Back in 2021, I wrote about my experience trying out Division Athletics, then a newly-open boutique fitness studio set within the basement of the AIG building along Shenton Way (next to M Hotel Singapore) which offers strength and conditioning group classes. My story was based largely on my attendance of their outdoor classes, necessitated by then-prevailing restrictions on indoor gym operations. Fast forward almost two years later, the studio has since developed into what I think is one of the best fitness studios in Singapore, boasting an excellent training programme, a strong cult following and being the training ground of choice for many instructors from other fitness studios.
Here are 5 more things I learnt about fitness from my Division Athletics experience since that last article.
TORTURE CONTINUES TO TAKE ON MANY FORMS.
Division Athletics offers three types of classes: Strength and Conditioning classes, which are held from Mondays to Saturdays, and Coalition classes which are conducted exclusively on Sunday. Strength and Conditioning classes usually taking place simultaneously at their respective dedicated halves of the sprawling gym floor, while the Coalition session makes use of the entire space.
The overarching training programme – each lasting a period of 14 weeks – has its own rhythmic ebbs and flows. For instance, for strength classes, there are hypertrophy/high volume, strength, deloading and performance phases, each with its own emphasis on rep count and weight intensity.
The standard weekly strength schedule looks like this:
Monday: Upper Body (Vertical)
Tuesday: Lower Body (Deadlift)
Wesnesday: Full Body
Thursday: Upper Body (Horizontal)
Friday: Lower Body (Squat)
Saturday: Full Body
Upper Body classes focus on working your chest, shoulders, back and arms. Upper Body (Vertical) features exercises that move weight vertically in the direction of the torso (e.g barbell shoulder presses, pull-ups) while Upper Body (Horizontal) involves exercises which shift weight towards or away from your body (e.g. barbell bench presses, barbell bent-over rows, push-ups). Lower Body classes focus on working your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves, with Lower Body (Squat) and Lower Body (Deadlift) each relying on a different primary movement pattern. The Full Body combines all four different rhythms into one power-charged, all-consuming blast.
Strength workouts typically involve the use of barbells, weight plates, resistance bands, benches and dumbbells.
The standard weekly conditioning schedule looks like this:
Wesnesday: Cardio Flux
Saturday: Cardio Flux
Aerobic focuses on training your stamina, Anaerobic delivers a high-intensity workout with short rest intervals, and Cardio Flux is a hybrid of both oxygenic approaches. Partner work features heavily in both competitive (e.g. the slower guy does burpees) and collaborative ways (e.g. let’s split the 100 burpees between us however we like). Conditioning classes may involve rowers, assault bikes, dumbbells, kettlebells, boxes, slam balls, skipping ropes and Ski ERG machines.
Combining both Strength and Conditioning elements, Coalition is a circuit-style, mixed-modality Sunday-only workout which utilises the entire gym floor, meaning all bets are off in terms of what equipment might be used that week. Your class may be a pure 50% Strength/50% Conditioning session or a more robust affair where both Strength and Conditioning toys come together to form one giant playground for teamwork activities.
HOMEGROWN TRAINING PROGRAMMES CAN BE REALLY, REALLY GOOD.
Division Athletics’ training programme – in particular the Strength programme – is really good. The Strength classes feel decidedly like one-on-one PT sessions with a very good student-instructor ratio (a maximum of ten attendees per instructor) and you get plenty of customised attention, with the coach going around to observe your reps, advise on how you can improve your form and better progress with your fitness goals. For certain movements such as barbell deadlifts and bench presses, you are assigned a partner and both take turns to go (i) so that you are able to observe your form in the mirror if necessary; and (ii) your partner can spot you for the barbell bench presses should you bite off more than you can chew. There are plenty of breaks baked into the session, not just for rest but also to provide ample time for you to load up on weight plates/deload if needed. The class format empowers you to take risks in a safe environment and attempt heavier weights to really push yourself beyond your perceived limits.
In addition, the Division Athletics app (available on the App Store and Google Play) has functionalities that allow you to record down your Strength and Conditioning performance benchmarks (e.g. maximum weights for squats, rows, deadlifts and presses based on rep count, fastest timings for different tests involving cardio equipment such as rowers and assault bikes) so that you can track your own progress and chart your progress journey. On that note, benchmark tests are conducted at regular intervals during the 14-week training cycle to hold you accountable for your own performance and progress.
