The Muscle Women Of Singapore

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As a bodybuilder myself, I understand the sacrifices and difficulties one have to go through to obtain the perfect physique. Therefore, I respect all my brothers who are in this sport along with me. However, I have even higher respect for my sisters in the sport too, because other than just the strict diet and intense training, they have to face something we male bodybuilders will not – social stigma and also their not-so-anabolic natural hormonal environment.

Muscle Women Of Singapore

Still, against all odds, Singapore somehow is able to produce a disproportionately high number of successful female bodybuilders. In this article I have a chance to interview three very successful and up-and-coming female bodybuilders. Read about their diet, training and their views on female bodybuilding and society.

Melissa Sarah Wee

Melissa Sarah Wee (1)

What got you started bodybuilding?

I started training during my recovery from bulimia. The more effort I put in, the more results I see. I was hooked on building a better body then.

What’s your off-season diet like?

During my ‘off season’ I’m less strict on my diet. I have a cheat day every Sunday. I usually do a 3 day carb cycling – high carb, medium carb and low carb. My carb sources are from Bob’s Mill steel cut oats (just because I LOVE the texture), sweet potatoes, pumpkin, pasta and quinoa. Protein sources are the usual- chicken, beef, fish, eggs and I still take fat but not as high as when I’m on a ‘cut’. Yes I take more fat while I’m cutting as I do the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet when I’m leaning out. Supplements wise, I include Optimum Nutrition Pro Complex into my usual stack of ON’s Hydro Whey, Casein, BCAA, Beta Alanine, HMB, Creatine, Glutamine and Amino Energy.

What’s your off-season training like?

As I’m eating more calories during my off season, I prefer to lift heavier. I love combining powerlifting movements with bodybuilding exercises. Based on my past experience, German Volume Training has worked well for me for making good strength and muscle gains during the off season.

What motivates you to keep on going when times get tough?

I always set goals for myself. Whether they are short term or long term goals, I set them so that I won’t lose focus whenever I lose motivation. There is always something for me to work towards.

Melissa Sarah Wee (2)

What’s the hardest part of being a female bodybuilder?

I don’t consider myself a female bodybuilder. Yes I am building my body but I don’t identify myself as a bodybuilder. One of the most challenging part of living this lifestyle is keeping to the diet. Whether it’s the ‘off season’ diet or ‘pre contest’ diet, it can get quite challenging having to stick a routine. LOL. Somedays I just want to say ‘F**k this!’ and eat whatever I want anytime, any day, anywhere.

What are your plans in bodybuilding for the future?

Even though I am preparing for my first physique competition, being a long term competitor is not my goal. My plan is to give my all in this upcoming competition and then just pursue improving my physique.

What advice would you give to give to young girls who want to pursue bodybuilding or physique sports in general?

It doesn’t matter what your fitness goals are. We are all in this lifestyle together. Whether it’s to compete, or to fit into a smaller dress size or just to get healthy- there is no finish line. Fitness is a never ending journey. Whatever your goals are, remember that you need to live your life according to your own terms and not anyone else’s. I’m saying this because along the way, there will be people who will try to get you down – the naysayers, the haters. Remember that no one has the power to validate your value.

I have been training by myself all these years and at the end of the day, the only person whom I need to answer to is me. People judge me and talk shit about me all the time. In an Asian society where women are supposed to be of a certain image, I definitely do not fit the norm. I feel that I do not need to fit the mold just because society perceived that of a woman. This is my body. I love what I do and no one has the right to put a definition on what is beautiful or ugly. Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.

You have a huge following on Instagram. How does it feel to have so many people admiring you and telling you that you’re their idol and inspiration?

It motivates me to work even harder and to better myself each day. 🙂

Thara Begum Yeo

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What got you started bodybuilding?

I studied Mechanical Engineering in NUS and didn’t quite enjoy the environment there. I was very thin with bad posture, and had inferiority complex, and I was always experiencing lower back pain and weak knees due to a car accident when I was 14.

My life back then was all about memorizing mathematical formulas and understanding computer programming. So one fine day, during my break-time, instead of going to the library to revise my school work, I went to my school gym to hang around. Same as like many other girls, I didn’t know how to use the equipments there. I didn’t know what was a bench press for, or which muscle group a lat pulldown is working. But it was because of this feeling of being very “lost” in the gym, that got me become so determined to want to know what “gym training” was all about.

Hence, on my next visit to the library, instead of the usual routine of looking up for engineering textbooks, I went to the sports section to see if I could get any info on “gym training”, just to try my luck. Surprisingly, I found books on bodybuilding and nutrition! I even found an ISSA textbook for personal trainers! Those books actually got my enthusiasm revving up. I read and re-read the science in bodybuilding and nutrition and decided to experiment them on my body!!

