Do the zuu: Let your inner animal out

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 20, 2014

A new fitness workout that mimics animal movements has arrived here, but this one's not for the weak.

Called zuu, it is macho stuff that gets your heart pumping, sweat flowing and, yes, you working out like an animal.

One minute, you may be hopping like a kangaroo to work the quadriceps and, the next, you could be crawling on all fours like a bear.

No equipment is used in zuu - just your own weight and good old gravity.

Available only in Australia until recently, zuu was introduced here by Virgin Active, British tycoon Richard Branson's health and fitness club chain, which opened at Raffles Place last October.

The total body workout has an evolving repertoire of more than 100 moves that are based on high-intensity primal movement patterns of gorillas, bears, iguanas and frogs, and mixed with strength and endurance bodyweight exercises.

It involves repetitions of short, sharp bursts of strenuous activity, interspersed with brief rest periods. Done by competitive athletes to improve their speed and endurance, such high-intensity interval training is also becoming popular with fitness buffs.

Recently, the American College of Sports Medicine, a health and fitness organisation, named high-intensity interval training as the top global fitness trend for this year, based on an annual worldwide survey.

Agreeing, Mr Christian Mason, Virgin Active's operations director for South-east Asia, said: "Everyone has less leisure time. They gravitate to doing twice the work in half the time."

Mr Mason said there are ongoing talks to introduce zuu in the United Kingdom and in neighbouring countries such as Thailand.


Zuu, a registered training method with Fitness Australia, the country's health and fitness industry association, was created by Australian Nathan Helberg, previously a small-business owner and now a consultant in high-end physical conditioning,in 2005.

He felt that traditional gym and weight training had made him inflexible and he wanted to develop something that would not involve weights or machines but still strengthen the joints, ligaments and tendons.

In 2010, he introduced zuu to the sports community. Elite sports teams, such as those in the Australian Football League and the Australian Rugby League, used the workout to help them build speed and endurance.

A year later, Mr Mason approached Mr Helberg to bring the programme to Virgin Active Australia, albeit a slightly less-intense version than that used by professional sportsmen.

At the gym, a zuu session comes with loads of fast-paced feel-good pop music. The trainer works alongside participants, urging them to repeat the steps. "It's about getting people to push themselves harder than they have done so," said Mr Mason, now a zuu master trainer.

Zuu also subscribes to peer encouragement, so be prepared to do lots of high-fives throughout a 30- to 45-minute session.

Banker Audrey Gan, 32, who does zuu twice a week, said it was hard at first but the music and the coaches made it fun. "I used muscles that I've never used before," she said.

Her strength and agility have improved, she added, which makes getting up from a sitting position on the floor much easier than before.

Banker Jimmy Toh, 32, said the "weird movements" like the gorilla move have made him more agile and flexible.

Although the training is tough - a half-hour session of zuu can burn at least 530 calories, compared with about 115 calories in a 45-minute hot yoga session and 370 calories in a 45-minute zumba session - every person gets to pace himself.

There is no beginner class in zuu, though that is one of its attractions, said Mr Mason.


As zuu combines benefits from different forms of workouts, it fits the bill for developing cardiovascular fitness, strength, endurance, power and flexibility, said Dr Frankie Tan, who heads the Sports Science Centre of the Singapore Sports Institute at the Singapore Sports Council.

It could be useful to those looking for a short but intense and mentally challenging exercise routine, he said.

But Dr Roger Tian, a consultant sports physician at the Singapore Sports Medicine Centre and Changi Sports Medicine Centre, cautioned that some degree of fitness and good health is needed. "The exercises are performed rapidly and many are done with the body horizontal," he said.

This, in turn, increases the load on the cardiovascular system, said Dr Tian. Those with heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure should seek a doctor's advice before taking part, he added.

As the workout uses the shoulders, wrists, knees and ankles to support one's body weight, these joints and their associated muscles and ligaments could be prone to injuries, such as sprains and tears, said Dr Tian.

While it may feel liberating to mimic animal movements, not all of them would come naturally to a human body.

"Movements that cause the joints to move beyond their permitted range may increase the risk of injury," said sports physiotherapist Fabian Yeo of the Singapore Sports Institute. "Repeated, quick and sudden high-impact movements will stress the integrity of the joints in the body."

For example, fast and repeated deep squatting can stress the knee joint, he said.

Participants should have a good foundation in muscular strength and endurance, said Mr Yeo.

It is important to start at a pace that you are comfortable with and gradually increase this over time, he added.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 20, 2014

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