Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In Defence Of Singapore's IPPT And NAPFA Fitness Tests

All home-bred, true-blue Singaporean male citizens who are serving or have served NS (National Service) as well as students (both current and former) of the Singapore Schools System would no doubt be very familiar with the IPPT and/or the NAPFA tests - both of which are mainstream occurrences in our military/uniformed and school institutions here in Singapore respectively.

Back in those days when there were hardly any physical fitness conditioning courses or formal fitness services around to turn to, these tests were often the bane of students and servicemen from one end of Singapore to another.

However, before we proceed any further, for the sake of those readers who may find these terms vague or unfamiliar, allow me to just elaborate a bit.  

The IPPT actually refers to the Individual Physical Proficiency Test - which is a battery of fitness test stations used for gauging the fitness levels of our National Servicemen, Regulars and other uniformed organisations (eg. Civil Defence, Police Home Team etc).

On the other hand, NAPFA refers to the National Physical Fitness Award Scheme which is a series of fitness tests mainly for civilians and/or students from the upper primary up to the junior college and polytechnic levels.

In truth, both the IPPT and NAPFA schemes are actually pretty similar in nature and share a number of overlapping test stations. Save for the sit-and-reach station - which is peculiar to the NAPFA scheme, both the IPPT and NAPFA schemes are made up of the following identical stations:
  • Pull Ups (for males) & Inclined Pull Ups (for females)
  • Sit Ups
  • 4x 10m Shuttle Run
  • Standing Broad Jump
  • 2.4km run

Army 2.4km Run In Progress
Interestingly, over all these years, even way back during my time in the school system from the 70's till the mid-80's, through the late 80's period when I was serving NS in the Armed Forces, and finally up to the period from the early 90's to around the mid-2000s when I served out the remainder of my reservist liabilities (guess you folks could probably tell my age by now.... ), both the NAPFA and IPPT tests have always received numerous brickbats from servicemen, civilians, students, concerned parents etc... many of whom claim that the tests are either 'unfairly designed', 'biased', 'redundant' or even downright 'ridiculous' and 'stupid'!!

These accusations are often leveled against specific stations in the test battery, namely: the sit-and-reach station in the NAPFA test, and the standing broad jump and shuttle run stations in both the NAPFA and IPPT schemes.

Incidentally, one of the most common complaints often heard is:

" Look! I score an A or B in all my test stations, but just because I flunk my broad jump/shuttle run/sit-and-reach, I have to re-take ALL the stations again. So UNFAIR right??? Where's the LOGIC?And does that mean I'm UNFIT??? Definitely NOT, right ?? "

Sounds familiar? What do you think? Is there an element of truth in the above argument?

Before we probe any further, let's take a look at the main objectives of these tests - from an exercise science point-of-view.

From what I know, when the Singapore Sports Council, MINDEF and the Schools PE Unit - in collaboration with various fitness authorities and experts from around the world - came up with these tests, the primary purpose was NOT to asses just 1 or 2 common fitness components, but rather, to gauge a range of important/crucial components or indicators that make up Overall or Total Fitness.

Again, the keywords here are "range" and "total fitness".

And unsurprisingly, after much testing, reviews and revisions, a series of tests (NOT just 1 or 2) were included in the test battery to assess one's OVERALL fitness, especially in relation to one's selected vocation (whether student, civilian, military personnel etc).

And the fitness components deemed most crucial to one's vocation and hence, included in the tests, range from muscular strength to muscular power to speed-&-agility, flexibility, muscular endurance and cardiovascular efficiency.

Sit-And-Reach Fitness Test

In a nutshell, as long as one or several of the fitness components are deemed important enough for assessment, there will be a specific station just for that particular purpose!

And correspondingly, in order to PASS either test and be qualified as FIT - in its totality - one must have achieved a certain standard in ALL the fitness components that make up TOTAL fitness! 

By now, I hope that you can see why both the IPPT and NAPFA actually makes ABSOLUTE SENSE from a fitness point-of-view, and that the most arguments against them simply hold no weight when viewed from the correct perspective.

Frankly, as a fitness professional who has always advocated total or complete fitness, I am ALL for the IPPT/NAPFA scheme as a preferred mode of testing one's overall fitness.

I'm not saying that these tests are perfect, because they are not.

If fact, they can still be improved upon by modifying one or two of the existing stations, and perhaps even adding an extra station or two.But we won't go into that for now.

The truth is: these test stations are actually pretty good and effective at giving us a general picture of one's OVERALL fitness level - with minimum fuss.

