It was a beautiful discovery journey while it lasted. By Estelle Low
Estelle doing burpees during the Under Armour Test of Will 2017 heats. Photos: Under Armour Singapore
I’m allergic to competition; sports-related, specifically.
The thought of having all eyes on me as I perform specific moves is enough to make my insides quiver. My palms are sweating as I type this.
Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a flair for anything sporty. In group ball games like netball and basketball, I’m one who tries to blend into the ground and prays that the ball doesn’t somehow reach me.
My justification: I’m not a great catcher or shooter, so I’d rather not take the responsibility (and risk the wrath of my team mates). With this mentality, joining any game or competition has never been on my list. I think I’d rather learn how to play chess.
After passing my physical fitness test in junior college, I was so elated to get out of the examination system, where every jump and every stride was scrutinised.
When it comes to solo activities like running and swimming, I do them for mind and body benefits – to look and feel good – instead of having a fitness target in mind. I have joined a couple of races, half marathons and full marathons, but always in the name of experience, not glory.
That’s why I feel right at home in yoga and group exercise classes. There’s no judgment passed. No goals to be scored. No timing to be met. I just need to be there, and do my thing.
So when the opportunity to train and take part in the Under Armour Test of Will came along, three letters went through my head: O. M. G.
For the clueless, the Under Armour Test of Will is a regional fitness challenge organised by Under Armour Southeast Asia. It started in 2016, attracting tons of already-fit people who were more than happy to put themselves through puke-inducing exercises like burpees, tyre flips and rope climbs.
Though the idea of pitting myself against the fittest of mankind is dead scary, I don’t think life is worth living without challenges. So I said yes, sure.
I’m 30 this year, past the peak of trying to look or act a certain way. I’ve been through painful, life-changing experiences like a marathon. And childbirth without epidural. I have nothing to prove. What did I have to lose?
Doing as many reps as possible of burpees, dumbbell thrusters, TRX rows and sandbag throws in four minutes – the requirement for the Test of Will heats – wasn’t going to kill me. Torturous? Yes, but that would only make me stronger.
With three weeks to go, I started prepping with guidance from TripleFit Singapore, the partner gym for the Under Armour Test of Will.
Twice a week, I trained with TripleFit’s fitness team leader Latif Mirza. On a separate day, I would join a high-intensity group exercise class to keep up the momentum.
It’s better to undertrain than to overtrain.
Estelle doing TRX rows during the Under Armour Test of Will heats.
Putting in three hours of training a week in preparation for the Under Armour Test of Will doesn’t sound like a killer, and that should be the way.
Some of us go-getters think, the more hours put in, the better the results. Not when it comes to physical training.
My trainer Latif emphasised that my goal was to train without falling sick or sustaining injuries. “You want to be able to perform on competition day feeling fresh and relaxed, not fatigued,” he said.
A good week for me means exercising three times on non-consecutive days. I’m not one who relishes working out every day, unlike some superhero league of people I know.
Given my fitness background, Latif recommended I stick to working out three or four times a week at most. No crazy schedule. Plus, I needed sufficient rest and recovery time in between sessions.
Live by the 80-20 rule.
Concerned about not training enough, I asked Latif whether I should step up the frequency. He replied: “80 per cent of your improvement in results will come from 20 per cent of training.”
What, only 20 per cent of training counts?
Apparently so. After googling, I learnt that according to the Pareto principle (derived from an Italian economist), 80 per cent of results stem from 20 per cent of efforts. That 80-20 rule applies broadly in other everyday scenarios.
For instance, 80 per cent of profit comes from 20 per cent of a product range. And perhaps, 80 per cent of the Test of Will participants consists of 20 per cent of people who work out regularly? (That explains why I see the same faces at other fitness events!)
The point is, it makes sense to work smart instead of hard, by focusing on what leads to the best outcome.
With that in mind, these were my training objectives for the Test of Will:
- Practise the actual movements and build up reps
- Train muscle memory so I can do the reps more efficiently and therefore, quickly
- Improve work capacity (or strength endurance) in four minutes
You would think that, amidst these objectives, building my strength would rank quite highly. But that wasn't the focus.
Strength takes a much longer time to build than three weeks.
Hard truth: Strength training is a long-term affair. Don’t expect to be able to nail a difficult move in just three weeks, if you haven’t been working on it before.
In my case, it was the 10kg sandbag throw.
I have never lift and hoisted anything overhead, until this Test of Will came along. During my training, I worked with 10kg slam balls and strength bags, which are notably different in terms of size (smaller) and weight distribution (more centralised) from sandbags.
So although I could manage five to 10 reps of throwing a 10kg slam ball or strength bag during my training, I couldn’t do the same for the sandbag on the day of the heats. (More on that later.) The unruly size of the sandbag – about half my mass – threw me off balance. And the weight proved too shifty for me to manoeuvre.
No, you won’t bulk up after strength training.
Estelle doing one-arm dumbbell thrusters during the Under Armour Test of Will heats.
If you worry about looking like the Hulk after lifting weights, all I can say is: There’s no way it’s going to happen, unless you increase your calorie and protein intake significantly. Which I’m guessing you won’t.
For the record, my muscles barely grew after three weeks of dedicated training. The most noticeable changes: my arms and tummy – the flabbiest parts of my body – felt firmer. My biceps and triceps gained slightly more definition, if I may say so.
I didn't feel particularly stronger, but with each training session, my body became smarter at producing the required movements. My transitions got smoother, and I learnt how to perform at a consistent high-intensity pace.
Set achievable goals.
Because the Test of Will challenge is about doing as many reps as possible, with one rep equalling one point, you’ll want to set a target based on the maximum number of reps you think you can clock for each exercise done consecutively.
But it's always a good idea to keep things flexible.
In my case, I aimed to do 15 to 20 burpees, 25 to 30 dumbbell thrusters, 10 to 12 TRX rows, and 5 to 10 sandbag throws. Instead of setting a target score for each exercise, I opted for a range to account for miscellaneous factors that could lower my score, such as “no counts”, wet weather and performance anxiety.
Estelle attempting to throw a 10kg sandbag over the bar at the Under Armour Test of Will heats.
Since I didn’t train with a sandbag, I knew there was a possibility I would be unable to do even one rep of the sandbag throw, the last exercise in the circuit. With that in mind, I planned to go all out for the first three exercises, then try my luck with the sandbag.
My fear came true on the day of the heats. It was raining on and off that April 8 morning. It wasn't just the mat that was wet; the sandbag was slick with a mixture of water and dirt from the ground.
Much as I tried to manhandle the bag and shove it over the approximately 1.8m bar, it wouldn’t cooperate. After pushing myself with the burpees, dumbbell thrusters and TRX rows, my arms felt like they didn't belong to me anymore. Just like that, my minute was up and I scored zero sandbag throws.
In all, I managed 58 points, thanks to 18 burpees, 28 thrusters, 12 TRX rows. It’s very average, considering the female winner in Singapore amassed 122 points, double my feat. But I have no room to feel sorry for myself. Not when I did the Test of Will in the rain with best intentions, exceeded my target score of 55, and left the competition in one piece. No vomit.
Plus, this Test of Will was really about challenging myself, not anyone else.
This article is brought to you by Under Armour Singapore.