Benjamin Tan ( 陈勇维 ), avid climber, fitness model and founder of The District Training wakes up at pre-dawn to share his story behind this calisthenics startup, along with some tips for those starting out.
Tell us about yourself and your fitness and entrepreneurship journey
I’m currently working as a fitness trainer at Marina Bay Sands Hotel and on the sideline I run The District Training. During my free time, I watch anime, Kdramas, train, play games like English chess, Diablo 4, practice my Indonesia language and read new literature reviews or self help books.
I was previously freelance kids coaching for Climb Asia, Ground-up and subsequently Verticlimb. Our national climber, Nicolas, opened a branch at Jurong Lake Gardens. It was near my house so I worked there for more than half a year. I was fortunate – Nicolas taught me a lot of things, and sent me to a website building course. I told him about my intention behind The District Training and he both supported and guided me.
What was the inspiration behind The District Training?
I wanted to spread the idea on how convenient Calisthenics body weight training is. Our nearby fitness corners are free venues for anyone to keep fit with minimum equipment and without signing any gym memberships. I really feel that calisthenics is an essential skill for all ages to learn. The earlier you learn it, the stronger and better your fitness foundation will be, and you’ll have lesser chances of contracting common health issues such as diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
How did you chance upon calisthenics?
I was in adventure club during my polytechnic days. In my second year, I was appointed as the assistant climbing captain. I was very eager to get stronger, and found about this moon board lady who could do a lot of pull-ups and one-arm strength training. I started doing archer pull-ups and hand stand exercise from her routine. I researched more about other exercises, like how to do the dragon flag, which I didn’t know was calisthenics then. Another guy who started the calisthenics CCA in Nanyang polytechnic asked me whether I wanted to join his CCA, but I didn’t join. After my poly years, I became more interested in calisthenics. It is a great cross training routine for me, improving my power for dynamic climbing moves
Who is your biggest role model when it comes to fitness?
I don’t really have a role model specifically but in general there are many pro climbers such as Magnus, Daniel Woods, Jimmy Webs, Paul Robinson, Sasha DiGiulian, Shauna Coxsey, Tomoa, who incorporated Calisthenics body weight into their training routine to be stronger. For gymnastics and calisthenics athletes, I am not really familiar with them as I don’t really chase after any current competition scene but there many YouTube Channels like Chris Heria, Saturno Movement, Calisthenics Warrior, Geek Climber which inspired me to start something in Southeast Asia too.
What trends do you see in the fitness industry?
E-sports & smart AI equipment can connect audiences to all kinds of sports, famous trainers, athletes and even their friends and family. These new technologies can improve sport science knowledge, allow records to be broken, entertain or provide a venue to people to get fit and healthy. It’s exciting to how the sports and fitness industry has evolved over the years since the 80s.
Having games, where you can compete against one another is something I’m interested to work on. Cycling has done it already, but for other sports, they might need to take another direction for the competitive element.
What are the biggest beginner mistakes you see when training clients?
Those without sports science background might think that if they want to reduce their belly fat, they’ll only train their belly. I’ll always remind them that there’s no spot reduction or specific training for that – the body does not lose fat in specific spots.
Many clients also have difficulty activating their muscles and achieving the right posture – they often tense up and end up not doing the exercise properly.
During lessons, it’s important to keep practicing the fundamental reps and set realistic goals so you don’t give up easily.
If someone can’t afford a gym membership, are there some pieces of equipment you’d recommend purchasing for working out at home?
I would recommend anyone to get a portable gymnastics rings or suspension trainer which might cost anything from $0 – 40 SGD. You would be surprised to learn that there are many people who will give it away for free when migrating, or sell it at a very affordable price because it’s used.
I built my home gym mostly with second hand items via carousel, gym closures, or post covid lockdown decluttering of fitness equipment.
What training principles do you live your life by?
If I work in the afternoon shift, I’ll definitely train in the morning and vice versa. There are days whereby if I have not enough sleep, I won’t train. If I have enough sleep, I’ll train for at least 2 hours. I think 2 hours is too little for movement sports like calisthenics. You could go up to 3-4 hours to keep practicing the movements to improve your motor skills.
Prioritizing time to train is very important – a lot of people prioritize meeting friends or networking sessions instead. Enjoy the training, don’t feel like it’s a chore to lose weight. You can see it as alone or me-time, where you can get away from family and friends.
Be grateful with the slight progress you make everyday because improving is hard work, and losing your fitness level is as easy as doing nothing.
What is your main rule when it comes to your own diet?
Instead of eating so much rice, I eat more broccoli, cauliflower and vegetables. The fiber fills me up. There is also no right time to eat. If you’re hungry, fill yourself with nutritious food. If you are not hungry, it’s okay not to eat. Sometimes I skip breakfast before I train in the morning.
What’s has been the best fitness or diet investment you have made in the past year?
The best investment is to have a very good friend, like a common workout buddy, who says, “Hey, let’s workout tomorrow,” and then you have accountability to go there together.
Passionate about calisthenics, gymnastics, fitness and rock climbing as well? Connect with Benjamin across all social media platforms @Tan_YongWei