And to those of you who still think that just because you aced your 2.4km run or could churn out 20 reps on your chin-up station, and therefore deserve some respect, or even a title such as MR/MS FITNESS........, very sorry folks, it doesn't work that way. 

You need to have much much more than just achievement in a mere 1 or 2 or even 3 stations to qualify as TRULY FIT.

Remember: The true measure of a man (or woman) is always COMPLETENESS - and in this case, having balanced, all-encompassing development in every fitness component.

So the next time, before you're about to shoot your mouth off at the NAPFA or IPPT tests, pause for a moment and think again.

Maybe it's time for you accept reality that you may not be as fit as you think you are.

Rather than complaining, start working on your areas of weakness, instead of harping on the 'unfairness' of the system.

Start by learning to embrace the TOTAL fitness concept - and I guarantee that you'll be better off in the long run.

For those who are keen on learning more about fitness training in its totality and completeness, I would suggest that you start by coming back to this blog often!

And for those who think you may require some help in passing or acing your NAPFA/IPPT tests, do consider enrolling in our island-wide IPPT/NAPFA Fitness Conditioning Programs available across Singapore.

Till Then, All the BEST!

Rick Wong

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gymless Training: The Way To TOTAL Fitness!

Hi folks, Rick here again - your friendly fitness blogger and fitness pro from Singapore.

For this particular blog post, I like to look at the concept of TOTAL FITNESS - a notion that has often been mis-understood, mis-represented and even totally abused by some segments of the fitness populace (and to my knowledge, even some members from the professional fitness fraternity!)

To clarify once and for all, , FITNESS - in its totality, refers to NOT just 1, 2 or some of the components of fitness, but rather to ALL, and EACH and EVERY component of fitness, from: cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, speed, agility, balance, power, coordination to even body composition.

Thus, if somebody were to say he/she is 'FIT" - then it should be taken to mean that he/she has achieved mastery or excellence in each and every of the above-mentioned categories, since fitness encompasses all that and more!

Stair-Running: a great way to build speed, agility and cardiovascular endurance.

However, in truth, we know that when most people talk about fitness, they simply do NOT have this all-encompassing Totality - or TOTAL Fitness - in mind.

To them, fitness is often understood only in the context of their own choice of sport or according to their own bias definition or interpretation, and hence, extremely limited, arbitrary and contained in nature.

Take for example the following: ask a long-distance runner what fitness is - and his answer to that is usually just cardiovascular efficiency. Ask the same question to a weightlifter in the gym - and his understanding of fitness means muscular strength or power. Ask any yoga-practitioner what fitness is - and the reply is often flexibility and balance....and the list goes on and on.

And the best thing is, if you ask all of them if they think they are "FIT" or know what fitness is, (surprise! surprise!) almost every single one of them would unanimously claim that they DO - with no doubts whatsoever!!!!

Thus, this only shows that :

Depending on who you ask, and under what conditions you ask, fitness often means completely DIFFERENT things to different people!!!

However, as we all know - from a scientific point of view, there can only be ONE true definition of fitness - the one we - and other fitness authorities - have often mentioned, agreed upon and as seen earlier above.

And unfortunately, in line with this oft-misunderstood notion of fitness, too many people - unknowingly - are also in engaged in fitness pursuits that do NOT yield the benefits of total fitness for them.

For example, somebody who just 'jogs for fitness' will NEVER ever develop fitness components like muscular strength, power, balance or even agility....

Likewise, someone who just 'lifts heavy weights at low reps for fitness' - will hardly develop any cardiovascular efficiency, muscular endurance, flexibility, agility or balance.....

Likewise, anyone else who 'just' swims, skips or practices Yoga/Pilates or any other sport exclusively .... will also never attain COMPLETE fitness.

The lesson is this: if you want to achieve TRUE Fitness - where each and every component of fitness is catered for - then you need to approach your fitness training also in a totally unique and different way!

That's where Gym-Free Training or Gym-less Fitness comes in.

With gym-free training, first and foremost, you are SET FREE from the very confines of the gym, its out-dated ideologies and its whole slew of redundant machines and equipment.

Next, you are UN-SHACKLED from years of pre-conceived notions of fitness, as well as other misconceptions, misrepresentations and biases that have been fed to you wholesale by the Media and the various powers-to-be in the fitness industry whose agendas are often based on monetary profits and financial gains.

