The virtue of strength of often associated with herculean feats combined with sculpted physiques. Yet, there is much more to strength than just the obvious. The changing face of the fitness industry means that performance and aesthetics by themselves are no longer enough; a body must be sound in other aspects as well. Andyn Kadir, owner of Strength Avenue and one of the newer breeds of fitness coaches that advocate a multi-pronged approach to fitness, shares some of his thoughts on the matter as well as other questions on physical culture.
Hi Andyn! Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I’ve been a fitness professional for the past 12 years; this is the only thing I know (unfortunately)! I’ve trained and competed in various sports: bodybuilding/physique, triathlons, martial arts (Brazilian jiu-jitsu and muay thai), strongman, kettlebell sport, soccer. Passion wasn’t the sole reason that drove me to pick them up; the underlying factor was for me to be able understand what it takes for an athlete to train throughout a season or for a competition so that I could apply it to my strength and conditioning coaching. For me to better understand the demands of the sport and what goes through an athlete’s mind – it’s a crucial element of my practice.
What is Strength Avenue all about?
Strength Avenue is more than just about moulding the physical aspect of strength; we focus on the mental side of things as well. What we provide is a community for people to break through their daily struggles. For example, people who are battling depression can come here and channel all that negative energy into fitness. This place was born out of my own strength to overcome obstacles in life. It is a place where everyone gets together for one cause: to overcome the obstacles that life throws at them in a positive way, where they set PRs (personal records) and feel better about themselves. Being able to train and follow a specific routine consistently helps to builds discipline as well, which helps one to become a better person in general.
You advocate a particularly holistic approach to fitness, blending aspects of strength, mobility and longevity into your practice. Would you care to elaborate more on that?
Over the years, the act of training and competing vigourously in so many sports took its toll on my body which made me realise that after a certain amount of time, your body’s ability to recover declines, regardless of how well-trained you are. That is where I found that you have to be disciplined in terms of the longevity of both your body and training. Things like mobility and flexibility need to be incorporated into your daily life because it is highly unlikely that your sport will out-live your body. One needs to think about the future; you don’t want to have to face aches and pains on a daily basis. These are different compared to those experienced during certain training phases. We’re talking about permanent injuries such as torn rotator cuffs and ACLs (anterior cruciate ligament). It is avoidable, but only if you’re diligent in doing your mobility drills, corrective exercises and of course your strength work.
Most people tend to see general fitness and sport-specific fitness as the same thing. What’s your take on the issue?
It’s a totally different thing. Take an athlete from any sport for instance. What people tend to mistakenly believe is that athletes in general can do just about anything well. In truth, if you put an athlete from a different sport into the weight training room, you’d find that they are the poorest movers. They don’t have that mindfulness when it comes to moving in a gym setting. You cannot expect someone who purely does MMA to be able to execute a mechanically-sound deadlift right from the get-go.
Sometimes, athletes don’t understand what’s happening with their body. Due to the demands of the sport, certain imbalances can develop over time. And because they have been drilled to move a certain way, they may not be mindful of certain movements which would have a better carryover into general fitness.
Thinking that doing any particular sport will elevate your fitness level straight away without the necessary physical preparation is a very dangerous thing because although you will see improvements in fitness within the context of the sport, the same cannot be said for your overall well-being.
For those who are involved in sports, achieving greater levels of performance comes as a common goal. Is it possible to attain a respectable level of general fitness while pursuing sports excellence?
Not really. Physically speaking, you might gain some benefits from it. The concept of general fitness involves things like longevity and health, which are more complex in nature. It largely depends on your lifestyle, nutrition, sleep quality, joint health, etc.. Sometimes, the pursuit of sports excellence may put you in a position that is considered unhealthy by normal human standards. For instance, if you’re an office worker, there’s no real reason for you to be able to deadlift 200kg, unless you’re competing in powerlifting. For general strength training, there’s no need to go that far to reap the benefits – there are other ways for you to get better. Things like flexibility and mobility work will also allow you to move properly as a human being.
An increasing number of parents are encouraging their children to get active and pursue sports as a lifestyle. What words of wisdom would you share when it comes to injury prevention and nurturing a lifelong interest in physical culture?
As parents, you have to learn to manage your expectations. For example, let’s say you want them to lead an active lifestyle – you can get them to do stuff that they like but pushing them to things they don’t like will likely have an adverse effect. You can coax them, show them the way or explain to them why being active is important, but don’t force them into it because the benefits will not be immediately obvious to them. Let them explore different kinds of sports – that’s the best way to filter out what might or might not work for them. Aside from physical ability, there’s also a psychological component to consider. Certain kids will be more drawn towards certain kinds of sports.
