#Swolemates Through Thick And Thin

In this interview, #swolemates Natalie (@nattylifts) and Josh (@tidusjwoo) share their journey as a couple; riding through various life stages, challenges they've faced, and how they’ve managed (and manage) to keep fit together.

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Natty works full time in the banking industry, and is a fitness enthusiast and advocate; Josh recently graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Law Degree, and is currently juggling studying for the bar and being a trainer at F45 Amoy Street. Both busy individuals in their own right, the down-to-earth #fitspo couple keep things relatable, using their social feeds to motivate others who aspire to lead healthier lives.

Tell us about your journey into fitness?

Natalie ("N"): I started doing yoga when I was about 14/15 and went to the gym occasionally, but mostly to do “baby weights”. At that point, I wasn’t entirely sure of what I was doing. It was only after I met Josh that I started getting more interested in weight training - he was spending so much time in the gym prepping for his bodybuilding competition that I decided to find out for myself where that interest stemmed from. After some time, and some guidance from him (due to his personal training background), I realized that I was pretty good at the whole weightlifting thing.

I saw physical changes in the way my body looked, and I got a lot stronger. I guess I never looked back from there.

Josh ("J"): As an overweight kid who was in the TAF (trim and fit club) in primary school, I chronically failed physical fitness tests till Secondary 3. After a jarring wake up call that highlighted my lack of physical fitness during a dragon-boating session, I set out to lose weight, get fitter and grow some muscles.

Over the next few years, this would see me join the school's canoeing team, squash team, and eventually run a full marathon just after my 18th birthday. While I had managed to lose some weight and get fitter during those 'transformative years', I had still been unable to achieve my desired physique.

A tumultuous first year of army in 2011 saw me putting my #physiquegoals on hold, though my determination to sculpt my physique eventually led to me competing in my first ever bodybuilding show - Muscle and Fitness War, in January 2013.

Along the way, I picked up an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Certified Personal Trainer Certificate so that I could help others avoid committing the same mistakes that I once made on my fitness journey.

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Many ladies are still afraid of lifting weights for fear of “bulking”. Thoughts?

N: I have to say that when I was younger, and before I started consistently going to the gym and doing weight training, I had the misconception that lifting would make me bigger. This probably stemmed from being ill-informed, and drawing the wrong conclusions i.e. seeing men weight train and getting "big", and therefore wrongly assuming lifting weights would also consequentially make women bulky.

At that point in time, being skinny was also "in vogue". I was conscious about wanting to look thin, just like all the models I saw in fashion magazines. A combination of those reasons was probably why I was also only using the "baby weights" at the gym. Josh helped to quell those fears of "bulking up" when I first started training with barbells, by explaining the mechanism in which one "bulks up" - a combination of hormones and nutrition. My built is generally more athletic and I put on mass fairly easily, but he explained that even then, it definitely still takes effort to get bulky! Most women don't nearly have enough testosterone to build large muscles naturally.

There is SOME truth to getting bulkier when you start lifting weights, but apart from some muscle gain, any extra size usually stems from people eating more than what their bodies need, and all that excess calories end up leading to weight gain. So ladies, unless you're dead set against putting on ANY amount of muscle beyond what you need to function, purely lifting weights really won't turn you into the hulk overnight ;)

J: On my part, I don't believe in that myth, and I do try to disabuse my female friends of such notions. In fact, I was the one who first encouraged Natty to start lifting so...I guess my actions speak for themselves.

From a scientific point of view, women don't produce as much testosterone as men, so it's really not that easy for them to "bulk" up. Furthermore, if they are really so afraid of bulking up, simply watching what they eat and not eating such a great caloric surplus would be sufficient to ensure that they don't balloon.

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What are top 3 myths you hear about health, fitness & wellness?

N & J: The above! A lot of women still think that they will "get big" if they train with heavy weights. In addition, in no particular order:

Myth 1. You can exercise away a bad diet.

  • You can't. Not really. The time taken to consume a 1,000 calorie burger is but a fraction of the time it would take to burn it off.

Myth 2. You have to eat chicken breast and broccoli everyday if you want to lose weight.

