Fit And Fab

From weakling to superfit fighter

Being enlisted as a commando forced Gene Leong to train hard to keep up with the best

Mr Leong now runs a gym and is a strength and conditioning coach.
Mr Leong now runs a gym and is a strength and conditioning coach.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Q What is your secret to looking fabulous?

A Make-up and a lot of diet pills, haha. On a serious note, I am actually incredibly average-looking. The key to my fitness is being committed to a regular training regime and eating healthily.

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

A I played various sports when I was a kid, but I was never good at them. And instead of trying to improve my performance, I chose to shun sports. In my later teenage years, I started smoking and stopped exercising completely.

Things changed only after I enlisted for national service (NS).

Q How did NS change your life?

A I was in the Commandos Unit and was part of a unit known for being the best.

I was selected after an interview. I still don't know what they saw in the 18-year-old me. I managed to survive the various stages of training and surprised myself by becoming better and better. And I realised I liked being able to surpass my own expectations.

Later, I started training in muay thai, before moving on to wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Q What was NS like in the beginning?

A Horrible. I was one of the weakest in my batch. During the first Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), I took almost 15 minutes to finish my 2.4km run, did zero pull-ups and failed the sit-up test. During my first route march, I was short of breath just from putting on all the gear.

Q What is the most extreme thing you have done in the name of fitness?

A I train very hard and consistently, but I don't think this is extreme.

Q What is your diet like?

A I eat a lot of vegetables and sufficient amounts of protein. I vary the amount of carbs I eat according to the intensity and volume of my training. On training days, I avoid deep-fried food, gravy and sauces, and desserts.

  • Bio Box


    Age: 27

    Height: 1.83m

    Weight: 75kg

    He used to be a scrawny kid. In fact, he looked so sickly that his friends nicknamed him "pua peh guei" (sick chicken in Hokkien).

    Then, he surprised himself by qualifying for the Commandos Unit during national service, an event which changed his life.

    He also gained the confidence to pursue fitness seriously, going on to train in muay thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The latter is a form of mixed martial arts.

    Becoming fitter and stronger is a lifelong journey, said Mr Leong, who runs Grit Gym, a strength and condititioning facility in Carpenter Street that also offers yoga and martial arts classes.

    He co-founded the gym about three years ago, after graduating with a history degree from the National University of Singapore.

    The bachelor has an older brother and his parents are hawkers.

Q What are your indulgences?

A I love hawker fare. I can also eat a lot of ice cream.

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

A This is a huge struggle. Work comes first most of the time.

I am learning, very slowly, not to think of work matters whenever I am spending time with family, friends and my girlfriend.

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

A It keeps me sane and helps me understand what my gym clients go through when they find it difficult to keep up with their training.

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

A Love, humour and grit - the personality trait, not the gym, haha.

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

A I am not sure if I have a favourite part but I know it is not my face. If I'm that good-looking, I would have become a film star.

My hair is my least favourite. I have what I call "stupid hair". I can never get it right. That's why I always wear a cap. I have many caps.

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

A I take care to sleep, eat and stretch well before every tournament. And I eat a lot and hang out with friends, family and my girlfriend afterwards.

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

A Not much when it comes to my immediate family. I did manage to get my closest friends and some cousins interested in working out.

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

A I've won some medals locally but, at the international level, I have a long, long way to go.

Q Would you go for plastic surgery?

A Nope. I'm happy with how I look. I am not sure if plastic surgery can help me much, anyway. I might end up wasting money.

Q Do you think you're sexy?

A Extremely.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2017, with the headline 'From weakling to superfit fighter'. Print Edition | Subscribe