Be sure to focus on strengthening them from a young age as well. Things like gymnastics and calisthenics are good starting points, and a little bit of strength work will do them more good than harm. The myth is that weight training stunts growth in children, and many will point to the physiques of competitive lifters as examples. Elite weightlifters, powerlifters and strongmen may be of a stockier build, but it isn’t because the sport that made them that way. Their anthropometry gives them an advantage in their sport, which is how they go on to attain elite status. Certain sports favour certain builds, which is why they become more common as you progress towards higher levels of competition.
You are also credited with leading Singapore’s first all-women powerlifting team, Team Strength Avenue. What has that experience been like for you?
It has been a very eye-opening experience. I was able to work with non-athletes –regular gym-goers and people who have never really been physically active – and turn them into competitive powerlifters. That has helped open a lot of doors and opportunities for women to try the sport and realise that you can actually train to be strong. They become more likely to pick up lifting and do more strength work as compared to just focusing on aesthetics.
(Ed. note: To date, Team Strength Avenue athletes have finished in the top 3 positions numerous times across various weight and age categories in the Singapore Powerlifting Open, Singapore Powerlifting Invitationals and Singapore Powerlifting Alliance Championships)
A lot of women still hold on to the belief that strength training will give them an unfeminine appearance. Did you face difficulty in overcoming that perception when it came to training Team Strength Avenue?
Unfortunately, it’s a very popular myth. It also boils down to a person’s opinion on what a woman should look like. However, as my lifters went through the training process, they were able to see the myth for what it is: a myth. I have very petite ladies who squat and deadlift more than 100kg while still looking feminine. Ultimately, there are more benefits to be had with strength training, such as confidence, self-esteem, self-reliance and of course health.
What is the biggest misconception about strength training that you’d like to dispel?
There tends to be a confusion between strength training and powerlifting. Powerlifting is a sport; strength training is about working with weights progressively. Powerlifting is about lifting the most weight, while strength training is about getting stronger. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you’re doing the barbell back squat, it means you’re a powerlifter or need to train like one.
When a powerlifter gets hurt, it’s because they’re pushing their body beyond the conventional norm when it comes to strength training. As you progress further into the sport, the chance of getting injured will naturally increase. Strength training on the other hand, will help decrease the risk of injury when done properly.
Girevoy is still considered a pretty niche sport in this part of the world. As a former professional kettlebell lifter, what do you think would contribute to the sport’s growth locally?
I believe that greater focus on growing the sport itself as opposed to fussing over which federation is better would be more beneficial in the long-run. The only reason why girevoy hasn’t really grown in Singapore up till today is because people tried to capitalise on the sport too soon without helping it to mature first. The flux of federations ended up dividing kettlebell lifters into camps. Greed and personal agendas were also underlying factors in my experience.
(Ed. note: Singapore recently won its first kettlebell lifting championship in the Amateur category of the 2017 World Championship of Kettlebell Lifting through the efforts of Mr Samuel Lam, so there may be hope yet!)
You’ve trained under famous strength coach Mark Rippetoe in the past. What was that like?
Definitely a humbling and eye-opening experience. Not so much due to Mark himself, but because of the team he had behind him. He’s the founder of the Starting Strength programme, but most of the curriculum is done up by his team of very intelligent and strong people. The rationale behind their system is based on hard science, not just in terms of biology but physics as well. Everything is explained in-depth, like why a certain lift is done in a certain manner or why a body has to be positioned in a certain way while accounting for the anthropometry of the lifter. It really makes you think, both as a coach and as a lifter.
The programming is also very detailed; the seminar isn’t some weekend course where you’ll be certified as a Starting Strength coach at the end of it. You need to have that instinct as a coach to qualify as a Starting Strength coach. That appeals to me on a personal level; it’s not a shortcut of any sort. You need to hone your skills and put in the work before you are even eligible to sit for the test.
What was your biggest takeaway from that experience?
Even though I was already coaching then, I still failed the coaching part of the assessment because my cues weren’t universal enough. That pushed me to improve that aspect of my coaching. When you go to that (Starting Strength) course, you tend to feel like you don’t know anything! No matter how experienced you are, you never truly know “everything”.
Care to share what Strength Avenue has planned for the coming years?
Growth is definitely a priority for us, both in terms of space and our team. We’re not really financially driven; what we want is for everyone who steps through our doors to grow with us. We want Strength Avenue to be a place where people learn to embrace the process of strength training and celebrate each other’s successes. The odds of us are opening another branch are quite low at this point in time as we like to keep everyone under one roof, but having a larger physical space will definitely be ideal.
A popular analogy compares training to a journey as opposed to a race. Too often do we get sucked into the desire to be the first or have the most. While the merits of strength training speak for themselves, it’s important to realise that the joy of becoming strong is due in part to what was paid to achieve it. And that includes addressing the lesser-known aspects of strength as well.