Monday, April 11, 2011

Exclusive Interview with Ahmad Taufiq Muhammad

We have with us here Taufiq, strongman athlete from SG Titans for an exclusive interview. I first got to know about about the local strongman scene in my final year of Physiotherapy school. And every year i hear Taufiq's name amongst the top ten of the Civil Defence for National Servicemen (CDANS) Strongest Man competitions. Though this year he didn't participate in this competition, he won the Orang Kuat Sabah (Sabah Strongest Man) 2011. We are very honoured to have him here share some things about him and his sport.

Could you tell us about your fitness background (before strongman)?

I did Judo, Rugby, Track & Field in my younger days

I was always been in active in sports since secondary all the way up to Polytechnic. Before Strongman, it was Track and Field, I used to throw the discus and shot put. But I was better in the discus because of it’s technical demands because I’ve always been very technical and believed that good form and technique will go a long way! I’ve always been big... In fact I was a fat kid from primary school, but I was also very active in Track and Field. To be honest, Track and Field and representing my school kept me out of trouble from the gangs and other vices. So technically... I’ve always been big and strong. When I was 18 I totally gave up sports because of the “Singaporean Dream” of grades = progress. But was pretty much very wrong! I ballooned up to 130kg... slobbish, slow and totally demoralized. I was invited to train with Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Track and Field team because I knew some people there and I’ve always love competing... because I was quite good at it too! Training 3 days a week made sure that my fitness was reasonable. Represented NP for various IVP meets too.

I’ve then swopped over to bodybuilding in the search for that “Muscle Mag” body... but gave that up because the dieting was ridiculous I’ve tried dieting and my lowest dieting weight was 92kg but I hated the way I look, because I was lean but it doesn’t appeal to me only to find out that Bodybuilders are on drugs. I’ve always believed in not using drugs because it’s also known as cheating! At 22 years... I totally lost interest in bodybuilding because of the amount of drugs in the sport.
Broke my wrist during friendly rugby game. But I still have that urge to train but I still kept going to the gym... ballooning up to 130kg of “FATNESS” doesn’t appeal to me. So what can you do? Squats... so I technically squatted for almost 4 days a week. 2 days heavy, 2 days light just to get that adrenaline buzz! I also noticed that I got stronger as the weight on the bar piled on. So I believe that squatting was the key that made me stronger.

How long have you been doing Strongman? And how did you get started?

I’ve started strongman in 2005, after I got my right knee reconstructed in 2004 July... I say again, squatting save my life! Because of the dense muscle tissue around my knees... I recovered in 2 to 3 months and I was walking with no crutches after 2 days after surgery! You can also say that I’m stubborn or strongwilled! All I wanted to do after my surgery was to squat again! I saw the Hometeam NS magazine about the first ever strongman competition in Singapore and I’ve always dream about competing in competitions like this because when I was 10 years old I saw Magnus Magnusson (WSM) competitor doing all these feats of strengths on TV! I’m glad that at 25 I’ve finally got that opportunity in Singapore. So from 2005... there was no looking back and I’ve been in it till today and competing in Singapore, Johor and most recently in Sabah! I’m glad to be feature always in top 5 almost every year. But this year I had to withdraw due to a chest infection but recovered just in time for Sabah, and with only 5 days of training since I fell ill from 2nd week of February.
How many calories do you take a day?

Honestly... I don't count calories, I think it’s a waste of time! I go by how my body feels. But I can tell you that I eat 6 to 8 meals in a day if it’s competition season. I have my very own meat supplier sending 20kg of meat to my place every month! Below is a sample of my meal on a normal day on a training day during competition season.

7am: 300g Steak, 2 Eggs and 1 Slice of Toast (own cooked meal)
10.30am: Salmon & Prawn Pasta (own cooked meal)
1.30pm: Sliced 300g beef with onions Sandwich with some fiber (own cooked meal)
4.30pm: 2 apples, 2 oranges, Ribena, dried fruit like raisins, dates or figs
Workout at 6pm to 8pm (raisins and sultanas in between sets)
Post workout: Protein shake, roasted cashew nuts, almonds, peanuts
8pm: 2 Chicken breast (Grilled) with bread or naan (own cooked meal at home or eat out)
10pm: Fruits... lots of it!

Normally, my kitchen would be a buzz of activity because 3 pans are going at the same time!!! I also have a “cooler box” in my car, to keep my food warm. I also drink down about 4 to 5 litres of water a day! No soft drinks at all or at least I try not too. If I don't have my meals with me... I’ll try to find substitutes like fish soup x 2 bowls, chicken chop no sauce... it’s always about alternatives, you have to be flexible.