I have been with the studio since their earliest days, and I can appreciate that they are consistently and constantly gathering feedback from members, refreshing and improving their training programmes and upgrading their hardware capabilities, with the Ski ERGs, astro turf and the soon-to-launch gym sled being their latest additions.
The ability for the studio to design their own programme (as opposed to global franchises like BFT, REVL and F45 whose training sessions are bound by the daily programme released from HQ) means they are not restricted to programming using the same set of toys all the time, and new additions like the vicious gym sled can be added as a massive game-changer and add a delicious and perverse dose of unpredictability to the workout proceedings.
STUDIOS CAN BE MORE THAN JUST ABOUT FITNESS CLASSES.
Aside from having an excellent training programme, Division Athletics has other qualities and initiatives that set them apart from most commercial fitness studios. The studio recently concluded its first ever Project DVSN, an 8-week project which:
- unlocked unlimited access to all the studio’s classes as well as open gym sessions for additional self-training;
- started and ended with benchmark tests to track the performance and progress of the project’s 32 participants; and
- incorporated fitness workshops conducted by Singapore Weightlifting Federation National Coach Ng Choon Yeow as well as former Singaporean track and field athlete and current national 100m record holder U.K. Shyam.
Choon Yeow’s session was an introduction to Olympic weightlifting and the fundamentals of the snatch, clean and jerk. It took me by surprise how heavy an empty barbell alone actually feels in the context of doing snatches, and the individualised tips Choon Yeow gave me about contact, wrist action and launch positions added a lot of context and science behind what I always assumed was an activity reserved for Hulkian men and women I see on YouTube with veins here, there and everywhere. Elsewhere, U.K. Shyam’s two-parter sprint workshop taught me more about sprinting (punches, straightening the back leg, using the core, bounds and strides, the 3-point start, how to manage your hands to gain and not lose power etc etc) than l ever expected to learn being a mere mortal.
During the workshops, I jumped like a Mario character reaching for a “?” box and subsequently like someone from a “12 Days of Christmas” ballet, I simulated chopping vegetables during my sprints to avoid losing energy, and I gave and received a sports massage involving heels and elbows that was less “oooohhhh, oh yeah” Phoebe and Monica in “Friends” and more bite on cloth to prevent self from screaming.
In addition, the studio often organises special events and programmes from time to time, from the Halloween “Purge” event which meshes whimsical costumes with truly faith-testing physical challenges to the studios’ popular DVSN Bali retreats which pair island chillax vibes and villa frolic with heart-pumping training sessions at partner studios.
SOME PEOPLE ARE COOL WITHOUT TRYING.
Many fitness studios in Singapore have a central gimmick that they use to bring in clients, with most studios gunning for that sweet spot of having their premises or the workout experience being great for social media sharing. It could be mirrored walls and edgy red or blue lighting which softens and flatters your facial features for that all-important social media selfie; a culture of permissioned shedding of clothes mid-workout or for a post-workout wefie to establish clear fitfamdom as well as the literal popping of champagne and toasts captured for social media prosperity because someone just hit a milestone; the mobilisation of attractive models who appear on brand campaigns and advertisements as fitness instructors; the aggressive engagement of influencers to promote the studio as a lifestyle choice; or a branding strategy that positions the studio, their programmes and initiatives as being bad-ass, tough and something to be conquered.
At first instance, one would not immediately think of Division Athletics as fitting the quintessential definition of “cool”. The studio eschews sexy coloured hues for bright fluorescent lighting which certainly does not flatter (especially at 7.20am in the morning) and you do not see excited flurries of photographic activities after classes unlike what goes on at other snazzier studios. Til date, there has been no massive marketing roll-outs to introduce added lashings of hype and glamour, and the studio does not seem to attract lifestyle influencers whose main agenda for working out seems to be for producing social media content to showcase their heaving, glistening décolletages. People generally keep their clothes on and usually wear fairly conservative workout gear, and the workouts are not designed to be particularly eye-catching or aesthetically pleasing while being performed. Instead of flashy social media narratives with lots of A$AP Rocky swag, the founders keep it very real on their stories, posting about fluffy mochi breads and an even fluffier cat. Sometimes the cat visits the studio and sometimes it finds its way onto the overhead beams. Someone has a tattoo of a cupcake on their arm.
