Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Samuel Chua

Samuel Chua is a marketing executive.
Samuel Chua is a marketing executive. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Life goes beyond the digits on the scale and your body is capable of so much more! Yahoo’s #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to inspirational men and women in Singapore leading healthy and active lifestyles. Have someone to recommend? Hit Cheryl up on Instagram or Facebook!

Name: Samuel Chua (@xtriderunning)

Age: 24

Height: 1.73m

Weight: 70kg

Occupation: Marketing Executive

Status: Single

Food: I’m not able to eat much early in the mornings, so I tend to snack a few times a day on top of my standard three meals. Caifan is my go-to dish, usually consisting of three meats and one vegetable. I don’t diet, nor take any protein shakes, as I dislike the taste of those I’ve tried. Fast food such as McDonald's or KFC makes me feel lethargic, hence I eat those only once every few months.

Exercise: Currently, I gym three times a week and run four times a week. My running mileage is roughly 40km, increasing to 50-55km as I start training for my half-marathon. My gym sessions consist of a full-body workout each time, though I only perform one leg exercise per session as I don’t want to affect my runs the next day.

Q: When you were younger, were you active in sports?

A: Fitness has always been a part of my life since young. While other kids were learning to play the piano, my mum signed me up for gymnastics and swimming when I was in kindergarten. Unfortunately, the flexibility gains after all those years of gymnastics have become non-existent – I can’t even touch my toes anymore.

When I was nine, my parents introduced me to triathlon (swim, bike, run). I didn’t exactly find the sport appealing at that age, so training was pretty irregular. I trained only three to four weeks before each race and immediately regretted signing up for those races. Strangely enough, I continued signing up for races as the years passed.

I also played football and badminton from primary to secondary school, although I wasn’t really good at either sport.

What did you get into as you got older?

I continued triathlon until I was 19, where I made a transition into hybrid fitness (gym and run). I felt that triathlon was too time-consuming and it was not something that I wanted to continue in the long term. Furthermore, I was getting skinnier by the day and wanted to lift weights to get stronger and bigger.

Samuel switched from triathlon to hybrid fitness.
Samuel switched from triathlon to hybrid fitness. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

What are your fitness goals now?

I didn’t have any fitness goals till I was around 18, where I was training hard to do well in triathlon, especially the running segment. When I transitioned to hybrid training, I shifted my focus to the gym, even considering competing in powerlifting due to my decent bench press numbers (135kg at 69kg bodyweight).

Now that I’ve dealt with different circumstances, I’ve decided to set different goals. I’m trying to get faster again in my running, while still being strong, functional and filling up the shirts I wear. The main difference right now is that I’ve stopped focusing on the numbers, but instead finding purpose and fulfilment in the training I do. I believe that setting specific goals are necessary, but it’s even more important to enjoy and appreciate the process towards self-improvement in the physical aspect of life.

How did you get that scar on your right arm?

It's always fun to tell people this story (not so fun on the day itself though). Many people think I broke it through some sports, but the truth is I broke it during a friendly arm-wrestling match after church. I didn’t even notice when it initially snapped. There was a loud noise that sounded like wood breaking. I didn’t feel it myself, so I stared at the wooden table thinking that it broke. It was only after a minute or so that I felt my arm wobble unnaturally, akin to a second elbow. The pain then started to set in.

My friends and I initially thought that it was a dislocation, but the x-ray showed a full spiral fracture of the humerus. A titanium plate was put against the bone, along with 11 screws to fuse the plate with the bone. To think that I was still laughing and joking in the car while feeling immense pain on the way to the hospital.

When you broke your arm, how did it affect your fitness regime?

The first thing I thought of when I saw the x-ray was “Well, I’m going to be skinny again after all these years of training”. It was tough, especially in the first few days, where I could hardly move my arm. My other muscles, including my leg muscles, had atrophied so rapidly due to being bedridden for a while.

It was difficult to adjust from exercising seven times a week to having totally no exercise. There were some days where I felt really frustrated but I think I coped really well with the support of my friends and family. I surprised myself too; I thought that I would be beating myself up over the situation. Somehow, I quickly came to terms with the situation and focused on the recovery process. My mindset of “It has already happened, what can I do now?” helped me immensely in focusing on the next steps instead of negatively dwelling on the situation.

Was it difficult to get back on track after recovering?

The difficult aspect was more mental than physical. I asked the doctor, “Will I still be able to take IPPT in August this year?” He laughed and told me to forget about it. Keep in mind that I broke my arm at the end of April and my IPPT was scheduled for mid-August. I asked the physiotherapist the same question and got the same response.

Being well-versed in physiotherapy and recovery (I never took an official course but learnt it over the years due to personal interest), I used a very methodical and systematic recovery approach. Normally, injured patients will see the physio two to three times a week for strength and mobility work. I went once or twice a week, but performed all the necessary recovery routines that I knew a few times a day, every single day.

