SAFRA Dance-a-thon 2014

SAFRA Singapore rocked *SCAPE with its inaugural Dance-a-thon where participants get to shake their bon bons for a good cause. With a slew of grooves ranging from Zumba Fitness to Hip Hop to Jazz and more, the 8-hour dance mania is cure for two-left-feeters and all in the spirit of charity… to raise funds for Society for the Physically Disabled.

Enticed by the opportunity to burn off Chinese New Year calories and do good, I signed up for the Dance-a-thon. Never mind that my eyes-to-limbs coordination is as present as Aston Casey’s ability to be humble.

From 10am – 6pm on 15 Feb 2014, The Ground Theatre at *SCAPE throbbed with hot beats and nimble footwork. Dance-a-thon is a lead up to the annual SAFRA Dance Fiesta where dance enthusiasts pit their moves against each other in a celebration of showmanship, creativity and stamina.

RFID anklets were issued to monitor the dance duration of each participant in a bid to clock a total of 4,000 dance hours.

Fitness and dance instructors from various gyms and studios led the adrenaline sets to raise heart rates and improve cardiovascular health. And memory to string the steps and movements together.

The event reminded me of the very popular afternoon tea dances during the late 1980s where teenagers can club without alcohol. I felt like a daddy figure to all the youngsters on the dancefloor!

So you think you can dance? Or couldn’t. It doesn’t matter. Dance-a-thon was all about having a good time and burning fat the fun way!

My right knee made itself felt after about 2 hours into the dance segments and decided to make room for more dancers as they streamed in throughout the 8-hour session.

Any participant who has clocked at least 1 hour of dancing received one of these commemorative medals. It’s a nice keepsake to complement the pounds sweated out!
To keep in step with SAFRA’s latest happenings and exciting events such as the Dance-a-thon (which will happen again next year), visit safra.sg to find out the latest activities and promotions for NSmen and your family!

 

The Rise of Black Rice

Rice has the effect of garlic to vampires for any gym bunny trying to carve a 6-pack or those on a low-carb high protein diet to lose weight. I know, because I’m one of those carb adverse even though I love rice and the floury taste of banmian (板面).

So instead of giving up rice altogether, I’ve found an alternative to make the calories count with every mouthful by carbing on not white rice, but a mixture of grains and herbs to increase the nutritional value of my bowl.

Here’s an herbal rice blend I’ve experimented with that’s packed with more fibre, vitamins, minerals and higher protein content than regular white rice. And the added Chinese herbs have health promoting efficacies as well!

Ingredients for herbal rice : (left to right) Green Lentils (绿扁豆), Wolfberries (枸杞子), Brown Rice (糙米), Red Cargo Rice (红糙米), Black Rice (黑紫米), Dioscorea Opposita (淮山), and Angelica Sinensis (当归). Angelica Sinensis is not pictured here.

The ingredients sound exotic but they can all be found at local supermarkets in Singapore such as NTUC, Cold Storage, Giant and Sheng Siong with the exception of Black Rice which I bought from Mustafa Centre. If you can’t find the herbs at the supermarts, Chinese medicinal halls are bound to have them. The non-white rice varieties cost more than regular white grains with black rice being the most expensive (depending on brand, a 1kg pack of black rice costs around S$8 while white rice of the same weight costs between S$4 to S$6).

How to Cook : Simply wash all the grains and herbs and cook them together in a rice cooker. Cooking duration is approximately 30 minutes.

In terms of quantity, brown rice should form the bulk with red rice at half the amount used for brown and black rice at a quarter that used for brown. That is, if you used 40g of brown, then use 20g of red and 10g of black (use the same amount of lentils as black rice). But this is not cast in stone and you can vary the rice and lentils ratios according to preference.

For the herbs, use about a handful of wolfberries, 4 to 5 medium slices of dioscorea and 3 – 4 slices of angelica. Angelica has a very strong flavor so refrain from using too much or the resulting rice may taste bitter. Cut the dioscorea and angelica slices into tiny pieces to mix in better with the grains.

Once all the ingredients are in the rice cooker, add water. The water level should go slightly above the knuckles when you place your palm on the layer of rice and herbs. The more water you put, the softer the rice when cooked but too much and you will end up with a sticky rice mud.

Delicious and Healthy

The combination of nutty flavours from unpolished rice (brown and red) with the beany musk of lentils and aromatic fragrances of Chinese herbs gives the herbal rice a complex taste with a hint of bittersweetness.

