Commonly referred to as ‘that big, scary looking dude who is actually a softie on the inside’, Head Coach Shrek opens up in this interview and gives us a peek into his philosophical side, forged through his many years of coaching and training.
Most clients know you’re the Head Coach at Ritual on North Canal Road, but what else do you do outside of work?
In the last few months, my new hobby has been obstacle course races! I used to be a competitive bodybuilder, but now I train for efficiency, endurance and function, with the intention of being as well-rounded as possible.
What’s your training like these days?
These days it’s pretty simple. Most of my training is like the structured stuff we do at Ritual, and a couple of times a month I’ll throw in some chaotic training that mimics the obstacles I have to face in my races. I’ve learnt to save my all-out attempts just for the few days a year when I am actually competing in a race, as I realize it’s too taxing to go all-out often.
I’ve found that short, intense sessions focusing on the basics helps me keep the conditioning and real-world strength that I need. Running the coaching team at North Canal Road takes up a lot of my time during the week, so the short training times are great – I can stay in great shape despite time constraints.
What are your rest days like?
In the past, this was one area I didn’t appreciate enough. I used to think taking a day off was a waste of a day.
These days, I see rest days as some of my most important days for progress. Taking the time to recover and repair when your body needs it is essential for long-term improvement. I’m at a point where I feel that I’m in tune enough with my body to not need a fixed rest day. Instead, I go by how I feel.
Real life brings all kinds of factors than can affect my recovery, so I always pay attention to how I feel in the morning. If I wake up really feeling the fatigue, I’m not afraid to take a full rest day. Other days, if my energy feels okay but my muscles are really sore, I’ll do something light to aid recovery, like a long walk, a short jog, or rock climbing – but nothing too stressful or intense.
Did you always train so sensibly?
Actually, when I first started racing, my training was pretty chaotic. Crazy exercises and crazy volume, thinking that it’s the only way to build my capacity. I didn’t think about rest, or about structuring my training. Unfortunately, a few months ago, I was forced to realize that my health was suffering. I was fatigued all the time and fell really sick and had to take a little bit of time off to recover from the damage. It was at that point I realized I needed to train smarter. I returned to the basics and realised there’s a balance to be found – I can use my general fitness training to compliment and improve on my sports performance.
Whether you’re new to training or an advanced athlete, you can’t beat the basics. In fact, these days, I’m more dependent on the basics than ever before, simply because they work better and keep you injury-free. I’ve found that working on the fundamentals and perfect alignment are so important for longevity in any sport. I urge you all to take a step back and drill the basics – you’ll be surprised how much you can learn from them.
You know, just as a side note, I didn’t realize how bad I was at push-ups until a couple of years ago. I spent years bench pressing and building muscle that helped me win bodybuilding competitions, yet I struggled so much with the basic push-up variations. I didn’t have relative strength, meaning I didn’t really have good control of my own body weight, which is probably more important than how much weight you can lift.
So you used to compete in bodybuilding? What was that like?
Yup! At one point, I was the top guy in Singapore. All I wanted was to be the best. The cream of the crop. I was willing to risk injury and to sacrifice my body for that glory. I was pursuing the perfect physique, and I got pretty close. A lot of what I was doing in bodybuilding was creating illusions. For example, I naturally had a tiny waist, so I knew if I built my shoulders up, I’d have a great V-shape that other competitors might not have. Similarly, I don’t naturally have huge legs, so I targeted certain muscles to create the illusion of muscular legs.
As I grew older and my appreciation of fitness expanded, I realised I was interested in more than just the aesthetics. Bodybuilding was a big part of my personal identity, but once I disconnected from the idea of training for looks, it opened up my eyes to everything else. These days, I train for overall fitness. I am adaptable, and much more open to different types of movement. I train so I have the ability to do everything and anything I want. In the past, I couldn’t do anything else if it was ‘leg day’. These days, my training enables me to do whatever I want, with whoever I want. Sure, maybe I used to look better than I do now, but I feel so much better now. And I can can do so much more. I get to enjoy training, movement, and real-world performance. The last race I did was a humbling experience – 8 and a half hours of non-stop movement!
You seem like the kind of guy who’s tried everything in fitness. Tell us one thing you’ve struggled with in the past in fitness or training, and how you overcame it.
