Glorious muscles have never looked so intimidating until you have watched videos of a CrossFit workout or highlights from the CrossFit games. Men and women alike adorn goliath personas and battle through demanding obstacles that brutally test their strength, endurance and gymnastic capabilities. Now where and how do we even start waxing lyrical about the extreme fitness of these CrossFitters? Did we mention insane too?
It wasn’t until we met Samuel Lim, founder of CrossFit Fire City, that we had our misconstrued and misguided views about CrossFit straightened out. Bringing us to the basics and the roots of CrossFit, he shared with us his passion for this fitness regime and in growing the community.
“The workout is meant to be fast, heavy… There’s a spike in adrenaline and at the end, there’s a sense of conviction. All the good happy hormones are being released and you feel awesome about yourself,” said Samuel.
He describes CrossFit as a strength and conditioning program that is focused on functional movements, combining weightlifting, gymnastics and metabolic conditioning. The scalability of the intensity levels in the workouts is key in defining the sport.
In attempting to explain the culture of CrossFit, Samuel recalled a conversation where someone told him what’s interesting about many CrossFit outlets is that when you walk into the gym, you naturally feel better because you enter a place where people know and greet you. It’s akin to a hangout joint, in short.
Nookmag (N): CrossFit Fire City has come a long way to build up its community of CrossFit enthusiasts. Tell us more.
Samuel (S): My background story is pretty simple. Since young, I’ve been active but I’m not a competitive athlete. I participated in various sports like badminton and tracks when I was in school but never came up to the top to compete or win anything. So I never consider myself an athlete.
In the military, I was posted as a trainer on the physical training side. I went into commercial gym after army. Back then it was called Planet Fitness. It’s called True Fitness right now. I was a personal trainer for years until I was introduced to CrossFit in 2007. Since then, I wanted to build the same community and introduce the training methodology to everyone. It’s cruel, it’s very painful, it’s not easy but it works. There is a systematic approach into that.
Three and a half years ago, I finally found a location by Kampong Bugis, which is not very far away from here (King George Avenue). It took us about a year to really build a community of people. When we started, it was only me and my business partner, who is no longer in Singapore.
During the first year of operation, there was a lot of me and her. A year later, she left. For almost a year, I was running a lot of classes on my own. Back then, we used to run about four to five classes a day, from morning till night. I was in the gym all day long. Towards the closing of the second year, some of the members came up to me and said that they were interested to step up to coach. I was really delighted. One way to look at this was that somehow the training had inspired them to step up. And on the other hand, it’s a relief for me as I can step out. It’s a constant challenge – training and training other people is really different. I asked myself – how am I supposed to give them the necessary tools, knowledge and experience to step up to teach the classes as well? They have done well.
I started off with three trainers and we gradually developed and grow. Now I have seven coaches, including myself, and another three coaches on standby.
N: CrossFit may still be a novel concept to many here. How do you get people to be interested in it?
S: The question is – what do they want? Everybody walks in through the door with different objectives, goals and desire. So instead of trying to fit them with something, I would try to identify what they want. From there, give them the antidote and get them hooked. For example, some people are determined to exercise but somehow, their discipline level is not very high. I would give them more personal attention, and drop them personal messages regularly to check on them and encourage them. For the others who are more inclined to community encouragement, I would introduce them to the other members and link them up with one another. And draw them back to the classes.
N: What’s the defining formula of CrossFit?
S: The defining formula of CrossFit is probably the propaganda of being great in everything but not in anything in particular. Say for example, we run, lift and jump. We train to have stamina and movement control. We train to lift heavy but are we very strong? We’re not. Are we very fast in our cardio stuff? We’re not. Are we very in tuned with our body movement and awareness such that we can do crazy gymnastics movement? We’re not. You’ll see that CrossFitters can do jump rope, handstand, handstand walk, gymnastic ringwork and stuff like that – mostly the entry level at every sport. When they look at these sports again, they have a whole new perspective.
When the Olympics or other competition season comes in, some would watch these super heavy lifters lifting weights and have a new appreciation level for them. They see the gymnasts on TV and know what they do is really difficult because they’ve tried it before.
Unlike a typical boot camp or circuit training class, we don’t have to wait for anybody. We do the workouts together as a group but while you’re doing it, you’re pretty much an individual. A lot of times, when we are doing the workouts, we tend to be tired and we slow down or want to give up. And when we see people around us pushing themselves, this reminds us that if they are not giving up, we should not be giving up. And this gives us a little more boost to go on.
N: What kind of mind set do you carry when you work out?
S: I have this mantra that says, “If you’re not enjoying it, then why are you doing it?” You would always see me smiling while I’m doing the workouts. Even photographers would usually ask if I can be a little more intense. And I’d say, “No, it’s who I am or how I am.”
I guess the only time you see me pale-faced or biting my teeth is when I’m pushing myself over the edge. But that happens quite rarely because I would usually try to be in control and fill myself with positivity.
I always tell those training at my gym, “Why do you look so angry? Just smile, relax and let go.” And it usually works – they would perform better.
N: What kind of values does CrossFit Fire City advocate?
S: Number one, celebrate every success and achievement. A lot of times, we tend to be really uptight and the fact is, most of us are very hard on ourselves. We don’t tend to congratulate and praise ourselves enough. A lot of achievements we acquire, we tend to go, “No, it’s not good enough.” Here, people celebrate for one another.
Secondly, the silent rule here is never work out alone. And that’s the reason we have these classes, instead of opening up our space and let people work out by themselves. When you have a class, you have people communicating and interacting with one another. That builds an atmosphere that’s totally different.
Lastly, never underestimate the ability to inspire one another. A 50-year-old lady comes in for example, and she goes, “The people here are so strong. I wish I was as strong as they are and started as early as possible like in my 20s or 30s.” I would tell her to think otherwise because these 20 or 30-year-olds are looking at her and they tell themselves that they wish that they would still be as committed 10 to 20 years down the road and courageous enough to step into a place like this to work out.
N: What are some misconceptions of CrossFit?
S: It’s very intensive, high injury, very hard, heavy, muscular… CrossFit was started as a community training methodology. We modify the workouts all the time, at individual levels. If today’s workout comprises of a run, lift and bodyweight stuff, we would scale the distance for the run, weight for the lift and the range of motion for the bodyweight movement. Movement and training volume are really subjective to individual and we understand that, especially when the person is new to all these movement. We always encourage people to experience the workouts and get the hang of them first. Once they are more familiar, then we’ll start to talk about working on the mechanics and the consistency. The term we use in the CrossFit community is to first work on the skillsets, followed by mechanics, consistency and intensity. The culture in Fire City goes by this – work on your experience first, followed by your sensitivity, which is the awareness of your body, then work on the mechanics, consistency and intensity. I really want this place to be more welcoming than technical. The matter of fact is that there are a lot of things to learn but I would rather you submerge into the atmosphere and community first, and once you get used to the place, then you start to define, personalise and be more precise and detailed about your movements.
N: Seems like Fire City is your life. How do you spend your personal time?
S: I try to make more friends. I also attend yoga classes whenever I can. Other than working here, I spend time with my wife. If it is not a training day for me, I would head out and do other sports. I would try different things like rock climbing, shooting. Last year, we even tried wrestling.