You can Google each of the ingredients to read up on their health benefits but I would like to specially highlight the value of consuming black rice as more clinical research are uncovering the powerful antioxidant activity of this dark grain. Due to its scarcity, black rice was reserved and eaten only by emperors in ancient China, hence it is also known as the “Forbidden Rice”.

My first encounter with black rice was during a trip to the Yaeyama Islands, a group of islets off Okinawa, Japan. Residents on the Okinawan islands consume black rice and small bittergourd on a daily basis and the area has the highest number of centurions in the world. Many other factors definitely contribute to longevity but the Okinawans’ unique diet of black rice may be one of the key contributing ingredients.

Already, some health sites are calling black rice the new super food as it contains more vitamin E than brown rice and has higher anthocyanin content than blueberries, bestowing it with super antioxidant prowess that could potentially guard against a myriad of cardiovascular diseases, cancers and age-related conditions.

So the next time you have a carb crave, go black and don’t go back!

SAFRA Tampines – Recreation Hub in the East for NSmen

The 80s lives on… After the oldest SAFRA clubhouse at Toa Payoh (which was opened in 1975) got rebuilt and reopened in February 2013 and the second oldest at Bukit Merah (built in 1982) was replaced in 2004 by the Mount Faber clubhouse, SAFRA Tampines is the only of five clubhouses that originated from the 80s.

Opened in 1988, SAFRA Tampines is a sports and recreation hub for NSmen living in the eastern estates of Singapore. Today, it continues to be a hive for the active and sporty with upgraded facilities, amenities and a slew of fitness courses.

I used to visit SAFRA Tampines rather often some years back as my office was nearby so it felt familiar coming back again.

The clubhouse hasn’t aged after 25 years.

A suite of sporting facilities provide NSmen and their families numerous choices to build a healthy lifestyle.

Tampines SAFRA has many nooks and crannies to discover. There’s an activity space or sporting room at every corner. This pathway in the photo leads to a hall where exercise courses such as Muay Thai is held.

Tried a session of Muay Thai with trainer Richmond Leong and it was totally kickass! Look out for fitness courses at really affordable rates at safra.sg.

There are 3 squash courts available for booking at prices ranging from S$3.20 to S$5.25 per hour (inclusive of GST).

Indoor badminton courts can be booked by SAFRA members from S$3.20 – S$5.90 per hour (inclusive of GST).

This used to be my playground… SAFRA Tampines EnergyOne gym. With ample treadmills, stationary bikes and steppers, the gym’s cardio zone is a fat furnace.

Window to a more muscular body and better health.

A comprehensive range of free weights stations at the gym let users work every muscle part in the body.

Having worked out with various gym operators, I find that SAFRA gyms have the most number of serious male gymmers that serve as inspiration to train harder once you can get over being intimidated by their bulging biceps and physique.

The pool at every SAFRA clubhouse is an oasis. SAFRA Tampines has an Olympic-sized pool for laps and a smaller pool for kids to splash-play.

Despite not having visited for years, SAFRA Tampines remains to be one of the best sporting centre this side of Singapore to raise the adrenalin or spend a leisurely time to unwind.

Muay Thai – A Fight for Fitness

My fitness journey with SAFRA brought me to its Tampines Clubhouse recently for a Muay Thai trial session and I’m instantly hooked on the raw power of this combative martial art. Unlike boxing or kickboxing which uses just two (fists) or four (fists and feet) body parts, Muay Thai packs a whooping eight points of contact (fists, elbows, knees and shins) which makes it an incredibly effective fat shredder!

Also called the ‘Art of Eight Limbs’ (because of the eight points of contact), Muay Thai engages the whole body in the execution of its five basic moves (punch, elbow, knee, shin kick, and foot kick). It’s not only a great form of aerobic workout but a good bone strengthening exercise as Muay Thai practitioners benefit from cortical remodeling (bone regeneration as a result of coping with constant physical impact). If you don’t believe me, just take look at the Muay Thai fighters. Their body frames are usually very lean yet they have python forearms, calves and shins.

But going beyond the sport as a mere workout routine, Muay Thai is a useful life skill to learn that may one day come in handy during self-defence. It’s an exercise that could literally save your life!

My Muay Thai trial was conducted by Richmond Leong, a veteran at the sport with 11 years of competitive and training experience. The 27-year-old trainer looks like a kid but his punches and kicks are no child’s play.

Representing Singapore at the Muay Thai World Cup in 2004, Richmond placed 4th and went on to win more fights such as the Muay Thai Against Drugs belt (2006) and the prestigious 1 Song Chai S1 championship (2008). The Certified World Kickboxing Federation (Muay Thai) instructor believes that the martial art is not just a sport or weight loss exercise but a lifestyle as the combative nature of Muay Thai inspires practitioners to constantly train and improve their techniques as well as mental agility in their daily lives.