  • No, that's not true. You forgot about fish and sweet potatoes! Seriously speaking though, losing weight is a function of calories consumed and calories expended. Just like your bank account. If there's more going in than going out, your bank account (or fat stores) will grow, and vice versa.

Myth 3. Cardio is the only way to lose weight.'

  • Nope, not true. Think about cardio like the salary of a shift worker - you work x hours, you get x dollars. Likewise, you run x mins, you burn x calories. But if you stop working, you stop earning; likewise, if you stop running, you stop burning.

On the other hand, weight training (and in turn, muscle building) is akin to increasing passive income. By putting on more muscle, you increase your body's basal metabolic rate (since muscles use more calories than fat), and hence increase the amount of calories that your body passively uses/burns! IMO, in a proper training regimen, both cardio and weight training have their place. It just depends on your specific goals.

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How did you meet?

N & J: Strangely enough, we didn’t meet anywhere close to the gym! We were actually introduced through a mutual friend at a barbecue, and the rest is history!

How do you motivate one another?

N: Josh is really supportive of the things that I do, and that helps because I know that someone's always got my back. But having said that, he also inspires me to be a better version of myself (and not just in the gym!).

J: She helps by “toning me down” - I tend to be more intense and she is the one who reminds me to approach things in a more “chill” manner. This obviously helps in the different spheres in my life - from my profession as a lawyer, to taking part in competitions, etc.

Any advice for couples?

N: I would tell couples to be open - especially to new things that your partner is interested in as well. When I first met J, as mentioned above, I didn't know much about weightlifting. Although I eventually fell in love with it, one of the reasons why I tried it out was because I wanted to spend time with him, and understand why he was hooked.

Similarly, although I was initially against J taking part in bodybuilding competitions where he was parading practically naked on stage - I grew more open to the concept and eventually even took part in one myself (NutriGirl).

J: Definitely to be patient. When I first started helping Nat and teaching her about lifting, it was tough. I was really impatient - I didn't understand why she would forget something after one session… something that was so second nature to me. Thankfully I didn't give up - because who knew what would have happened if I did?

I also recall running with her in a race - I'm a naturally competitive person and halfway through the race, it became pretty clear that I would not be clocking in my best time if I chose to run with Nat. That was one of the times where I had to let go, be patient, and choose to enjoy the race for what it was: a chance to spend time together and acknowledge that Nat was doing her best.

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As both of you seem to have been and are going through very different stages in life - what do you think was/is the most important thing that supported you through the growth and challenges?

N: Working a full time job means only having nights and weekends free. This was comparatively a lot less time than when I was studying, where I had pockets of free time during the day where I didn't have class. When I started working, time became a lot more scarce, and I had to make a choice between spending time with my family, Josh, friends, or going to the gym.

Initially I thought that I could kill 2 birds with 1 stone by going to the gym with Josh after work. But that didn't quite work out because we'd usually be too tired by then to get a proper workout session, and I couldn't always keep to a proper schedule because my working hours can be unpredictable.

I started going to the gym in the mornings before work, even if it meant forgoing a couple of hours of sleep, because I would consequently have one less activity that would compete for my time in the evenings.

So I would have to say that being able to compromise is an important factor in supporting us through the growth and challenges. We had to do this quite a fair bit over the course of our relationship - Josh serving NS while I was studying, Josh starting university and me being overseas on a student exchange program, Josh going overseas for his exchange program while I started work etc. As Josh has recently graduated and would be starting work soon, I'm sure we'd have to relook at our schedules again, but I'm pretty certain we'd figure something out.

J: Being willing to accommodate each other is probably the most important thing that has supported us through everything.

One of the reasons why I started going to and being a trainer at F45 Amoy Street (even though there's another F45 800m away from my house) is because that's the most convenient location for her to proceed to her workplace right after. I've also tried to spend my daytimes studying so that I could spend the night times (after Nat finishes work) with her.

What are some of the challenges with being so busy?

N: It is definitely hard to coordinate schedules - especially when he was in school and I was working. In fact, I sometimes had to choose between clocking in a gym session after work and meeting him.

J: Actually, one of the reasons I started coaching at F45 was because of this whole schedule thing! Nat was getting increasingly stressed at work because she could only clock in hours at the gym after work. Even then, she wouldn't always be able to go to the gym because of last minute meetings or having to work overtime. This also meant that I also was not able to see much of her especially if gym sessions ended late. I figured that if I became a coach and started training at 6am, she would be more motivated to come for those morning classes - and I’d get to see her too.