And finally, instead of basing your training on just one fixed approach that severely limits your fitness development, the Gym-Free Approach - with its ECLECTIC, ALL-ENCOMPASSING approach that uses an amalgamation of the BEST modes of fitness approaches: from body-weight training to athletic sport drills, from functional movements to strong-man events, from endurance drills to even gymnastic movements -  will help to develop each and every component of your fitness.

Medicine Ball Drills: another great way to build TOTAL fitness!

The end result - a body that not only LOOKS GOOD and NATURAL, but also delivers CROSS-OVER benefits to your daily activities and other physical pursuits!

And the best of all, with the gym-free approach, you will finally belong to the RARE few in society who truly understands and embraces the real meaning of TOTAL fitness.

To find out more about Gym-Free Fitness here in Singapore, do visit us at http://www.Body-By-Rick.com

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Outdoor Locations For Body-Weight Resistance Training

Call me bias - but when it comes to gym-free fitness training here in Singapore - I'm all for an OUTDOORS approach !!!


Well, firstly, Singapore has a pleasant all-year-round tropical climate that supports not only outdoor fitness training, but also all other outdoor physical and recreational activities.

And also, with the slew of outdoor public parks, playgrounds and fitness corners scattered all over the island, I feel that it's an absolute waste not to utilize these facilities to the max.

And finally, I personally feel that nothing comes quite close to the feeling of sheer joy and freedom of working-out in the Great Outdoors while basking in the bright sunshine and breathing in the crisp, fresh air!

Frankly, over the years, though I've trained clients in almost any imaginable place: from home gyms to living-rooms, from garages to basements, and even attics and store closets (seriously!!!), NOTHING ever comes close to that feeling of pure exhilaration that comes from working-out outdoors.....

So, my advice to most people is: if you have been training indoors - up to now - do go ahead and give the outdoor approach a try. Who knows, you may even become a CONVERT and never want to return to indoor training again!!

Incidentally, I'm also often asked: where and what would make a suitable location for an outdoor body weight resistance-cum-strengthening routine?

Well, the answer is simple.

Basically anywhere that gives you access to the following:

1) Chin-Up/Pull-Up Bar ( High Bar)
- for your wide-grip pull-ups, under-grip chin-ups, hanging knee raises etc....

Photo Of A Pull-Up Bar

2) Low Bar
- for your incline push-bars, inverted rows etc ....

Photo Of A Low Bar Structure

3) Parallel Bars
- for your dips, fixed bar triceps extensions, vertical leg raises etc .....

Photo Of Parallel Bars

4) Benches
- for your step-ups, step-downs, inverted shoulder presses, bench hops etc ....

Photo Of A Playground Bench

5) Swings
- for your jack knifes, plank, supported crunch and other stability movements etc ....

Photo Of A Playground Swing

6) Ropes
- for all your rope-climbing movements and exercises.

Photo Of A Rope Climbing Station

And if you're like me - living in Singapore - then most, if not all of the above equipment, can be found quite easily at your nearest public playground, park or fitness corner.

Of course, you may not find ALL of the above tools congregated at one fixed location, but chances are, you'll find at least 3-4 of them located within the same vicinity.

As for the rest, you may just have to improvise or substitute with other similar existing exercises or movements.

So there you have it - all the tools required for a great body-weight resistance workout - totally GYM-FREE!!

So, NO more excuses now, just get OUT there and DO it!!!

Rick Wong
Your Neighbourhood Fitness Pro

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Gym-Free Training And Fitness Progress

Hi, Rick Wong here again, blogging to you from the Island Republic of Singapore.

As a Fitness Pro and strong advocate of gym-free fitness, I've always been asked this question:

" How do you help your clients make progress in their training or fitness without access to a gym ???"

Bodyweight Training On Parallel Bars
Ahh......interesting question, isn't it?

Well, first and foremost, the people who ask this question usually make a very basic assumption:

That progress in all training is largely dependent on INCREASING resistance ( i.e. in the form of poundage or weight ). That's why they assume that we need a GYM - where there is constant access to resistance in the form of selectorized weights, plates or dumbbells.

Well, they're only HALF-RIGHT - no doubt fitness progress can be achieved by adding resistance to a training program - but that's only ONE out of the many, many components or variables that can be manipulated to bring about fitness progress!

From an exercise science point of view, the various components that can be manipulated in a training program (besides resistance, of course) include :
  • Volume Of Work
  • Number Of Exercises
  • Type Of Exercises
  • Order/Sequence Of Exercises
  • Grouping of Exercises
  • Range Of Motion
  • Angle Of Movement
  • Base Of Stability
  • Tempo/Speed 
  • Rest Periods
  • Training Duration
  • Training Frequency
Let's look at each in turn:

1) Training Resistance

In a gym-free approach, body-weight is often used as a means of resistance in a training program. However, it is NOT the only form of resistance used.