I also try not to depend too much on supplements because I prefer food! I only use supplements or shakes when I have no choice! If I’m in off season... I eat normally like 4 to 5 meals a day, with snack of fruits and nuts. I always have a pack of raisins and dried fruits in my bag to snack on. I don't like snacking on processed food, fast food or junk food. My body is already stressed from my training, why should I stress it even more to process the rubbish.

What is your favourite food?

I’m on a SEEFOOD diet... I see food... I eat it! Basically... all dead animals especially beef! But I my fiber intake is also high. I’m a foodie and the thought of eating tasteless food doesn’t appeal to me. If I eat something heavy, my workout on the next day will take care of everything!

What's your training program like?

Training program is pretty simple, 3 or 4 days a week, depending on my schedule. By the way... if I train at the gym for 2 days a week, it’s only 3 exercises... Deadlifts, Pull Ups, Military Presses and Squats!

Monday: Deadlifts, Pull Ups ( 40 mins max)
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Squats (40 mins max)
Thursday: SG Titans (Light & Easy)
Friday: Rest
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: SG Titans (Use and Abuse, heavy work)
Training with SG Titans would include, yoke walk, farmer’s walk, tyre flips, sled pulls, sledge hammers drills or whatever is on the menu. Normally, we would start with Kettlebells or circuit training before strongman begins. Rolling on my roller is a nightly affair before I sleep. Sometimes on rest days I might do Bulgarian Bags with Coach Yasir as a form of recovery, Bulgarian bags are not heavy and they also help with shoulder mobility.

As for my cardio, I don't indulge or have any interest in running but I do KBs jerks, snatches, or long cycle for time or reps (trust me 8 minutes of KB Snatches is enough to make me cry!!), Bulgarian bags, swim, outrigger canoe paddling (when I have time). 

For intense cardio... I would recommend, 20 Flips of 270kg Tyre with a 7 second temp x 3 sets! It’s going to be intense!!! You can always drop by at SG Titans if you are keen to do strongman implements!

How does kettlebell lifting / sport fit in with Strongman?

Kettlebell lifting is actually a good alternative to strongman during the off season, because it is not realistic to train with Strongman implements the whole year! Your body needs rest and get some time off from the weight. Kettlebell work also helps in developing the core, stability and efficiency. I use Kettlebells drills more as a tool for cardio. Because I’m weigh 110kg to 116kg (competition weight) but 120kg to 125kg in off season... running is out of the question, so KBs are an awesome substitute for cardio. I always had reasonable mobility with my shoulders and hips but now... after KBs my mobility has improved.

Little did I know I was hooked to being more mobile and functional in terms of movement. I explored with Bulgarian Bags, Club Bells and other forms of tools. I also adopted them because of injury prevention and I’ve never looked back since. Strength with no mobility is useless! You need to be quick, fast, mobile and agile. No point weighing in 120kg strong as hell but no technical or mobile ability.

I’m so hooked that I’m keen to be ranked in WKC Kettlebell Sport and maybe give a go at WKC Kettlebell Strong Sport.

How did you discover CST/TACFIT and what got you interested in it?

I’ve always been keen to try new stuff and I’ll be judge of equipment thus I’ve also always wanted to give Clubbells a try but its never around in SG or someone to teach it, but when I found out that Herman was doing it I grabbed the chance, contacted him and the rest is history!!! I wish I could attend more of his classes but my schedule and me being away from SG does not permit it. Well once I’m back in SG... I think I would be a permanent fixture at CST, hopefully!

How has CST/TACFIT helped you in your sport?

One of the most important components of CST/TACFIT was recovery that I’ve learnt from Herman! Previously after an intense set of 20 flips of 270kg tyre with a 6 second tempo, I would be puking or vomiting at some corner, panting and be in extreme pain. But since adopting the “active recovery”  instead of panting and gasping for air, I noticed that my cardio ability has improved and I don't feel like I’m going to collapse and die!
The CST joint mobility drills were also a plus... I’m 116kg and can do a crow pose! That says a lot by itself. When people say that big guys are slow... I challenge them to that notion! I’m 116kg and can flip a 270kg tyre in sub 30 seconds for 20m! Yes I might not be able to run 100m, yes I might only manage to do 50m in the pool for 54secs and yes it’s amazing that I can do pull ups at 116kg...
Big, strong, mobile, agile and technically sound... thats what I hope to be and keep on moving in that direction! I’m also very thankful to all the coaches and instructors who have shared or imparted some of their knowledge to me. Knowledge is meant to be shared.