Richmond demonstrating a knee jab that is aimed at driving the kneecap deep into an opponent’s abdominals for some serious damage. Whether it is the knee kick or shin kick, Muay Thai emphasizes the throwing of one’s weight into the motion to deliver maximum impact. As such, the foot of the balancing leg is tip-toed rather than placed flat on the floor and that gives the calves a really good blast. So if you have chicken calves like me, Muay Thai may just be the exercise to fatten them up!

The roundhouse shin kick is an explosive switchblade swing of the leg to an opponent’s trunk to send him keeling. While there are only five basic moves, there are many variations within each move (eg. for kicking, there is the roundhouse kick, straight kick, jump kick, etc). To win a fight, boxers need to combine all these moves with strength and speed into a deadly human weapon.

After watching Tony Jaa take Muay Thai out of the ring and into real combat application (abet staged for Hollywood), I was deeply intrigued by the martial art form and had always wanted to try it because the moves look so cool!

However, having gone through a training session (which consisted of a high intensity circuit of punches, jabs, kicks, push-ups, sit-ups and leg raises) with Richmond, I realised that Muay Thai is not for posers. While the boot-camp like training is fantastic for anyone who wants to lose weight and tone up, trainees can also look forward to turning competitive one day. There are a couple of monthly and quarterly Muay Thai fights in Singapore where practitioners can spar with each other.

Coming from a gymming background where I’m used to having loud music that drowned out all thoughts and over-crowded studios during body combat classes, I found the Muay Thai session at SAFRA Tampines with no music and lots of space to punch and kick really cathartic. There were no distractions so the burn of my muscles spoke louder and felt deeper while not having to worry about hitting another person (unless it is a sparring session) was a relief. The Muay Thai course at SAFRA has a limit of no more than 20 students per class so there is definitely lots of space for everyone to let out the fighter within! And be prepared to sweat. A lot.

To find out when is the next intake for SAFRA’s Muay Thai course, check out safra.sg (Events & Activities).

Fab by 40 – 3 Moves for Great Lower Abs

When it comes to the engineering of eye-popping abs, top marks go to those who aim low. For anyone who’s paid due diligence with sit-ups and crunches, attaining that 4 packs on the upper abdominal region is just a matter of time.

But for those lower 6th – 8th pecs to show, it takes more than just simple leg raises. According to my personal trainer Roy Chan, who’s an Exercise Specialist with SAFRA EnergyOne, getting the lower abs to show requires eating a high-protein-low-carb diet of natural foods, doing regular cardio exercises, and incorporating a dynamic series of lower abs exercises to keep the muscles from the navel down constantly challenged.

Here are 3 lower abs exercises that can be worked into any fitness routine to activate those deep underbelly muscles.

1. Knee Tuck

The exercise is done by sitting on the ball of your butt and pulling your torso and legs in and then extending them out again. Do as many reps as possible in 40 seconds. Perform 3 sets of this exercise.

When doing the knee tuck, don’t place your hands too far back but on the floor just below the thighs.

2. Scissor Kick

This exercise is the simplest of the 3 but it’s one of those things that has escaped hell. The Scissor Kick, also known as Reverse Flutter Kick, is performed by lying flat on the floor and placing the hands just under your butt (to protect your tail bone). Next, raise your legs and alternate your feet up and down.

Do as many kicks as possible in 40 seconds and perform 3 sets.

Keep the toes pointed when doing the exercise and raise your head slightly to look towards your feet.

3. Cross Mountain Climbers

As the name suggests, this is no walk in the park. The exercise turns my sweat ducts on quicker than my credit card statements.

Here’s how to do this killer workout… assume the push up position. Next, pull the right knee towards the left elbow, return to starting position, and then pull the left knee towards the right elbow.

Again, do as many cross knee-to-elbow reps as possible in 40 seconds and repeat 3 sets.

To get better results, contract and hold in your lower abs while doing the climbers. And keep your butt level with your back. That is, don’t hunch or sink your pelvis too low.

For a complete abs workout, the 3 lower abs exercises here should be combined with exercises to work the obliques and overall abs in the posts listed at the end of the post.

Here’s an example in combining the exercises into an abs workout sequence :

Stability Ball Transfer (40 secs) > Side Plank (40 secs each side) > Knee Tuck (40 secs) > Lying Hip Rotation with Stability Ball (40 secs).

Do 3 sets of this sequence with a minute’s rest in between sets.