So I did my level-best to eat small, frequent meals, and plucked up my courage and returned to the gym to try out the equipments. Honestly, I had absolutely no clue on what muscle group I was training, but I just kept trying. The funny thing was, I became more eager to wake up early each morning and travel to school, not to attend the lectures and tutorials, but to use the school gym instead. I read a lot on training and nutrition, asked around for tips and advice, and stayed committed to eating my muscle-building foods. From days of training, it became months of training, and from months of training, it then became a couple of years of training. I had already graduated from NUS, started working as a personal trainer, and met my husband in the process. Then in my 4th year of training, I finally stepped on the stage for my first time at the Shawn Rhoden Classic 2013 in Manila, and competed under the women’s physique category.

What’s your off-season diet like?

I always believe in eating clean, even in the off-season. I make sure I have more than enough macronutrients to gain lean muscle mass as much as possible. I really really love steak and pasta or panini with extra chicken and lots of BBQ sauce after a heavy and intense workout!

What’s your off-season training like?

Very heavy and high volume. Rep range is definitely not more than 12 reps and about 6-8 sets per exercise.

What motivates you to keep on going when times get tough?

I believe that it is my destiny to become a bodybuilder, like a calling from God. Acknowledging the fact that I am designed to bodybuild, my mind then commands my body to push through each tough day, regardless of a high carb or a low carb day, or a heavy or a high-rep training day, just to sculpt my physique to perfection.

Furthermore, I don’t think I will ever complain about eating the same bodybuilding-foods everyday as boring because I wasn’t even eating well in the past and people often labeled me an anorexic.

Thara Begum Yeo

What’s the hardest part of being a female bodybuilder?

Well, I’m just an ordinary girl, with tremendous passion in bodybuilding. Of course I’ve received rude stares whenever I travel about, such as in train stations and in shopping malls. But it is just a matter of me getting used to all these attentions. Besides, my husband is always around to safeguard me.

What are your plans in bodybuilding for the future?

I would like to win another 1 or 2 more contests, establish my personal training business with my husband, and then retire to have kids.

Joan Liew

Joan Liew (2)

What got you started bodybuilding?

I had always been intrigued with fitness since as young as 8 years old. Though I was too young to start on anything then, I began to develop a strong interest towards weight training in my teens. There was no influence from any family members or friends, so the passion was simply in my blood. When I picked up my first copy of Muscle and Fitness then, I knew I wanted to be a bodybuilder. I started training seriously at the age of 17.

What’s your off-season diet like?

I eat generally healthy, about 5 meals a day. I maintain a good ratio of my macronutrients according to my daily requirements.
Due to my busy work schedule, I keep my meals basic. I do not have the time to experiment with recipes or create large variety of foods.

What’s your off-season training like?

My training does not differ tremendously off season and pre contest, but I focus on refining my weak points during off season. I train daily, each workout at an average of 3 hours.

What motivates you to keep on going when times get tough?

The passion. I see training as my daily dose of exercise, which is integral for my mental and physical well being. I need to train to relieve the stress I get at work. The training helps me to regain mental concentration and physical energy somehow, and a much better blood circulation. I feel my day is complete with a good workout.

For pre contest period, it does get really tough especially from 4 weeks out when the physical strain on the body starts to take effect, coupled with the strict dietary regime. During that time, I just have to keep my focus and hang on. This is the nature of competitive sports. When it gets closer to the show, much of the strength is mental. The fittest and the strongest will make it.

Joan Liew (1)

What’s the hardest part of being a female bodybuilder?

The hardest part of being a female bodybuilder is the amount of sacrifices we have to make and the odds we have to overcome to sustain in the sport.

Somehow, there seems to be an association of “muscles on women” with “unattractive” in general, but I must say, it is much better these days as compared to 20 years ago when I first started training. Today, much more people are showing appreciation towards female bodybuilding in Singapore. I want to prove to everyone that muscular women can be attractive and feminine too.

Females have to train very hard as our bodies are very different to that for men’s, and tremendous amount of work is needed to build lean muscle mass and to bring the body fat levels down (especially for a competition when the body fat level needs to be below the normal range).

What are your plans in bodybuilding for the future?

For myself, I will continue to train to improve my physique. I certainly hope to see the sport growing in Singapore but there are external factors surrounding the sport that are beyond my control. As an athlete, I remain focused to my training and see how I can progress. Going forward, I would like to compete at a higher level to push myself to improve.

What advice would you give to give to young girls who want to pursue bodybuilding or physique sports in general?

Just start training and be consistent. Be patient, because it takes time to build. It took me 20 years to win the Arnold’s, so do not expect overnight results. You need to be very resilient, as there will be many challenges along the way but be prepared to take it on and overcome them.

What is the difference between the female physique and bodybuilding category and do you think it’ll play in your advantage?

Women’s Physique has a much heavier emphasis on femininity and overall beauty in addition to the usual judging criteria (symmetry, muscle definition, muscularity etc) but not as much on muscle size per se as in bodybuilding. There are also changes to the compulsory poses and costume regulations. I like the Physique class as it had always been my style to have that “girly” element on and off stage.

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