Monday, April 4, 2011

...The Technique is More Important than the Tool (Part 2/2)

No Gym No Problem

So some people i have spoken with are interested (whether casually or seriously i don't know) with physical training, and when told that they can get really fit training at home, i always get questions like these:

"But are Dumbbells enough?"

"But is Bodyweight Training enough?"

"How are Kettlebells/Clubbells better compared to Dumbbells?"

"Should i buy Kettlebells/Clubbells?"

"Dumbbell bench press or Barbell bench press?"

As if there is some magic in the Kettlebell or Clubbell® or some other fancy "new" exercise equipment, the latest tools and gadgets, latest technology etc.

What these questions essentially assume that you have to have certain equipment (the Tools) to have a good training program for whatever kind of fitness goals.

And frankly speaking, the marketing materials of some equipment manufacturers / sellers really do give the impression that their Tools are really a necessity rather than a luxury. As if having these Tools would magically transform your crappy program design into award winning workouts. As if having these Tools would magically transform your lousy biomechanics into sound biomechanics.

And then some unqualified "trainers" have capitalized on the fitness equipment boom and marketted themselves as "Kettlebell Experts" or "Celebrity Kettlebell Trainers" when it is obvious that they are not doing "Kettlebell Lifting" at all.

To tell you the truth, i am here to burst your bubble. You already have the Tools. The Exercises (and the movement pattern of the Exercises, but that is another story) are more important than the specific Tools used to perform the Exercises, therefore we say in TACFIT: "the Time is more important than the Technique, the Technique is more important than the Tool".

As i have always explained to my clients "even if you have no other equipment, you can have a good training program with just your Bodyweight".

The Origin of Some Tools

Do you know that many of modern fitness equipment evolved from agricultural equipment and / or weapons? No doubt that having the properly engineered version of the Tool for fitness / performance use is ideal. But what if you don't have access to them? Or if getting access to them is too costly to be worth your while?

A notable example of these is the Sandbag. What could be simpler than a bag of sand? And it does not have to be sand. It can be rocks / scrap pieces of metal or some other heavy object.

Very cheap to make and easy to obtain. Yet packs a lot of punch due to their shifting centre of mass and bulk.

As an aside, to me the ideal "training" is manual labour. If you do manual labour, you don't have to "train" to build up your body. Your manual labour is your training. We "train" to replace the lost physical activity that our ancestors get in their manual labour.

Do you understand now why there are sports and training Exercises that mimic manual labour, notably Strongman?

Tool Substitutions

That said, since the past few years immersing myself in CST and TACFIT, the most versatile weight training Tool i have used is undeniably the Clubbell®. It can be used for exercises for the Dumbbell, Kettlebell, Sandbag, Barbell and give interesting twists to them.

Not to mention it is designed for exercises not meant to be done with these other Tools. We think of exercises in the Trial By Fire for example.

Every Tool has unique features. A Tool is only better than another Tool if you know how to use these features to your advantage. If you can't grip a Kettlebell properly, it does no good to you. It would be better for you to do the same exercises with better Technique with a Dumbbell instead.

Good Tools does not compensate for lousy Technique. Or rather, i would rather you have excellent Technique with normal Tools than lousy Technique with the latest state of the art Tools.

Bodyweight Exercise

A special mention goes to Bodyweight Exercise, which requires no external Tool except the floor and your Bodyweight. Of course it is assumed that you are in a gravitational field for this to work.

You have your Bodyweight with you 24/7, yet how many people say that Bodyweight Training is "boring" or "doesn't get heavy enough". Or even worse, that they can't train because they don't have access to a gym or equipment. With some creativity, it can be done, just like in the disciplines of the Dances and Gymnastics. Don't believe me, go around and as how many people can do a strict One Arm Push Up or One Arm Pull Up.

And how about the simple Push Up? As in Part 1 of these series of articles, you can create a big bang for the buck program using just the Push Up and some other simple Bodyweight Exercises.

When You Cannot Substitute With Other Tools

Of course, it goes without saying that the goals determines the Tools, as much as the Technique and the Time.

If your goal is to compete in Powerlifting or Weightlifting, you cannot substitute the Exercises with other Tools. If your goal is to Squat big, Bench big and Deadlift big, the Barbell is the best Tool of the trade.

The same goes for Bodyweight Exercise and Gymnastics, Kettlebells and Kettlebell Sport etc.


I hope i have given you some ideas on how to have good training programs with minimal Tools. If you need some more ideas, do check out TACFIT Commando, a Bodyweight-only training program that is guaranteed to kick your ass.

TACFIT Commando - minimal tools, maximal results

The Time is More Important than the Technique...(Part 1/2)

So Many Whats

I often receive these questions many times from friends and/or prospects:

"What exercises can i do to...get a six pack / burn off the fat / flatten my tummy?"

