Two Instagram fitness stars with thousands of followers

Meet Georgina Poh and Darren Stephen Lim, whose vidoes of their workouts have attracted thousands of followers on their Instagram accounts

Mr Darren Stephen Lim. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Mr Darren Stephen Lim. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Ms Georgina Poh. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

117,000 Instagram followers and counting

Ms Georgina Poh is sponsored from head to toe and has drawn 117,000 followers on her Instagram account @sugarrandspice in just over two years.

The tanned and toned 21-year-old first wandered into a gym two years ago. "My friend invited me so I thought I'd give lifting weights a try. I found gym work very different from running or the other sports I had been doing."

Ms Poh, a freelance personal trainer who is studying for a sports science degree with private university Edith Cowan here, adds: "After the workout, I felt satisfied and accomplished."

She was hooked and soon started posting pictures of herself working out. Around the same time, one of her photos landed on Instagram's Popular Page, which is based on various factors besides the number of "likes". The number of her followers soared.

These days, she usually posts 15-second videos of herself doing various workouts, including targeted back, arms, chest and leg exercises. She puts up the footage almost every day and most of the clips show her in the gym or at home, working out with resistance bands, weights and gym balls.

"I started posting the videos to track my own fitness development and for my followers," she says. "I want to show them quick and easy ways to work out."

With her large support base, sponsors have come a-knocking. Her apparel, shoes, accessories and bags are sponsored and she gets free sports supplements and skincare products. Various companies and blogshops also give her free clothing, eyelash extensions and hair and nail treatments.

In return, she credits these companies on her Instagram photos. Despite all the freebies and followers, she says she does not let fame get to her head.

"I know there are better fitness models in terms of physique and strength. I remind myself to be humble because it's very easy to lose yourself when you get more popular," she says. "My boyfriend reminds me to stay grounded too."

Last year, she spent about $1,000 on a four-month course under the American Council on Exercise and is now a certified personal trainer. "I wanted to gain more knowledge on gym work and to help girls keep fit and have a good self-image," she says.

She is no stranger to the insecurities that plague young women, having gone on an extreme diet when she was younger because of an unkind remark.

When she was 16, a friend told her she had fat thighs. She was then a school netball player and did not care much about her physical appearance. But the comment made her self-conscious.

For two weeks after that, she ate only a meal a day ("two to three mouthfuls of rice, some meat and fruits") and recalls losing 5kg. "But I felt weak, sick and nauseous, and I asked myself, 'Why am I torturing my body this way?'," she recounts.

Ms Poh, who weighs 60kg and is 1.71m tall, has not gone on any diet since. She says the experience strengthened her resolve to show others how "fulfilled and happy" working out makes her feel.

She works out four to five times a week and is taking muay thai classes. She has three full meals a day, abstains from soft drinks and limits her fast food intake to twice a month.

The certified personal trainer has five female clients aged 18 to 23 whom she trains at their homes or in parks. "I've had 14-year-old teenagers asking me to train them, but I tell them they don't need to be so hard on themselves at that age. They can just watch videos and pick up exercises from there," she says.

She charges between $60 and $80 for an hour-long session and customises the exercise routines to suit each client.

University student Vanessa Chuah, 19, came across her on Instagram this year and has been training with her since March. She says: "Georgina focuses on strengthening my whole body and I've grown stronger physically and have better self-esteem now."

Ms Poh says her clients have become her friends and she is thankful for her family's support. She has a younger brother and her parents run a watch business.

Her father, Mr Kasey Poh, 46, says: "I'm proud of her. I want her to remember to stay real and be herself."

Ms Poh says she has had her fair share of online haters, who remark that she looks "fat" and "ugly". Some have also made racist comments, she says. "I felt hurt but I've learnt not to focus on those comments."

She adds: "I hope I can turn my passion for fitness into a career. Perhaps I will go into rehabilitation work in the future."

Fitness model was a thin and sickly child

It is hard to image that Mr Darren Stephen Lim, now a sinewy fitness model and personal trainer, was once thin and sickly.

"I had childhood asthma and was constantly falling ill," says the 36-year-old bachelor, who has more than 4,200 followers on his Instagram account @dslasher.

His health improved during his teens when he started playing basketball and soccer.

While serving national service, he got hooked on a Japanese boxing manga series called Hajime no Ippo. "Many of the characters in that comic were ripped and I wanted to look like them," he says.

He started working out in the gym three times a week when he was 21 and says he saw a difference in his physique within six months. "My shoulders showed up. I could see they were more shapely."

Shortly after that, he earned a diploma in sports and leisure from a private school and became a certified personal trainer by age 23. His certification is from the Federation of International Sports, Aerobics and Fitness, which touts itself as the world's largest instructor certification agency. Graduates of its International Training Course receive an internationally recognised certificate.

"I took the course because I wanted to know the science of the body, to better understand how a body functions. I wanted to look good and be fit too," he says.

But he was also busy building up his career by working various jobs in retail and corporate communications. In 2006, however, his focus shifted towards fitness after he took up various health-related courses to upgrade his skills and knowledge.

"I realised there was a lot I did not know. I also learnt that to be a good trainer, I needed to put my clients' interests before my own," says the 1.73m-tall Mr Lim, who weighs 72kg.

He started taking in clients and trained them at their homes or condominium gyms.

In 2012, he started an Instagram account "for fun" and has been posting on it once every few days since last year. His pictures and videos show him working out with different types of equipment such as the Smart Muscle Board to train balancing and TRX Rip Trainer for multi-directional exercises with resistance.

One of his photos made it to Instagram's Popular Page last year and the number of his followers grew steadily.

Mr Lim, who set up his own gym called D.Fitness in East Coast Road last November, says he tries to post "something positive" each time. "I want to show that fitness is not just about brawn and nothing else."

He tries to infuse fun into his routines with a range of different workouts named after superheroes, such as Spiderman, Captain America and Ironman.

A Spiderman workout, for instance, entails climbing up a flight of stairs backwards and doing callisthenics, while a Captain America routine involves lunges, push-ups and movements with the Bosu ball, a fitness training device that he uses to mimic the character's shield-throwing actions.

One of his clients, housewife Sarah Saatchi, 33, attests to his creativity. The Iranian, who is based in Singapore, has trained with him for the past two years and says he can devise workouts without the use of tools. "He changes things around for me each time. He can give you a programme even if you don't have a gym," she says.

Mr Lim says exercises such as lunges, push-ups and squats can all be done without equipment.

He splits his time among about 70 clients, of whom 20 are based overseas. They came to know of him via social media and word-of-mouth. He charges between $100 and $180 for an hour-long session. For overseas clients, he gets them to send videos of themselves working out, then makes Skype calls or e-mails them to correct their movements and improve their workouts.

He maintains his personal fitness by working out five to six times a week in his gym.

Asked about the flip side to his growing online profile, he says he gets the occasional rude comment but shrugs it off. "Empty vessels make the most noise," he says.

He does not keep track of the number of followers he has on Instagram or the number of "likes" he gets for his photos.

"I'm just committed to making my body stronger and better, so that I can make others better," he adds.

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