Groups doing bodyweight exercises in public areas getting popular

Groups doing bodyweight exercises in public areas to build strength, stamina and flexibility are popping up across the island

From Monday to Friday, Mr Ng Bee Kia does this workout: 300 push-ups, 90 dips and a 2km brisk walk.

This would not be a shabby routine for a young athlete at his peak, but here is the twist: Mr Ng is 70 years old and he has been doing this for the past nine years.

The retired grandfather of one and former national competitive weightlifter is the oldest member of Team Strong Silvers, formed in October 2013 to promote an active lifestyle for senior citizens.

There are seven members in this group, but do not expect gentle line-dancing or zumba from them. These fit-as-a-fiddle friends between the ages of 45 and 70 practise calisthenics, a form of exercise in which one's bodyweight is used as resistance to build strength, stamina and flexibility. Popular moves include push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and squats.

The impressive tricks Mr Ng and his pals Ngai Hin Kwok, 66, and Ng Sui Chi, 57, can do as a result of their calisthenics training will put the toughest youngsters to shame. Case in point? One of their signature moves involves doing push-ups… on top of one another.

Colloquially known as a street workout as it is usually practised in public areas such as outdoor parks, the calisthenics movement started gaining global popularity in 2011, when videos of people doing gravitydefying tricks such as the human flag - a feat of strength which involves holding a vertical pole and lifting one's body till it is parallel to the ground - started circulating on YouTube.

In the past two years, street workouts have picked up steam in Singapore, with 16 groups now registered under the Singapore Calisthenics Academy - the official body helping to promote the exercise here. One local group, Bar Brothers, was even featured in a viral video sponsored by POSB Bank last October.

These local street workout groups hold weekly sessions at stadiums or neighbourhood fitness corners across the island, with children and elderly alike coming together. Timings and locations for the sessions are usually announced on their Facebook pages.

And while some groups charge a nominal one-time payment ranging from between $90 and $125 for two months of thrice-weekly sessions, others offer the workouts for free. It is no surprise then that there are now more than 2,000 people in Singapore who are avid street workout buffs.

The local interest in street workouts is in part thanks to the efforts of Mr Muhammad Firdaus Fidrishah, president of the Singapore Calisthenics Academy.

The 27-year-old has been championing the sport since 2012, after he came across local submissions for the popular Japanese obstacle show Sasuke, or Ninja Warrior, on YouTube.

"I'd been doing calisthenics since 2011, but back then, it was really under the radar," he recalls. "So when I found the videos with Singaporeans doing street workout moves, I knew I had to try to make connections and promote the sport."

He started by leaving comments on every video he could find and, in the process, built a Facebook community of like-minded street workout fans under the group moniker, The Art of Gravity.

Since then, the number of practitioners has grown quite organically - in part due to the community-based nature of the workouts. Today, the wide spectrum of groups in Singapore means there is something for everyone, from calisthenics pros to enthusiastic newbies.

Says Mr Mohammed Razif, 28, a co-founder of Bar Lions, a local calisthenics group: "Because it's done outdoors and in a group, it really brings people together - no matter your fitness level. Plus everyone is pushing his limits so it's a great way to bond and stay motivated."

The group holds free two-hour sessions at Jurong West Stadium every weekend and usually has a turnout of 10 to 12 regulars looking to stay fit.

Realtor Idayu Jumari, who picked up calisthenics two months ago with her 17-year-old son, says it is a fun and costeffective way to stay healthy. She attends classes at a fitness corner in Kembangan with the group Bar-Hijrah at least twice a week.

"At first I was intimidated because it seemed physically daunting, but I've really enjoyed it," says Ms Idayu, who is in her 40s. "The instructors tailored the workouts for me and it's fun to work out together with a group in a public space. Sometimes passers-by even cheer us on."

One reason the sport has been so popular is that it relies on multiple muscle groups in the body to work together, unlike weight-training in a gym, which focuses on single muscle groups.

Says Mr Robert Ho, 45, the facilitator of Team Strong Silvers: "That's why it's a great way to keep fit, even for the elderly, because it helps improve coordination and can prevent falls."

Mr Ng, who has trained with the team since 2013, concurs, adding: "I used to have incredibly high cholesterol levels, but after picking up street workouts two years ago, I now have a clean bill of health."

Last December, the local street workout movement got another boost thanks to Noor Ashraf Jalal, 16, who became Singapore's first representative to the Street Workout World Championship, held in Kazakhstan.

He was placed in the top 30 despite being the youngest competitor among the 100 participants from 75 countries.

The Republic Polytechnic student tells SundayLife! that discovering the sport a year ago transformed him from being a victim of bullying at school to a stronger, more motivated and confident person.

"Street workouts connected me to a community that was encouraging and disciplined and this was the positive change I needed," he says. "I think camaraderie is reason enough for more Singaporeans to try this wonderful way to stay fit."

avarma@sph.com.sg