Most people don’t know about the struggles I’ve had with eating. I feel like maybe it’s appropriate to say that I used to have an eating disorder. To get the best physique possible, I became obsessed with eating. I had the strictest eating regimen. I would cycle between states of starvation, cravings, eating things I didn’t want to eat, and then regretting succumbing to my cravings.
Even after I was done competing in bodybuilding, it took me a long time to develop a healthy relationship with food. Some days I would hate myself for eating ‘rubbish’. I’d eat well for a while, then slip up and lose control for weeks. It was so frustrating.
I didn’t manage to pull myself out of this rough period until I realised a very simple concept: I need to focus on solid long-term eating habits, not trying to find the perfect diet plan. I had to learn to develop habits that I could sustain forever instead of focusing on short-term plans.
It’s not about the perfect shortcut – it’s about enjoying whole, natural foods, and the energy and satisfaction that it brings. I actually enjoy eating these days, and I feel so much healthier. In the past, I used to force myself to do 2 or 3 hours of cardio if I ate a bit of chocolate. These days, I know that 90% of the time I enjoy great, nutritious whole foods, so ‘letting go’ 10% of the time isn’t going to affect my progress and health. I finally don’t feel guilty – I just get to enjoy the experience if I want it. It took a long time to get to this point, and it required me to stop looking at short-term goals that were all about looking better for some event.
In my opinion, it’s more sustainable to think about improving your overall daily performance. How have your energy levels been? Are you training and eating in ways that allow you to spend more time and better quality time with your kids? Because to me, that’s victory. That’s health. This is what real fitness is about. Not feeling like crap and being grouchy because of your new low carb starvation diet.
If you could give all our new members one piece of advice, what would it be?
Shift your focus. Don’t just be here to lose fat and ‘tighten up’. Find a solution for long-term healthy living instead of just focusing on short-term aesthetic goals. Work to achieve healthier lifestyle habits. Think about bigger questions. 20 years from now, what do you want to be able to do? In general, I find that when I get to explore these kinds of questions with clients, so their goals are more than just surface-level stuff, they are more consistent and smarter in training.
Don’t get me wrong, wanting to lose fat is great for short-term motivation, but it should be enjoyed as a part of your long-term plan. In the long run, looking better is just a great bonus that comes with living better. Be patient. Things will fall in place.
What are some questions or topics that you wish clients would ask you about more?
For me, there’s no particular question or topic that I wish people would ask about more. I just wish more clients would share their struggles with me and the coaches. We try to reach out and start conversations, but find that not everyone is willing to discuss their struggles in fitness. If there’s anyone who will be able to understand what you’re going through, it’s us. Chances are, we’ve been through or helped someone get through worse situations. We don’t want to keep our knowledge and experience secret. For us, knowledge is meant to be shared, and we want to help – all you have to do is share your struggles with one of us.
Alright, now for some rapid-fire questions!
How many amazeballs do you think you can eat in 5 minutes?
You know… I’ve actually tried to eat 5 amazeballs in 1 minute, thinking it wouldn’t be an issue at all, but it took me about 2 minutes to finish them all! I’m not sure how many I can eat in 5 minutes, but trust me it’s not as easy as it sounds! That being said, I’ll take on anyone who wants to challenge me in an eating competition, as long as it’s not durian!
What was your favourite junk food when you were growing up?
McDonald’s, bro! Big mac meal, large fries, large coke! Back when I was a chubby kid!
What’s your favourite cheat food these days?
Right now my favourite cheat meal is a big burrito followed by some ice cream! There’s a great ice cream place called Milkcow (in Bugis and Tampines) that has the best soft serve ice-cream!
Who’s your favourite superhero or cartoon character?
It used to be superman because I wanted to look like him, but he’s too mainstream. These days, my favourite is Deadpool. He’s an anti-hero who is jovial but has an aggressive side, like me!
What’s your spirit animal?
I suppose I’m a gorilla because I naturally have size and strength, but deep down inside I want to be a cheetah. There’s something about how they look and the poise a cheetah has. They are always calm but somehow ready to pounce at any moment. With that, they command respect.
Shrek has been Head Coach at North Canal Road for about 3 years now, and he hopes in the future you won’t hesitate to ask the coaches about the fitness-related stuff you’re struggling with, because we’re all here to help!