Such is the accuracy of Instagram’s unique user targeting that once you’ve double-tapped on one image of a friend, influencer or celebrity showing off their ripped physique at the gym, and the next thing your feed is filled with similar imagery. It’s enough to inspire a post-circuit breaker detox and hit the streets in a new workout kit, but what exactly are we hoping to achieve? “I believe that most of us are guilty of judging someone’s level of fitness based on their appearance,” says personal trainer Davin Choo, who runs his own fitness company. “Although having a set of chiselled abs, ripping muscularity and ridiculously low body fat might indicate a certain level of fitness, it’s not always the case.”
The point, of course, is that looking photo-worthy on social media is not necessarily a representation of one’s overall health and fitness level, and the definition of that differs for every individual. “Personally, I feel best when I maintain a healthy level of body fat as it makes me feel energetic, motivated and confident, both in and outside of the gym,” says Choo. “I remember a period where I was dead-focused on maintaining a low body-fat percentage and it made me moody, sluggish and progress was stagnant in the gym. It definitely taught me a lesson about looking fit versus actually being fit.”
"I see a lot of people screwing up their nutrition and not listening to their body, and the combination of both proper nutrition and exercise is what results in a complete healthy package."
Choo is living proof that achieving a visibly fit physique takes work. “I used to be an overweight kid and then an overweight teenager—I was never a sporty kid growing up,” he explains, noting that his father used video games as a way to motivate him to take up running. Now at 26 years old, he works out around four times per week, for about 45 minutes at a time, not including the time spent with clients, managing his fitness commitments alongside his professional life in advertising. “I wake up at 6am to train and continue with work afterwards, and this forces me to go to bed earlier at night,” he says. “Working out in the morning keeps me focused and energised through the day.”
We know, of course, that no matter the hours put in at the gym, diet is a significant contributor to our overall health, and although Choo is reluctant to assign a specific breakdown, he concedes that nutrition is generally more important. “A well-rounded diet can aid you in your fitness goals, such as improving your body composition, as well as fuelling your workouts and recovering from them,” he says. “I see a lot of people screwing up their nutrition and not listening to their body, and the combination of both proper nutrition and exercise is what results in a complete healthy package. I also feel that people have a misconception of training that it requires a lot of their time, which is false; 45 minutes to an hour of focused training will suffice.”
“You should never base your self-worth exclusively on your physical fitness and physique.”
As for maintaining your fitness levels year-round, Choo says finding a balance between life and fitness is key to achieving your goals. “Fitness should complement your life and allow you to enjoy it to the fullest, not the other way around. Birthdays and social gatherings are not going to affect you significantly, and the reality is that we are sometimes forced to prioritise our life over fitness.” While there are workarounds, such as managing our time and preparing meals in advance, Choo notes that achieving optimal health is not a zero-sum game, and recommends cutting yourself some slack. “You should never base your self-worth exclusively on your physical fitness and physique.”
Photographs by Lee Yik Keat