"What exercises can i do to make my arms / chest / lats bigger?"

"What exercises can i do to train the core?"

Well, what these questions essentially assume is that:

-There is some magic with some exercises,

-Perhaps exercises that they do not know or have never seen before,

-And doing them, regardless of how they do them,

Would give them the results that they want.

To tell you the truth, i am here to burst your bubble. You already know the Exercises (Technique). The how is more important that the what, therefore we say in TACFIT: "the Time is more important than the Technique, the Technique is more important than the Tool".

Every Exercise is a Core Exercise

As it has been said "every Exercise is a core Exercise". Somebody asks "what exercise can work the core?" So which Exercises are you going to pick? Done properly a Push Up is a very good core Exercise. Those from the heavy lifting camp would tell you Squats and Deadlifts are the best core Exercise or something to that extend. I can't help you answer the question unless you furnish me with more information. I can choose any arbitrary Exercise but is that what you want?

Two people may be doing the same Exercise but with totally different (and opposite) goals. One person does 10RM barbell Squats for 20 reps without time limit for mass, another may be doing bodyweight Squats with Tabata Protocol for conditioning / fat loss.

Confusing the Time (Protocol) with the Technique (Exercise)

Many times i hear people say "i run / swim / cycle / lift weights three times a week (or even five / six times a week, two hours a day), but i am still flabby, should i switch to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)?"

Firstly you need to ask yourself, are you using a Protocol that i suited for your fitness goal(s)? Run / swim / cycle / lift weights are Technique, not Protocols. As mentioned above two people can do the same Exercise but have totally opposite goals. A sprinter runs and a marathon runner runs, but their training Protocols are totally different.

If your running / swimming / cycling are done with Long Slow Distance (LSD) Cardio Protocols, then for sure you will not see any impressive fat loss results. Note that i am not saying running / swimming / cycling are not good Exercises, they are.

If you are an adult and lifting weights mean for kids, thinking you can tone your muscles, you are sorely mistaken. No matter whether you are doing the best Exercises or not.

You don't need to change the Exercises, you need to change the Protocols.

Are You Getting It or are You Getting Confused?

In other words, even if i give you an encyclopedia of a million Exercises, if you don't know how to structure them in a proper program design, it is useless. Do i even need to prove this point? Since the advent of the internet, more people know more about more Exercises than ever. There are even online exercise encyclopedias available for free. Yet there are still many people who design crappy programs.

The How is More Important than the What

The Protocol refers to how the program is structured. This is much more important than the Exercises you choose. Well, unless your goal is to be good at specific Exercises, then you have to practice those Exercises. If you want to be good in Weightlifting and Powerlifting, not only you have to do the Protocols specific for the sports' requirements, but also the Exercises for them.

Consider these variables:

-How often? Once a week or less is a joke. Don't even bother to train if you think you can "exercise" once in a while and get "fit".

-How much? This can be further broken down to how many reps, how many sets, resistance, effort / intensity etc.

Implied also are your recovery exercises and schedule. There are other questions to ask but just these will do for now.

Sample Program

Ok, i don't want to go too much into the technical details here. I just want to share with you and show you how some simple and widely known Exercises can be used simply and effectively in a program design. This program is for fat loss / toning / explosive strength / endurance.

The Exercises i pick are: Lunge, Pull Up, Push Up and Spinal Rock.

Granted, Spinal Rock is not so common an exercise for a training program, but Sit Up is. And the Spinal Rock is a Sophistication of the Sit Up.

Granted, designing Levels 2, 3 and 4 may not be easily evident to some people not well versed in program design. But at least you should know what goes into Level 1. And i am giving them to you as a bonus

The Protocol we are using would be the infamous Tabata Protocol. Nothing new also.

In fact, there is nothing new in this program. Novelty is good, but if you don't know how to use it, you don't have to use it. Stick to the tried and true stuff.

Tabata: 20/10 x 8

Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
Forward Lunge
Backward LungeLunge Jump SwitchAirborne Lunge
Pull Up
Kipping Pull Up
(Mixed Grip)
Kipping Pull Up
(Underhand Grip)
Kipping Pull Up
(Overhand Grip)
Push Up
Push Up
(Ball of Foot)
Arm Screw Push Up
Plyometric Screw Push Up
Spinal Rock
Spinal Rock
Spinal Rock
Spinal Rock

That's it, a short and simple, yet innovative program design available to anybody. And since this is a free program, i am not going to give you any video instructions, search Google or youtube for them.

In the next instalment, we'll look at the second half of the statement "the Technique is more important than the Tool".