Fitness

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Ria Chen

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Ria Chen is a fitness instructor.

Ria Chen is a fitness instructor. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Life goes beyond the digits on the scale and your body is capable of so much more! Yahoo’s #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to inspirational men and women in Singapore leading healthy and active lifestyles. Have someone to recommend? Hit up on or !

Name: Ria Chen ()

Age: 27

Height: 1.62m

Weight: 50kg

Occupation: Fitness Instructor

Status: Single

Food: I usually start my day with three soft boiled eggs and a cup of coffee. For lunch and dinner, I would eat cai fan with brown rice, if the option is available. When I’m feeling domesticated, I’ll get a slab of wagyu steak and broccoli to air fry. I don’t follow a particular diet, but I do love and eat a lot of beef, fried chicken, seafood and fruits.

Exercise: Due to the nature of my work, I get in at least 10 hours of exercise each week, with a combination of cardio and strength training. I’m not sure if this is considered part of a fitness regime but my backpack I carry around for work isn’t the lightest thing around! I guess that’s some extra unintentional training I get in every day.

Q: When you were younger, were you active in sports?

A: I’ve always been an active kid, one who gets excited about PE lessons, CCA, and NAPFA tests. I was also highly competitive! For example, in the NAPFA test, if the kid after me got a further distance at the Standing Broad Jump station, I’d ask to go again just so I could be top.

Then I joined dance in primary school, but I felt like something was missing and I really wanted to join the track team. But my mum was against it because she didn’t like the idea of me getting too tanned, so I didn’t join the track team. Later, I ended up playing competitive netball in school for six years after that. Best years of school life.

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Ria Chen (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Ria Chen (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

What did you get into as you got older?

I still continued playing netball for a couple more years, then got introduced to wakesurfing and calisthenics. It was a period of time when travelling was restricted and the feeling of being out on the water, surfing with the sunset behind you was a brief respite from the daily grind. It was our little escape and the closest thing to feeling like we were overseas!

Calisthenics was something that came later when a former university mate and I reconnected and he invited me to join him at Push Pull Give, where he’s currently a trainer at. It was something new to me so I was very excited to give it a shot. It’s very different from the workouts I used to do as it focuses a lot on mobility and building upper body strength.

It’s challenging in that the trainers make the moves look so effortless and graceful but when you try it, *cries* it’s actually not as easy as it looks. Thankfully there are various progressions so you start small and feel encouraged along the way as you nail the baby steps. (Shout-out to trainers @jordandseb: Y’ALL DA BEST!)

You are now a fitness instructor at Barry’s and Absolute Cycle. How did you stumble onto this career path?

You know how everyone finds an ad for a job on Instagram that they are totally not qualified for and go for it anyway? Yup, that’s exactly how it started! I was near the end of a (super fun and dream) internship at The Travel Intern when a close friend sent me a post about instructor auditions for rhythm cycling (aka spin) at Absolute Cycle. At that point I’d attended a grand total of one spin class that was part of a bonding session with The Travel Intern. I’ve probably told this story hundreds of times but each time I still wonder, “What was I thinking?“ I probably didn’t.

So I filled out the online form with complete transparency; one of the questions asked how many classes I’d attended. After submitting the form I came to the realisation that it was pretty ballsy at that point to apply for something I had close to zero knowledge about and that I’d probably ruined any chance of getting in.

A few days later, I was completely surprised to find an invitation to the auditions in my inbox. “Prepare two songs to teach. The songs should be a medium jog at 75bpm and a side to side at 128bpm.” I was overwhelmed with excitement from getting a reply and also full on panic mode because I didn’t know how to prepare (to not be a complete embarrassment). I had one week to the audition and that seemed like a really short time to buy a package and ride excessively… so I did the next best thing I could think of… go to YouTube and search: How to be a spin instructor. I’m not kidding. Turns out no one really makes these videos!!

After watching a few random videos, I figured I needed a bike to practise what I was actually going to do at the auditions. So I found a 24-hour gym in my neighbourhood and paid $8 per entry to use the bike at 12am on two separate days. Who goes to the gym at midnight? I thought it’d be a ghost town – the perfect environment to rehearse my feeble attempt at teaching spin. Sadly there were a couple of witnesses. Also, the bikes weren’t exactly the bikes you use for spin as the handle bars were way higher and not adjustable. We made it work anyway – the bike and I.

Fast forward to the day of auditions – just three of us were in the room. We took turns to mic up and go up to the podium to teach. I was a ball of nerves and rightly so because the other two were superstars and made for the stage (both still teaching today!). By the end of the audition I wanted to make a run for it. For those who have tried spin, I could barely hold a double time, let alone stay up off the saddle to do it. I had a song that was way too fast to do a move we call “corners”. In short, I was a hot mess.

So how did we get from that disaster to today? There were call backs after that first audition. They told me “Hey, if you really want this, go ride a bunch of classes over the next two weeks, when you’re ready for us to see you again, let us know.” I thought long and hard about it and I really wanted to see how far I could go with this spur of the moment decision-making so I got a 20-class pack at a kind discount (thank you Absolute) and started riding every day for the next two weeks, eventually riding back to back classes and actually started to fall in love with spin. I went for the call back and the rest is history.

