Female Bodybuilding in Singapore: Interview With Joan Liew

Joan Liew training at her gym, Fitness Factory.

Joan Liew training at her gym, Fitness Factory.

38-year-old Joan Liew is a head-turner wherever she goes. And quite often, people will compliment her on her “nice body.” That’s because Joan, the co-founder of Fitness Factory, is a professional female bodybuilder.

Today, she has been in bodybuilding for more than 20 years and her extremely toned and muscular 68kg body – enclosed within a 1.68m frame – would certainly be the envy of many guys.

Some of Joan’s bodybuilding accolades include victory in the Women’s Physique (Tall) category at the Arnold Amateur International Bodybuilding competition – held earlier this year in Columbus, Ohio (USA), and winning the Asian Championship in 2000 – which was her first competition after seven years of training.

I interviewed Joan and asked her what it is like to be a female bodybuilder in Singapore. Read on, for what she said.

Tell us more about when you first stumbled into bodybuilding and lifting weights.

My first experience with weights dates back to when I was nine years old. I was attending a friend’s birthday party held at her poolside apartment and nearby there was a small gym. I wandered in on my own and went to a lat pulldown machine (a weighted cable pulley station for weight training), read the instructions on how to use it – and performed a set. Afterwards, I felt really good. I liked the muscle pump feel and I also felt my blood circulation increased instantaneously. That was the first time I had experienced weight training. The next time I hit the weights again, was when I turned 17.

Joan Liew (in centre).

Joan Liew (in centre).

With your numerous achievements so far, have you proven your early critics wrong?

Yes, I have proven many wrong. People came to me during my early years of training to discourage me from pursuing bodybuilding and said things like, “it’s such a waste for your pretty face”. They also thought that I would not make it because bodybuilding is a long process and they were certain that I would not be able to endure it – because I was a girl.

20 years later, I am still in the sport and my face has the same feminine features.

What motivates you to do bodybuilding?

Bodybuilding, which is resistance training, is very therapeutic. It is a form of exercise I do daily as part of my health and fitness regime. Exercise improves my blood circulation and energy level – I need to exercise daily to relieve my work stress.

I continue to pursue the sport of competitive bodybuilding all these years because I hold the strong desire to improve myself. It is my personal goal to be better each time, and I train hard to improve my physique every day.

How often do you train and what training do you usually do?

I train daily and work generally one muscle group per day – mainly with weights. I do cardiovascular workout typically three times a week for 30 minutes.

For example, a typical week may consist of having the following muscle workouts:

A Workout Programme

Joan Training Schedule

As a bodybuilder, what is your diet like?

I eat well to ensure I cover all my nutritional needs as an athlete. My dietary plan changes and I adjust it based on my caloric requirement for the day. I stick to mostly low Glycaemic Index (GI) and good protein foods.

Supplements are very important as they help your body to go beyond the current threshold by providing nutritional support for energy and recovery. I take Optimum Nutrition products because they deliver the results I want.

Joan Liew posing with one of her trophies

Joan Liew posing with one of her trophies

What are two of your most memorable moments and achievements in your bodybuilding career, so far?

My first memorable event was winning the Asian Championship in 2000. It was my first competition after seven years of training and I remember the national anthem being played as I stood on the podium during the prize giving ceremony.

My second most memorable event was my February win in the Women’s Physique (Tall) category at the Arnold Amateur International Bodybuilding competition in Columbus, Ohio (USA). It felt like a dream come through.

What do you feel are some of your biggest challenges, as a female bodybuilder in Singapore?

I do not see it as a challenge to be honest, as I feel that I am just another regular athletic girl. However, I do get uncomfortable with the stares from the public in my earlier years, but I am somehow oblivious to them now.

What comments do you usually get about your body?

It varies. Some will say I look “very fit.” Others will say “very muscular” whilst some may comment that I have got a good body. In the US, I receive much more compliments from the public as compared to Singapore.

How do you feel about the female bodybuilding scene in Singapore?

There is a lot still to be done, not only in terms of “promoting” the sport but also in terms of educating people on weight training and its benefits for women. People need to understand that weights are essential and it will not make a woman turn into a man. We need to encourage more women to take on the sport in the future, and to compete in other categories such as model physique.

And do you have any tips for aspiring bodybuilders?

Be patient, be humble and be determined.

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