Singapore’s strongest man Taufiq is a gentle giant at heart

Cheryl Tay

Passionate about cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a familiar face in prominent local, regional as well as international automotive titles. More of her at CherylTay.sg. She also happens to be a recent gym and fitness convert. Here she speaks to Singaporean strength athletes Taufiq Muhammad and Cheryl Foo.

It's hard to miss Ahmad Taufiq Muhammad when he's at the gym.

The former Singaporean and regional Strongman champion will probably use up all the available weight plates while lifting and squatting up to three times his 131-kg body mass.

Strongman is a weightlifting-based sport where athletes compete in time-based events such as pulling a 6,000kg truck, dead-lifting a car or flipping massive tyres.

Singapore’s first Strongman Challenge was organised in 2005 by HomeTeamNS, and remains the only local strength contest of its kind today.

And it was Taufiq, 32, who beat out the competition to become Singapore’s first Strongest Man.

After finishing amongst the top three for the next two years, he went regional in 2011 and was crowned Sabah’s Strongest Man that year and the next.

His achievements led to an invite from the World Natural Strongman Federation (WNSF) to compete on a global stage in Hungary, where Taufiq, at 1.77m tall, was the smallest of 16 participants.

The invite covered accommodation and transport, but he had to fund his own flight costs. A sponsorship request sent to the Singapore Sports Council was thrown out because Strongman “is not an Olympic sport”.

Eventually, 2011 presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock did a personal favour for Taufiq and pooled together S$3,000 from his golf buddies.

And it was only this year that Taufiq finally landed his first official sponsorship – with sports company Optimum Nutrition.

Living large

As a big-sized kid, Taufiq used to represent his school in discus and shot-put. He also remembers being hooked on television show The World’s Strongest Man when he was 10.

“I thought to myself, how cool it is to pull trucks and planes, and carry heavy stones. I wanted to do it one day,” he told Yahoo Singapore during an interview conducted over a post-training protein shake.

It is just one out of four servings he downs daily during competition periods, along with 600g of steak and 1kg of chicken thigh consumed over two hour eating intervals.

Taufiq gives himself three more years of competing before he retires to coach and give back to the sport.

He currently serves on the executive committee of SG Titans, a non-profit aiming to develop awareness of the Strongman sport.

“I just feel that today’s society is becoming more spoilt with too many conveniences, and people tend to avoid difficult things like hard labour,” said Taufiq. “There is nothing wrong with that, but I feel we should not forget our origins, like how our forefathers used to toil.”

“It helps to be strong because you never know when you might need it.”

Strong smarts

There is also a soft side to the big guy who, when not lifting, always has a ready smile.

A motivational speaker with more than a decade of experience in the field of youth development work, he also works as an adjunct psychology lecturer at Edith Cowan University’s offshore campus.

It’s not enough that he possesses masters and bachelor degrees in counselling psychology from Wyoming State University in the U.S. – Taufiq is also gunning for a PhD in family ecology from University Putra Malaysia.

Rare bird

Hundreds have trained with SG Titans and been inspired by Taufiq’s example since the organisation’s beginnings – and one is already a champion in her own right.

Cheryl Foo was an avid runner, swimmer and dragonboater who was brought to SG Titans and subsequently fell in love with Strongman, which she described as “unique” and “something not many girls do”.

When a female category was included in the HomeTeamNS Strongman Challenge for the first time ever last year, Foo took part and finished second behind Sophia Ong, who was 30kg heavier than her.

The 22-year-old personal trainer plugged away and came back stronger this year to wrest the championship away from Ong.

To earn bragging rights as Singapore’s strongest woman, Foo had to carry a 50kg log in each hand over 20 metres, flip a 150kg tyre across 15 metres and pull a 2,000kg car over 20 metres in the fastest time possible.

The next goal for 1.67-m tall, 62-kg girl is to represent Singapore at a prestigious tournament in Australia and of course, defend her title in 2014.

“It’s very common for women to get misconceptions of lifting, as they worry about getting big and bulky,” Foo pointed out.

“That’s not true and I try to convince my female clients that they have to experience it for themselves, instead of just going on the treadmill and elliptical machine.”