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Ria Chen (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Ria Chen (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

My foray into Barry’s is less dramatic. Shortly after I started teaching spin, a friend and I applied to teach at a boutique fitness studio, Boom Singapore. The strength and boxing classes were a good complement to our cardio-intensive job at Absolute. After my time at Boom concluded, it was time to move on and that’s how I got into Barry’s. I had been to Barry’s a couple of times before, each time feeling like a badass sprinting under dramatic red lights and sick beats. But I never thought I’d one day instruct classes here! It feels pretty surreal to be teaching in two places where I was once a member of the class gawking with admiration for the instructor.

What do you like about being a fitness instructor?

It’s refreshing, it’s fun, it’s extremely flexible – I could take afternoon naps on multiple days in a week.

For one, your livelihood pretty much depends on you working out (read: cannot slack) and I like being around people who share the same interests. So I’m naturally forced to stay and keep fit for the job. Second, also a really big part of it, is that people choose to be here. It makes the world of a difference to be working in a place surrounded by positive vibes.

Third, the community grows together. As much as you’re teaching the class to your clients, and it’s a workout for them, you also grow in your capacity as an instructor. I’m worlds away from where I was on my first day of teaching and a big part of that comes from having people come back to take my class. It’s deeply fulfilling to see the smiles on people’s faces as they walk out after class. The last hour they spent with you could have possibly just made their day that much better. It’s job satisfaction at its best 🙂

Conversely, what are the challenges?

Waking up to teach at 6.30am/7am and bringing the hype before you’re actually fully awake.

The biggest challenge is showing up when it isn’t easy to. There are days I don’t feel like I have 100 per cent to give. Whether it’s a lack in mental focus or just that time of the month for example (SOS, and you can’t just tap out every month when it hits right, because realistically your salary will be affected by each class), you somehow pull yourself together and show up for those who have booked in to your class that day. And you really never know how everyone’s day has been, the person in the corner of the room might have had a shitty day and really needed a release through your class. So I always tell myself, “Show up for that person!”

When you were younger, did you experience any incidents that made you feel insecure about yourself?

When I was younger I used to get teased for “looking like a boy”. I had a ponytail throughout my school days, but because I was so skinny (I was eating, just not sure where the food went) my school mates would go “Eh you boy ah! Why got Adam’s apple!” and I’d let that get to me.

Then as time passed, everyone’s vocabulary improved, the labels evolved and I started receiving comments like “You’re androgynous”. I’d be like “andro-nani?” I thought if I did well in school, played nice with my peers, that school would be a breeze. But I guess kids will be kids.

Come to think of it, I’ve never really talked about this to anyone. This might be my earliest memory of feeling emotionally vulnerable. These experiences taught the young skinny me that you could try to do everything right, but ultimately you can’t control what people think or say. You can, however, choose how to let it affect you. I grew to be less fixated on the opinions and ramblings that made me feel less than.

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Ria Chen (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Ria Chen (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

I never used to openly discuss my emotions. I didn’t see reason for it. But these days if you come by my spin class, you very well might find yourself in a TED Talk towards the end. Spin has exposed me to the notion that vulnerability is an attractive quality. One that makes you relatable, one that will draw people like you to you.

When did you feel the least confident about yourself?

Okay, I can’t dance. I don’t know how to move my body in a way that doesn’t look like every joint in my body is dislocated. In the month of training to be a spin instructor we had to do catwalks every morning. It was like an icebreaker and boy did I have an iceberg to break. I dreaded my turn with a vengeance.

When I ultimately had to do it I made sure I reached the end of the room in the shortest time possible. I’d say I overcame it just by doing it. Being afraid but doing it anyway – I have that inked somewhere haha. Now that I look back, I just think if I could get through something that made me feel that uncomfortable, not confident and unsure of myself, the next one can’t be that bad right?

Did you ever struggle with your body?

I love my body and all that it allows me to do. That being said, when I first started noticing my arms were getting big (from skinny to suddenly having some definition, yes that was big in the eyes of teenage me), I got a bit worried that it wouldn’t stop. It wasn’t “normal” for what I knew normal to be. I wasn’t even lifting weights at that point. I was doing what I love, playing netball, sometimes a little bit too much, but I had a lot of fun.

Are you satisfied with your body now?

I have no complaints. It’s the only one I’ve got. Sure, sometimes I wish I had been gifted more assets to pull off certain outfits when I go out (actually I don’t really go out so this doesn’t happen very often thank God haha).

Have you ever received any comments about your body?

Almost. Every. Day. It’s mostly about my abs. If not, then my arms. I’ll get questions like “Can I have some?”, “What do you eat?” or in stranger circumstances, they ask to touch either. Honestly that can get kind of creepy depending on who’s asking. We usually laugh it off together. I’ll jokingly go “$10?” and they’ll go, “So cheap?” LOL!

If you could change anything about yourself, would you?

I would give myself more guts. Not physically of course. Guts to dream big and to take action on those dreams. To not live in fear but to thrive in the midst of it 🙂

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Ria Chen. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Ria Chen. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

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