In fact, to correct an oft-common misconception once and for all - gym-free does NOT necessarily mean equipment-free!

Besides body-weight, numerous portable resistance tools are often used in a gym-less approach to stimulate progress. These functional tools include: resistance tubings, exercise bands, medicine balls, kettlebells, sandbags, suspension trainers and many other fitness implements.

And all these tools can be resistance-adjusted to increase the overload or intensity on the Human Body to bring about continual fitness progress.

Gym-Free Training With A Kettlebell 

2) Volume Of Work

Fitness progress can also come about when we increase the volume of work placed on the body.

In a gymless approach, this includes increasing 
  • the number of repetitions in a given exercise ( eg. from 10 reps to 15 reps), 
  • the number of sets performed for that exercise ( eg. from 3 sets to 5 sets) or 
  • the distance moved while performing a certain exercise ( eg. from 100m to 200m in a run).
Thus, by gradually increasing the total volume of work done in any workout over a period of time, we can safely and effectively bring about progress in any fitness regime - with or without additional resistance.

3) Number Of Exercises

In a gymless approach, we often increase the number of exercises performed in a training program to ensure continual fitness progress for our clients.

For example, a client may start off with just 4 main exercises in his/her training program. With every 2 weeks, 1 new exercise may be added to the client's fitness program so that by the end of 8 weeks, the client would be performing up to 8 different exercises, as compared to the initial 4 at the beginning.

Such a strategy will also guarantee progression in a fitness program - regardless of the absence/presence of any external resistance.

4) Type Of Exercises

Changing the type of exercises performed over a course of time is also an effective means to elicit continuous progress in a client's training regime.

For instance, a client may be initially prescribed a basic Double-Leg Squat as a lower body exercise at the start of a fitness program. Over time, the movement may evolve to become a Single-Leg Squat, and finally to an explosive, plyometric move such as a Jump Squat.

Thus, by changing the type of the exercise - usually from an easy to a progressively more difficult one - we can continue to ensure progression in our fitness approach.

5) Order/Sequence Of Exercises

Exercise order or exercise sequence also plays a huge part in eliciting progress in a gym-free training regime.

Using the Principle of Confusion, exercise order and sequence can be constantly changed to "shock" the body into response and growth.

For instance, an exercise program that corresponds to the following order:

1) Push-Ups,
2) Incline Pull-Ups,
3) Lunges
4) Hanging Knee Raises

may be changed or "re-arranged'  to the following for the next workout :

1) Lunges,
2) Hanging Leg Raises
3) Incline Pull-Ups
4) Push-Ups

and so on and so forth...........

Thus, by simply changing the order of any given set of exercises we can continue to stimulate or "shock " the body into progress too.

6) Grouping Of Exercises

Fitness progress can also be further stimulated by the selective grouping of exercises used in a workout.

In most cases, exercises may be performed in the following ways: singly (single set), in pairs (superset), in 3's ( tri-set), or in 5's or more (circuit/giant set).

Each succeeding grouping of exercises effectively increases the intensity and difficulty level of the workout and is one of the common methods used in our gymless approach to bring continual progress to our clients.

7) Range Of Motion

Range of motion typically refers to the movement of any joint from a state of flexion to a state of extension.

By increasing the range of motion, we can effectively help to stimulate progression in a fitness program.

For instance, using the example of the Squat, a client may be led through a progression that involves Partial Squats (beginner) to Parallel Squats (intermediate) and finally to Deep Squats (advanced).

Again, with each succeeding increase in range of motion, more effort is required from the individual, which in turn, stimulates further development and progress.

8) Angle Of Movement

Exercises used in a gymless approach are often also progressively modified via their angle of movement to ensure continuous progress.

For instance, most exercises may be executed in a variety of angles or positions, from Flat (supine or prone) to Incline to Decline to Upright etc - to vary the amount of stress placed on the body as well as to increase the difficulty of any movement.

Using the Push-Up as an example, one can change the angle of movement (and hence, its difficulty) by starting off in an Incline Plane (easy) to a Flat Plane (moderate) and finally to a Decline Plane (hard).

9) Base Of Stability

Fitness progression and balance development can also be accelerated by altering the base of stability in any given program.

In a gym-free approach, portable and functional tools such as wobble boards, bosu balls, stability balls etc are often used to increase the difficulty level of any exercise and to bring about progression in the fitness programs.