Samuel broke his arm during an arm-wrestling match.
Samuel broke his arm during an arm-wrestling match. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

This diligent process, along with progressive overload, allowed me to recover extremely quickly. My friends told me I was crazy, as I was still finding out how to train with a broken arm. I did leg exercises, while also doing exercises with my other arm such as one-arm pushups. When I was finally cleared to go back to the gym, I started with 2.5kg weights and was very cautious to stay within my limits.

Observing the way that I was recovering (both my bone and my strength increases), I made the decision to take IPPT, achieving a push-up score even higher than before I broke my arm (92 in 60 seconds). You can imagine the shock when I shared the news with my physio and doctor.

Your Instagram account is mainly about shoe reviews and has now garnered worldwide attention. How did you start that?

Since I was 18, I developed a passion for running shoes. Until today, running shoes are the main driving factor as to why I run. I figured that if I were to do a sport that could get monotonous at times, I would want something comfortable on foot that would make me feel good and also perform at my best.

I started doing running reviews for a website, but after they stopped their review scheme, I decided to create my own page to continue sharing my passion with the world. The page started off pretty rough for the first nine months, but gained traction and grew to an incredible 46,500 today.

I started this page not to gain popularity, but to share my love for running shoes, and not needing to fund this expensive hobby on my own. I’m proud to say that today, I have many partnerships that allow me to continue this passion.

When you were younger, did you experience any incidents that made you feel insecure about yourself?

Throughout my secondary school life, I was a constant subject of bullying. You could say that I was the weird kid you’d find in every cohort. I was small and skinny then, an easy target to pick on. I was constantly judged for my looks, receiving really mean comments that took a toll on my confidence and mental state. Back then, I did not know how to stand up for myself, and for a while I believed those words that the bullies berated me with.

2022 was also a really tough year where I experienced countless setbacks and hardships. It was that year where my mindset took a 180-degree turn for the better. I used to blame everyone but myself and ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I constantly felt helpless and began to turn bitter.

However, there came a time where I did some introspection, while also seeking the guidance of others. I told myself, “You can’t live this way forever, enough is enough.” Through my seeking, I found life-changing advice that would guide me into turning my life around. A wise man told me that I was fully in control of my life and how I feel should have no bearing to the things I do. Now, I abide to that principle. The days where I’m feeling the most unmotivated are the days where I force myself to take action, whether it is to run, gym, or fulfil other responsibilities in life.

This action, though relatively a new implementation in my life, has completely changed my perspective on life. I also used to envy those who were better in me in some aspects. Now, I stopped comparing myself to others. The only subject of comparison has become the me of yesterday. I believe that the principle of striving to do something different each and every day to become better than the myself of yesterday is the way to truly be happy in life.

When did you feel the least confident about yourself?

I think that I was the least confident around secondary school where I was being picked on. I struggled with self-esteem for years after that till I started going to the gym. I think that many people perceive gymming to be vanity-based, but it could not be further from the truth.

I picked up gymming to feel more confident about my body and also gain the ability to stand up for myself. Right now, even with a decent physique, I still get insecure about my body occasionally, but I do not dwell on it and constantly push myself to be better every day.

That said, going to the gym did not solve all my confidence issues. I still had to work on my social interactions and public speaking to gain confidence. The gym work definitely gave me a boost in self-confidence, but my active choice to constantly step out of my comfort zone daily is what truly built my confidence up.

Samuel became a popular web reviewer of running shoes.
Samuel became a popular web reviewer of running shoes. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Do you struggle with your body?

I actually struggle with gaining weight. Even with all the meals, I’m stuck around the 70kg range with all the cardio I do. Especially when training for a half marathon, I’m unable to gain weight despite stuffing my face with pretty much any food that’s in front of me.

Some might say that it’s a good problem to have and attribute it to genetics. However, I believe that it all comes down to calories in versus calories out. I burn a crazy number of calories daily, so I have to be conscious about eating enough every day to maintain a calorie surplus to get bigger.

Are you satisfied with your body now?

There’s this saying, “The day you step into the gym is the day you’ll never be satisfied with your body.” I think that this statement is true to a certain extent, as I still feel I don’t look good on some days. Overall, I would say that while I’m content with my current physique, I still want to get bigger than what I am now. I have a dream physique in mind, and am still working towards it. Though, my focus right now is less on my physical appearance and more towards whether I’m constantly challenging myself to push past my comfort zone.

Have you ever received any comments about your body?

People used to call me skinny and tell me to eat more all the time before I started going to the gym. Now, I have quite a number of messages telling me that I look good. While I’m grateful that I’m no longer skinny, I feel sad that some people only started to want to be associated with me based on the way I looked. I never received the kind of treatment I have now back when I was small.

If you could change anything about yourself, would you?

I wouldn’t change a thing in the past about myself as I believe that the adversities and challenges that I’ve been through has shaped me and made me into what I am today. Who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have been in the gym if not for being picked on and being called small and skinny.

I believe that reframing my thoughts is important, and I use hate and negativity as fuel to constantly drive myself past my comfort zone. While I’m happy with where I am today, I refuse to rest on my laurels and constantly push myself to grow not only physically, but also in every other aspect of life.

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Samuel Chua (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)
Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Samuel Chua (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)