From strength to strength: Singapore's top powerlifters make an international impact

From strength to strength: Singapore's top powerlifters make an international impact

Channel NewsAsia·2017-12-13 11:10

What goes into becoming a record-breaking powerlifter?

Powerlifter Matthew Yap, during the deadlift segment at the Asian Classic Powerlifting Championship. He later went on to set a new world record in the Total. (Photo: Matthew Yap)

SINGAPORE: Imagine being able to lift three times your own body weight. For most people, such a proposition would be impossible. 

But Singapore's powerlifters can do that and more. In recent months, they have been in the spotlight as they take their feats of strength onto the international stage, repeatedly breaking records. 

Last week, Singaporean teen powerlifter Matthew Yap broke the squat world record in the sub-junior category in his under-66kg weight class at the Asian Classic Powerlifting Championship in India. In doing so, he broke his own world record set in June at the World Powerlifting Championships in Belarus.

Female powerlifter Hana Shuck also did Singapore proud last Friday (Dec 8) in India, setting Asian records en route to four gold medals in the Asian Championships.

Over the weekend, local powerlifter Clinton Lee came close to breaking the squat world record  for the men’s under-74kg Open category in the Oceania Championships & Pacific Invitationals 2017 held at Park Avenue Convention Centre. 

Singaporean powerlifter Clinton Lee. (Photo: Noor Farhan)

With a number of Singaporeans hitting the headlines in this sport, powerlifters are fast catching the public eye.

Their prowess has also left some people wondering how powerlifters prepare and train for such feats of strength.

“EASY” SPORT TO PICK UP?

Only three lifts are being contested in a typical powerlifting competition: The squat, deadlift and bench press.

All three barbell lifts are straight-forward, staple exercises for most gym-goers who train using compound movements.

As such, the powerlifters that Channel NewsAsia spoke to generally agreed that the sport is relatively easy for most people to pick up.

“I would say it is easy, in a sense that it is accessible for anyone to come and try it,” said Clinton Lee. “But the challenge is in progression, which lies in knowledge and regular training. The interesting thing about powerlifting is you can’t see it solely in terms of genetics: Anyone can do it, given a strong commitment to training.

“You may see the sport as intimidating, but we’re already used to it. You may see a barbell that is over 200kg, but to us it’s nothing,” added Lee, who estimates that there are about 80 regular participants in local competitions.

“Heavy weights may look scary to a normal person, but our joints are already conditioned to it.”

Female powerlifter Shuck said powerlifting is suitable for most training goals, be it to lose weight or gain muscle mass. “I think powerlifting is especially good for women as well… There are always people within the community to share advice,” she said.

“There’s a lot of mental dedication to the sport as well.”

CLOCKING HOURS IN THE GYM

As with most strength sports, excellence is often obtained after countless hours of weight training in the gym. For Lee, his day job as a personal trainer in a gym makes it relatively easy for him to put in the hours in training.

“As a powerlifter, we still go through our daily lives. For me, I’m a coach.. so for seven days a week I’ll be in the gym,” said the 24-year-old, who picked up the sport to become physically tougher.  “I end coaching around 730pm and then I’d start my own training.”

Local powerlifter Clinton Lee, loading up the weight plates on the barbell before his training. (Photo: Noor Farhan)

“Just because I live in the gym doesn’t mean I can train any time I want. If I were to train in the afternoon, I won’t have enough focus to coach and pay attention to my clients,” he added.

Training sessions are designed with specific objectives to meet for every session, according to Lee. “Every time I train, it’s a learning journey. To be specific, I set objectives for myself at every training sessions,” he said.

“For example, today I’m training to keep myself more upright for my squats, and so I take steps to improve myself in that regard.”

For undergraduate Shuck, training means balancing her time between school and gym. “A lot of sacrifice, in terms of time and effort, will have to be put in the gym,” said the 22-year-old, whose Asian records for the squat and deadlift are 170kg.

“I train four to five times a week, for three to four hours, dedicating every training for upcoming competitions.

“It means having to sacrifice diet and partying, especially. Closer to the competition, I’d really have to fine-tune what I’m putting into my body,” she added.

MANAGEABLE DIET

Because powerlifting requires considerable energy output, its athletes need to consume a certain amount of calories each day. Unlike bodybuilding, however, powerlifting's dietary requirements are not as strict.

“On average, we do follow certain requirements on what we need to eat but nothing extreme such as no salt and only eating chicken breast,” said Lee, who is ranked eighth in the world in his category.

“We still require sodium to train so that we don’t get cramps, we also need sugars to get ourselves energetic. We eat like normal people, just that we pay more attention in terms of whether the food is deep fried or not,” he added.

“For myself, I consume 3,000 calories per day. I also need only 70g of fat, which I try to stick to.

“What I do is cook my own rice and chicken. So the rest are carbohydrates, which I eat quite a bit of. I still enjoy what I eat, it’s about being consistent and eating in moderation,” said Lee.

Under-84kg women’s junior Asian champion Shuck keeps to a diet that is similar to Lee’s. “I eat only three meals a day and am not into snacks,” she said. “A lot of people encourage six smaller meals throughout the day. But because of my schedule, I opt for just three proper meals a day.”

Asian junior powerlifting champion Hana Shuck in action at a local event. (Photo: Yasin Rahim)

“I eat roughly 1800 to 2000 calories a day. Breakfast is usually some form of Greek yoghurt or egg sandwiches. Lunch is rice, meat and vegetables and it’s the same with dinner.

“I then adjust my rice intake according to what my training schedule is for that day,” added Shuck.

NATIONAL PRIDE

For both Lee and Shuck, being able to represent Singapore on the international stage is what makes their efforts worthwhile. “It’s no longer about doing it for myself, but rather for everyone in the country. I try to inspire and prove that anyone can do it as long as they have the drive and are willing to fight for it,” said Lee.

“If you are at the top, you will think of different objectives as compared to younger lifters,” observed Lee. “The younger ones tend to want to break their own personal records, which is good as you want to set achievements which you can hit. For me now, the goal is to obtain world marks.”

Although he failed in his world record attempt on Sunday (Dec 10), Lee is vowing to do the nation proud next year. “Whenever such things happen, I never feel that it’s a setback. The positive thing I see is that I’m the first Singaporean to powerlift a 700kg total in the country.”

“What’s next for me is for me to continue my grind and focus on the world championships in six months next year.” 

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