Consider the following as a case study: By altering a simple 2-Legged exercise (such as a standing tubing shoulder press) into a 1-Legged one, or to one that is performed on an unstable surface (such as on a wobble board), we can effectively  help our clients progress in their fitness and balance development.

10) Tempo/Speed

Manipulating the tempo/speed at which an exercise is being executed also plays a part in fitness progression.

For instance, a movement may be intentionally accelerated, or deliberately decelerated, or even put in a static hold,  to challenge the body and to force it to adapt and progress.

11) Rest Periods

Rest periods between sets and exercises can also be manipulated to bring about fitness gains.

For instance, rest periods may be deliberately shortened to up the intensity of a workout session and to accelerate fitness progress.

12) Training Duration

Manipulating how long a workout session lasts - also plays a large part in determining fitness progression.

13) Training Frequency

How often one trains can also be adjusted accordingly to bring about the desired fitness progress or goals.

Using The Medicine Ball As A Gym-Free Workout Tool

So there you have it.

A whole long list of variables that are used in a GYM-FREE approach to stimulate progress and achievement in our fitness clients.

By now, it should be clear to all that resistance is just a small part of any exercise program.

What counts - more importantly - is the effective manipulation of all OTHER variables which all come together to make the gymless approach so effective, progressive and revolutionary.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Why Gymless Fitness?

Hi, this is Rick Wong here - blogging to you "live" on fitness - the GYMLESS way - all the way from Singapore.....

Why GYMLESS, you may ask??? What's WRONG with working out in the gym???

Well, first and foremost, because you already have the very BEST gym available to you  - your OWN BODY - at your service and command 24 hours-a-day, whenever and wherever you need it!

Why not use it as it is ????

Why waste it by going to the gym and work-out using 'artificial machines' - which are far less efficient, less productive and less functional anyway?

Too many of us have been simply BRAINWASHED by the media and fitness industry at large - particularly by gym owners and fitness equipment manufacturers - into thinking that we all need access to sophisticated, eye-catching, high-tech, 'machines' to get into shape.

Well, nothing is further away from the TRUTH .........

Let me share with you something - as a Fitness Pro who has the privilege of working with countless clients spanning over a period of 12-plus years here in the Singapore, I can safely say that the majority of fitness enthusiasts and exercisers would be MUCH BETTER OFF working outside a gym than in it.

Pause for a moment and think about it rationally. Unless you're a:

1) serious bodybuilder/weightlifter/powerlifter, or
2) involved in high performance sports, or
3) undergoing some form of specific injury rehabilitation,

Why On Earth Would You Need To Use All Those FANCIFUL and often UNNECESSARY stuff found cluttering our 'Mega' gyms nowadays????

For the vast majority of fitness enthusiasts (possibly accounting for over 90% of all people involved in fitness today), who have goals such as the following:

- general muscle-toning/shaping,
- weight loss/fat loss
- building general strength and fitness,
- improving flexibility and agility, or
- increasing one's daily physical efficiency etc,

 .... simply do NOT need a gym membership to GET IN SHAPE!!!

In fact, using one's own body weight, together with the creative use of one's surroundings (think outdoors, slopes, benches, stairs, floor space etc) and complemented by functional or portable fitness tools (think medicine balls, tubings/bands, suspension trainers, kettlebells etc), one can achieve AWESOME shape and SUPERB fitness without even stepping into a gym.

In fact, that's how many enlightened individuals, "old-timers" and those belonging to the "old-school" or "minimalistic" school of thought, train over the ages and still continue to train today - with many exhibiting BETTER bodies and BETTER overall conditioning and fitness - than those training exclusively on machines and in gyms!!

At this point, let me make myself clear : I'm in NO way saying that gyms have absolutely no place in our society.

They DO - but mainly only for those specific groups of individuals mentioned above!

Even I, myself, have to admit using the gym occasionally (to maintain muscle mass) - though in truth, it forms no more than 10% -15% of my total workout volume - and even then , I usually just focus on using the FREE WEIGHTS AREA (dumbbells and barbells) - instead of the 'machines'.

In fact - give me outdoors - at a playground, track or fitness corner - ANYTIME - and almost ten times out of ten times, I would get an AWESOME workout without fail! 

Hopefully, by now, the rest of you can see why a GYM-FREE approach is really the BEST and the most PRACTICAL choice for the majority of us.

Do come back here often and allow me to share with you more tips and strategies on training and working-out - the GYMLESS way!

Rick Wong
Fitness Professional

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