I hope this series of posts on abs workouts would help you achieve an awesome mid-section to grate cheese on. All the best!

Related Posts :

Obliterate Your Obliques in 3 Moves

3 Moves for Great Overall Abs

Fab by 40 – Obliterate Your Obliques in 3 Moves

Apart from a third nipple, the other pointless body part to grow is love handles. They made me buy larger pants and made it harder for me to find someone who would want to handle them.

So I sought help from Roy, my SAFRA EnergyOne fitness trainer, to obliterate those stubborn side body fats by incorporating oblique exercises into my core workout routine. Roy taught me a whole bunch of moves, some involving dumbbells and cable systems, but I found that the following 3 exercises work really well and they can be done at home!

1. Russian Twist

Believed to have originated from Russia during the Cold War, the Russian Twist involves twisting the body side-to-side in a seated position either with the legs up or on the floor.

Roy doing the twist with a Medicine Ball. If a Medicine Ball is not available, hold a dumbbell or sack of rice could also work. Else, just reach your hands side to side without any weight but do more reps.

The Russian Twist is executed by twisting the abdomen and tapping the Medicine Ball (or fingers if no weight is available) in a controlled manner on the each side of the floor.

For beginners, place the feet on the floor while twisting (it’s easier) and slowly work towards lifting the feet up when the core gets stronger. Do 3 sets of as many reps as possible in 40 seconds. Do not hunch the back or curve the spine while doing this exercise.

2. Side Plank

This exercise looks like it requires no effort but when done correctly, it’s no sleeping Buddha. I’ve done the Side Plank before and felt that it has got no kick. But after Roy pointed out my mistakes, I felt my obliques burn for the first time!

When doing the side plank, ensure that the elbow is directly below the shoulder and the feet are on top of each other (not one in front of the other on the floor). Maintain a straight line of the body, that is, don’t the hip sink down, and clench your buttocks.

Holding the Side Plank pose can cause a strain on the shoulder so it very important to align the shoulder and elbow to avoid injury. Hold the plank position for 40 seconds on each side of the oblique and do 3 sets.

According to Roy, the Side Plank works the transverse abdominis (a deep layer of muscles beneath the obliques) which contributes significantly to a hourglass or V-waist figure. So for those who love planking photos, try this instead of the face down flat plank and work your obliques at the same time!

3. Lying Hip Rotation with Exercise Ball

Think of yourself as a human pendulum when doing this exercise that swings an Exercise Ball side-to-side.

If you are doing this exercise at the gym, find a spot with lots of space, face your ass towards the wall, and don’t wear loose shorts… unless there’s someone in the gym you want entice with your salty dim sum.

This exercise can be done with or without an Exercise Ball although having something between the feet will activate the inner thigh muscles as well. When holding the ball between the feet, try to straighten the legs as much as possible while rotating side to side.

Like the previous 2 exercises, do 3 sets of the Lying Hip Rotation with as many reps as possible in 40 seconds. Spread your hands out to the side for better balance.

For better results, the oblique exercises should be done with the overall abs workouts I shared earlier. There’s a third part to a total abs blasting workout which I will post later so check back for the complete trinity of abdominal exercises to carve your 6 or 8 packs!

Related Post :

3 Moves for Great Overall Abs

Dark Side of the Spoon : Unicurd’s Black Soybean Goodness

It’s time to join the dark side when it comes to eating clean with Unicurd‘s newly launched Black Soybean Silken Tofu and Black Soybean Tau Kwa. Made with Non-Genetically Modified (Non-GMO) black soybeans that are packed with anthocyanin (a plant-based phytonutrient), the homegrown brand is poised to be the transformer of Singaporeans’ health with these revolutionary soy products!

I got a chance to sample the tofu and tau kwa at an introductory event helmed by Chef John See who signatured six unique recipes using the black soybean products that are the first-of-their-kind in Singapore. With a hand in delighting the palates of celebrities, dignitaries and even the Presidents of State, John also don the toque as chef, contributor and consultant to various publications, non-profit organisations (eg. Red Cross, Cancer Foundation) and the Health Promotion Board to promote healthy diets amongst schoolchildren.

Kitchen God… Chef John See spends most of his time nowadays at The Food Dot (70, Race Course Road), a café cum cooking studio where he conducts classes for busy working adults. With his knack for culinary innovation, Unicurd sussed out Chef John to create dishes using the Black Soybean Silken Tofu and Black Soybean Tau Kwa.