Yet somehow, something clicks. Despite being a homegrown brand instead of an international franchise, the studio has a very healthy and prominent ang moh clientele. Many clients have nose piercings, ear studs and/or tattoos, yet they are friendly and chill rather than rough-you-in-the-alley types. The studio’s choice of collaboration partners – from top brands like Nike and Lululemon to former national athletes – are premium and atas. Fitness instructors from other fitness studios train here. The studio has very loyal clients and has avoided engaging in flash sale situations or an abundance of package deals which may alter class dynamics and dramatically dilute the client base.
Aside from the quality of the training programme, it may be that the studio visibly prioritises client welfare which makes them truly cool beyond any form of superficial gloss.
Take their changing rooms for instance, which are a far cry from the very perfunctory, make-shift and Ginvera-stocked affairs you may see at more commercially-minded enterprises. Playing it industrial granite and sexy matt black surfaces, the bathrooms offer Singapore-based Omno bathroom amenities and cavernous shower rooms, each of which can probably fit four people and still fulfil the strictest safe distancing measures. In addition, the studio always affords its members access to exclusive privileges as part of its carefully curated brand collaborations, and the privileges offered by previous brand partners Lululemon and Nike have been very generous – we are certainly not talking about the usual perfunctory gifting of sponsored goodie bags stuffed with sometimes unwanted products. I got my first ever Lululemon shorts free as part of my Project DVSN sign-up, and I ended up buying two Nike Metcon 8 shoes for my long-haul training plans because the discount was simply too good to pass up.
FITNESS COMMUNITIES CAN BE NON-INTIMIDATING AND SUPPORTIVE.
The fitness scene is a vast, vast space, with selected pockets filled with testosterone, ego, competitiveness, showmanship and on occasion some negativity, not just involving gym goers but also instructors (and not just between fellow gym goers but also between instructors), which can be a pretty intimidating thing to observe being on the outside peering in. I have written on previous occasions about my experience getting started on fitness being a physically weak kid who only truly started focusing on fitness late in life during the pandemic as well as my challenges making good progress on my health and fitness goals given my current lifestyle, which makes any environment involving athletic performance not my most comfortable of zones.
My spin journey gained me many friends and a certain level of confidence going to spin studios, but my immersion in the world of strength and conditioning has not been quite as deep. However, my time at Division Athletics (and, in particular, my participation in Project DVSN) introduced me to different types of folks with whom I would ordinarily not have crossed paths and had the opportunity to interact with otherwise. People whom I have met previously at other studios – from someone with a nose piercing who looks like she could be a member of the Sugababes to Crossfit-esque fighting machines whom I once thought were lunatic given how shouty and Redbull-charged they were before 7am in the morning – turned out to be nice, kindred spirits with normal human lives and day jobs instead of mere pod creatures who retreat into a futuristic recovery vessel every night as I had originally envisaged.
Even the bros with bazooka edamame arms and bulging side boobs were not of the douchey, “I’m Too Sexy” variety that I have seen elsewhere, which may be a testament to how Division Athletics’ environment simultaneously attracts nice people and makes people nice, which in turn makes the gym floor a much less frightening (and much more pleasant) place to be.
The general positivity all around is evident – during Strength and Conditioning classes when there is partner work; during offhand conversations when camaraderie is fostered; and even during competitive elements like Project DVSN, when not just the strongest and fastest but also those who improved the most are celebrated.
For the above-mentioned reasons, I cannot recommend Division Athletics enough, not just for those like me who are still taking small and hesitant steps in their fitness journey but also to those who are already advanced in their fitness levels and training but seek a space to bring themselves to the next level where safety and technique is truly prioritised.
I concluded Project DVSN being able to lift 10kg heavier for both my maximum weight deadlifts (120kg) and squats (100kg), and also somehow made the most progress amongst my formidable peers for the sprint event, all within the span of 8 weeks. You can’t get a much better testimonial than that.
78 Shenton Way #B1-01
Check out more stories from my “5 Things I Learnt About Fitness” series:
- 5 Things I Learnt About Fitness After Trying The New R10T Gym in Singapore
- 5 Things I Learnt About Fitness After Trying The New Division Athletics Gym in Singapore
- 5 Things I Learnt About Fitness After Trying The New Meta Performance Gym In Singapore
- 5 Things I Learnt About Fitness After Trying BFT Raffles CBD In Singapore
- 5 Things I Learnt About Spin Studios and Rhythmic Cycling Classes In Singapore
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