitness program to embark on. In a nutshell, I suggest that – spoiler alert – any style of training would be the right one for you if it follows 5 basic principles:
- Goal specific – The training style allows you to achieve what you set out to achieve, be it competing in an amateur MMA fight, mastering a kipping pull-up, or performing your first clean and jerk. If your goal is to pull sumo in a powerlifting meet, you don’t want to be wasting your precious time training your right hook in a boxing gym. Ergo, you need to really brainstorm and formulate your goals, write them down, revisit them frequently, and stick to them. Get a support system if needed so that you will always be reminded of why you’re on this specific training program. More on this in a bit.
- Progression – You see yourself advancing in various ways, be it learning new techniques, moving faster, lifting heavier, performing more reps etc. Hence, there needs to be a proper training program and system in place, regardless of the training style you partake in. Will you eventually be moving on from single kettlebell snatches to double kettlebells? Will you be evaluated at the end of a 4-week block on your AMRAP for dumbbell thrusters? My advice? Before you sign up, ask the coaches or managers what a typical micro/meso/macrocycle would be for clients. Enquire about the progression of existing trainees and ask if you can speak to them to get a clearer sense of progression plans already in place. How is progress monitored? What are the plans in place if you plateau? All important questions you should ask.
- Adherence – You can stick to the damn program. You can commit a set number of hours a week, every week, to get down and dirty with whatever you signed up for. Falling off the bandwagon is often caused by poor adherence, and this is usually caused by inept planning. If you sign up for a HIIT class that is only held at 6 am on Sundays on the other side of the island, and you have problems getting out of bed, then you and I both know you’re not going to adhere to this plan. Thus, not only do you need to make time in your daily calendar to schedule these sessions, but more importantly, you need to know your own commitment levels and dedication. On this topic, you also need to know what is best for your body. If you are a heavy-set male in your 50s with a beer gut and no exercise experience, you know you’re definitely not going to keep up with chiseled 20-something females in a pole dancing class. Find something more in your league first and then move on from there.
- Sense of Community – You feel like you’re in a safe space with like-minded individuals who are there to spur each other on. You make new friends, you hang out after a tough session, you meet even on non-training days…I can’t emphasize how important a sense of community is for you in this long game. Even when your motivation levels are down, seeing familiar faces gearing up for a session ahead would be the spark you might just need. This links back to point number 1. If you have specific goals and embark on a training style tailored to these goals, you’re bound to meet people who share the same drive and passion. This community will eventually be the support system that reminds you of your ultimate purpose in being there.
- Enjoyability – The training you embark on needs to be enjoyable for you. Enough said. In my experience, the best kind of training is the one where you truly feel alive the moment you step into the facility, and the worst are ones where you just don’t even want to show up. If you have absolutely no interest in learning kettlebell movements, then you’re going to dread heading to that specific kettlebell-only gym. This one’s a bit tricky, because finding something you truly enjoy often takes some trial and error, and a whole load of patience. My advice would be to enquire about a trial class and see if this is something you could come to truly enjoy. Just like a buffet, you sample the options then go back for more of what you like. Unless you’re a voracious animal, then you do you, buddy.
And there you go. The best training style would be the one that captures all these principles, though this list is obviously not exhaustive. Until next time, stay sane and healthy.