I expected the tau kwa to be all black but they aren’t. Reason? The flesh of black beans are actually yellow and only the outer skin is black. So when the whole bean is used to make Unicurd’s soy products, instead of looking like coal bricks, the tofu and tau kwa appear purplish-grey. The products are all natural with no added colourings and preservatives.

Being a weight-watcher and someone who is perpetually attempting to build more muscles while using less animal protein, my diet include a lot of soy milk, tofu, bean sticks, bean sheets and beancurds. But what got me REALLY excited about he black soybean variety is the anthocyanin content.

Benefits of Anthocyanin :

I first learnt about anthocyanin while researching on supplements made with mangosteen pericarp (rind) extracts some years back. Anthocyanin is a plant nutrient (phytonutrient) known as a flavonoid found mainly in dark red, purple or blue fruits and vegetables. It is a very powerful antioxidant and as the body of in-vitro and in-vivo clinical studies on anthocyanin grew, mainly in favour of the flavonoid’s health benefits, I have been finding ways to get more of it into my body.

However, it is expensive to increase intake of anthocyanin as potent sources such as blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and purple cabbage cost quite a bit. The mangosteen rind supplement wasn’t budget-friendly either. With Unicurd’s Black Soybean Silken Tofu and Black Soybean Tau Kwa, I finally have a cheaper alternative to add more anthocyanin into my diet. Health benefits of anthocyanin include :

– the potential to protect against age-related vision loss

– may have anti-cancer and anti-tumour properties through cancer cell apoptosis (ie. triggering cancer cell death)

– could help prevent cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and clogging of arteries

– potentially have skin beautification effects by acting as a sunscreen (the deep pigments of leaves and fruits are actually anthocyanin at work as a plant’s defence system against constant sun exposure during photosynthesis)

There are many more health benefits of anthocyanin where ongoing animal and human studies are being conducted which I hope can verify its efficacies soon.

A disclaimer though, the information on anthocyanin’s benefits do not constitute medical advice or treatment and does not represent Unicurd’s position on the health benefits of its products. Those purported benefits of anthocyanin are gathered from research I read online, Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch and James F. Balch, and other leading experts on nutritional therapy.

Tofu Need Not Be Boring

I’m one of those who’ve acquired the taste and appreciation for the bland flavour of beancurd eaten without dressing and seasoning but once in a while, I do like to experiment. And thanks to Chef John, my repertoire of ways to serve tofu at home has been expanded with his Unicurd Black Soybean Silken Tofu and Black Soybean Tau Kwa dishes…

Cold Unicurd Black Soybean Tau Kwa Soba Noodle with Black-Sesame Broth. A nutritious low-fat complete meal with carbs and protein that’s perfect for our eternal summer.

Unicurd Black Soybean Tau Kwa slices with Smoked Duck Salad. As tau kwa is unobtrusive in flavour, it can be added to just about any salad and dish to add volume and nutritional value. The tau kwa has been fried in olive oil till bits of the skin are crispy for this dish. Really fragrant with every bite and a medley of textures from the tau kwa, duck meat, greens, and fried onions.

My personal favourite was this duo of Unicurd Black Soybean Tofu dressed with a paste of salted egg and the other topped with crispy fish skin. Both are sprinkled with chicken floss and spring onions that made my tastebuds sing.

Unicurd Black Soybean Silken Tofu can also be blended with 1 cup of unsweetened soymilk, 1 cup of UHT milk, and 1 cup of water to create a creamy soup. Sprinkle some salt, a tablespoon of oyster sauce and a dash of sugar to taste and add in vegetables, meat or seafood to enjoy hearty bowl of soup…

… or use it as a broth for steamboat! Surprise friends and family with this healthy soup base at your next dinner party!

Rounding up the tasting session, Chef John balled up tiny scoops of Unicurd Black Soybean Silken Tofu to complement a mango-sago dessert given a Peranakan hint with the addition of Gula Melaka. The sweet dessert went really well with my cuppa of neat black Espresso. Sugar rush met caffeine high… Awesome!

From ice cold to hotpot, savoury to sweet, the dishes demonstrated the versatility of this very humble and traditional Asian culinary canvas for one to express creativity in the kitchen. The good news is that Unicurd‘s Black Soybean Silken Tofu (S$1.50) and Black Soybean Tau Kwa (S$2.20) are now available at all leading supermarkets in Singapore.

I went to a NTUC Fairprice supermarket near my house after the session with Chef John to buy the products but only the tofu was available. I was planning to make Black Soybean Tau Kwa salad for dinner. As the products have just been launched, perhaps it will take some time before both are available on the refrigerated shelves. I shall patiently wait.

Because now that I’ve gone black, I will never go back! *burp*

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