Fit and fab

CrossFit class offers strength in numbers

Ms Penny Koo was a sickly, skinny, asthmatic kid who could not run far without wheezing. But when her doctor exempted her from PE classes, she threw his letter away because she did not want to miss out on the fun and games.
Ms Penny Koo was a sickly, skinny, asthmatic kid who could not run far without wheezing. But when her doctor exempted her from PE classes, she threw his letter away because she did not want to miss out on the fun and games.PHOTOS: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Ms Penny Koo was a sickly, skinny, asthmatic kid who could not run far without wheezing. But when her doctor exempted her from PE classes, she threw his letter away because she did not want to miss out on the fun and games.
Ms Penny Koo was a sickly, skinny, asthmatic kid who could not run far without wheezing. But when her doctor exempted her from PE classes, she threw his letter away because she did not want to miss out on the fun and games.PHOTOS: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Lawyer Penny Koo enjoys camaraderie and encouragement of fellow participants

Q How did you get started on CrossFit?

A My younger brother, who is 30, has been doing three sets of 60 push-ups and five sets of 15 pull-ups every morning since his army days.

His passing comment that girls would not be able to do pull-ups was what inspired me to try CrossFit. We are both happy that I have since proven him wrong.

I used to practise yoga and I also participated in 10km and half-marathon events. My endurance and aerobic capacity were decent but I was not strong.

Q Why are you hooked on CrossFit?

A It's the community spirit and camaraderie. Unlike group classes at mainstream gyms, in which you rarely engage with other class participants, CrossFitters are almost always cheering each other on through every workout.

There have been numerous gruelling workouts that I might not have completed if not for the encouraging cheers from my team-mates. We have a saying in CrossFit that "no one is done until everyone is done". We refuse to let anyone give up on themselves, and the last person in a class often gets the loudest cheers for pushing through the pain.

The endorphin rush from sweating through an intense workout with fellow CrossFitters and finishing amid cheers and fist bumps is incredibly addictive.

Q What is your secret to looking fabulous?

A Walk tall and proud always.

Q Has there ever been a time when you were not fit and fab?

A My early childhood days. That was when I was the sickly, skinny, asthmatic kid who couldn't run far without wheezing.

When I was in primary school, my doctor exempted me from physical education (PE) classes but I threw away the letter of exemption. I refused to be the sick kid missing out on all the fun and games.

I tried to keep up as best I could, which meant that I suffered regular asthma attacks. I would take a few puffs of my Ventolin inhaler and keep going.

After I grew out of my childhood asthma in secondary school, I was able to maintain an active lifestyle.

Q What is your diet like?

A My mantra is: "Don't deprive yourself, but never binge on any one thing either."

Given the intensity of CrossFit training, I do need to consume sufficient protein to recover well, quickly. Salmon, edamame, eggs, sweet potato, pumpkin, avocados and blueberries feature most often in my meals. I also take a whey protein shake after training.

  • BioBox

  • PENNY KOO

    Age: 34

    Weight: 58kg

    Height: 1.7m

    Since she took up CrossFit in late 2015, she has put on nearly 10kg but her body fat percentage has dropped from 16 per cent to just 11.

    She is now at her fittest, thanks to the fitness regimen, which incoporates elements of various workouts, including high-intensity interval training, powerlifting, gymnastics and more, she said.

    Ms Koo's work as a lawyer keeps her busy but the bachelorette makes sure she has time to exercise.

    As an advisory committee member of the rebranded Hong Lim community centre imPAct@HongLimGreen, she is helping to bring trendy fitness programmes to working professionals in the Central Business District.

    "Exercising with a friendly group of like-minded individuals keeps it fun, which I find is one of the most effective ways to motivate people to work out," she said.

    "I often call my fellow CrossFitters my second family. We motivate one another to attend weekly workout sessions and do the extra reps."

    Her parents are retired and she has a younger brother.

Q What are the three most important things in your life?

A My family is my rock. Everything I do - from my professional ambitions to keeping myself fit, strong and healthy - is for them.

Q What's your favourite and least favourite parts of your body?

A My arms and shoulders. They used to be very skinny. It took me a year of dedicated training to muster my first strict pull-up.

My least favourite are my toenails.

Q What are your indulgences?

A Korean fried chicken. I also love sake and beer.

Q How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?

A I try to integrate my workout into my daily routine so that it doesn't become an "if I can make it" option. CrossFit is a very efficient way of keeping fit as a class typically lasts for an hour. There is no need to spend hours on the treadmill or stairs machine.

Q What are your must-dos before and after a workout?

A Warm-up and cool-down routines are essential components of an effective workout that many athletes neglect.

Appropriate warm-up exercises will help you perform better during a workout, while stretching the correct muscle groups will aid post-workout recovery.

Q How important is it for you to keep up with your fitness routine?

A It is as important and basic to me as taking a shower and brushing my teeth every day. It's also a great way of expanding my social circle.

Q How has your active lifestyle influenced your family and friends?

A I have had friends and colleagues tell me they are inspired by what I do and how I look as they would say they can never do it.

My reply is always the same - if I can do it, they can too.

We just need to overcome our inertia and fear of failure. Set a goal, keep chipping away at it and the results will come.

Q How extensive is your collection of sports-related paraphernalia?

A My friends often joke that I basically live in gym clothes on weekends. Enough said.

Q Would you go for plastic surgery?

A Nah. I am quite content with the way I look. While there's no doubt that aesthetics is a big reason why many work out, I prefer to focus on what my body can do, rather than what it looks like.

Q Do you think you're sexy?

A Maybe you should ask the people I do CrossFit with.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline 'CrossFit class offers strength in numbers'. Print Edition | Subscribe