After all, we can’t control what time work ends (and therefore what we do after work) but we can control what we do before.

What do you do in your spare time?

N & J: We usually do a lot of fitness/movement related stuff - outside of the four walls of the gym. We also love to travel (the beach is our fav!), eat (we’re huge foodies — just check out our instastories), etc. We’re really just normal people and enjoy spending time together doing things that most couples enjoy doing. Given that we are so busy with work etc, we may not always have the time, but we try our best to discover new things.

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What is one thing that is out of your comfort zone that you'd like to try / challenge yourself, and one thing that you'd like to challenge your partner to take on?

J: Personally, completing an ultra-marathon (100km) is something that's on my bucket list, though i'm not quite sure whether I'd be able to complete one (42km was hellish enough). I'd also like to learn how to fight - Boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ and MMA.

As for challenging Nat...I'd like her to train for a half marathon (or maybe a marathon?) with me. It's been awhile since i ran more than 12km, so having a partner is great for program adherence, and for Nat, running is one of her weaknesses, so that's a boundary I'd like to see her push.

N: Josh is right...I am really terrible at long distance running, and if there is one thing I should challenge myself to do, it would be to run a 10km run. I think I have pretty good anaerobic fitness, thanks to all the high intensity workouts I do. However, ask me to run, and I'd find myself getting winded barely 500m into the run.

One thing I'd like to challenge Josh to take on would be....YOGA.

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What are simple steps busy individuals can take to kickstart or sustain a healthy lifestyle?

N: This is actually something I have been working towards for awhile now. I dish out workout and nutrition tips for busy people, based on my own experiences. We are all busy in our own ways, and while it is important to live healthier, we shouldn't have to kill ourselves over it!

Some steps (literally HAHA) anyone can take would be turning your commute anywhere into a workout. For example, instead of taking an uber, why not walk or cycle? Instead of taking the lift, why not clock in some extra steps by taking the stairs? These small changes to your lifestyle can add up, and honestly doesn't require much monetary investment.

J: Find a #swolemate to workout with? Seriously though, having friends to workout with really helps with adhering to a training regimen. Even for a relatively active individual such as myself, it always helps to have friends working out alongside with you, especially if it is a gruelling workout i.e. interval sprints on the track, or an intense HIIT workout.

For those whose jobs/working hours prevent them from meeting up with friends regularly, it could be as simple as buying a fitness tracker that reminds you to get up and walk every hour/to hit a step goal and/or to start small and do a couple of tabata rounds. Since each round of tabata only takes 4 mins, it's an efficient way to get the most bang for your buck, especially if you're just starting out.

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What message do you hope to convey to your followers?

J: The message is definitely about sustainability and finding a lifestyle that suits you. We've both taken part in competitions where quick fixes are sometimes glamorized - we've also met many individuals who have, in the pursuit of an “ideal” body, fallen prey to eating disorders. Ironically, putting their own health at risk in the pursuit of what they believe is health.

We are firm believers that it's about finding a lifestyle that suits you - not just for a short term goal but for life. This doesn't mean gorging on ice cream all day, but it doesn't mean living off a diet of chicken and broccoli. It's about finding something that works for you - and meshes well with other aspects of your life (work, relationships, etc).

We also want to show others that there IS more to life than working out. If you take a look at our feed, we try to post other things we do such as travel, eat, just spending time together.

N: For me, I also try to use my account to show that it is possible to juggle between work and working out/keeping fit. Often, many look to Instagram accounts of fitness models for inspiration, and in admiration…but sometimes give up before they even get started because of how impossible it seems to achieve that kind of a body. What many don't realise is that most of these models are full time athletes, and their lives surround their training, nutrition, and physique. Given that, it's obviously not practical to compare ourselves with them.

Working in a full time job, I definitely know how tough it can be to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle - but i also know and want to share that it IS possible - through motivation, community, and also realising it's about sustainability and not about perfection.

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Inspired to get moving? We sure are! Join Broc & Bells' ambassadors Nat & Josh as they lead you (& your swolemate) through a buddy workout.

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