Singapore's powerlifting scene is booming lately.
At the Asian Classic Powerlifting Championship 2018 held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, from December 4 to 8, the 17-strong Singapore delegation, consisting of five women and 12 men, took home a total of 41 gold, 10 silver and five bronze medals.
Powerlifting brothers Matthew and Matthias Yap, for instance, won a total of six medals.
But someone we haven't told you about is one of their fellow Singaporean powerlifters who made her international debut at this competition: Farhanna Farid, who won three gold medals in the women's U-52 open category.
Yes, at her very first international meet.
And she made history for Singaporeans too, not just for herself: in her victory, Farhanna is the first Singaporean to win an overall gold medal internationally in an open category, across all weight classes, and for both male and female categories.
Broke Asian records in all 3 deadlift attempts
For her first deadlift attempt, Farhanna set an Asian record.
She then broke the mark she had set on her second and third attempts.
She described her third attempt as "super sticky and slow off the floor".
"I think I gave everyone on the Singapore team a near-heart attack. Everyone's heart sank and thought I would not get it.
But I wasn't letting go of the bar. I wanted it so much I kept pulling, and finally it flew upwards."
You can see her impressive deadlift here (video via Farhanna's IG):
[video width="640" height="640" mp4="https://static.mothership.sg/1/2018/12/deadlift.mp4"][/video]
She was named the second-best female lifter in the open category too — Kazakhstan's Okatenko Xeniya beat her by five points based on the Wilks Formula — a system that works out the relative strength of lifters by calculating the weight they lifted against their body weight.
With all this she achieved at the competition, you'd think she's been at this for years. But her first competition was in April this year, at the Singapore Powerlifting Open — there, of course, she made history as the first Singaporean woman to deadlift more than three times her body weight.
A win for Singapore
Farhanna told Mothership that she had not known that Singapore had not ever won a gold in the open category competition before, so her historic victory for Singapore was a "huge surprise and a bonus" for her.
"I cannot express how incredibly honoured I was to stand on the podium with the Singapore national anthem being played loud and proud to commemorate our win.
Yes, this was not only my win. It was our win."
She added that seeing where Singapore stands internationally has been extremely encouraging.
"This win has fuelled me to aim higher and bigger for our country."
Started lifting to spend more time with boyfriend
Farhanna says she first encountered lifting about four years ago when she started going to the gym more often to spend time with her boyfriend, James Barcelo, who is also a powerlifter.
Her first few visits to the gym felt "extremely foreign and awkward", but she tells us she tried to stay open-minded, and soon enough, became intrigued by lifting and started trying it as well.
She tells us she started with baby weights, "not even the proper barbell which weighs 20kg".
She says her boyfriend then noticed she was actually pretty good at it, and promptly drew up structured training plans for her to build on her potential — a move that proved more fruitful than he likely imagined.
It was some time in December 2016, when they held a mock powerlifting meet together with their gym friends, that Farhanna surprised them by managing to pull 15kg more than the national deadlift record of that time.
"It was at that precise moment my boyfriend was convinced I had to compete and could actually win, so we decided that we had to get me a proper powerlifting coach. The rest was history."
Here's something even more interesting: so good she turned out to be at powerlifting that Farhanna entered her first competition before Barcelo — he will be making his debut at next year's Powerlifting Open championship here in March.
But she is quick to add that Barcelo, who was team manager for the Singapore delegation for the competition in Mongolia, has been her "pillar of strength" and her "number one cheerleader", as well as, of course, the person who sparked her passion for powerlifting.
Farhanna now juggles her full-time job as a pharmacist — she currently works at Jurong Polyclinic — with powerlifting, training four times a week after work in the evening, with each session taking up to three hours.
Used to run and diet so obsessively that she didn't have periods for a year
Apart from being really, really good at it, Farhanna tells us that powerlifting has benefited her both mentally and physically.
Before she started lifting, she used to run "a lot" and obsessed over her diet in order to be a more "efficient runner".
So intensive her regime was on herself that Farhanna reveals her period stopped coming for an entire year.
But powerlifting improved things vastly for her, in comparison.
"It has taught me to be more in-tune with my body, knowing when to push and knowing when to stop.
It has also taught me the power of discipline and patience."
She is now a lot less obsessed with her diet and does not follow any strict plan.
But she still makes sure she gets enough protein and micronutrients — nutrients that we need in trace amounts for normal development — although every now and then, she indulges in her favourite burgers and pizzas.
In the days leading up to the competition, however, she says she cut out junk food and increased her protein and carbohydrate intake on her training days.
"Doing so really helps to make sure I get enough energy for training as well as recovery."
Suffered back injury, out of action for 3 weeks before competition
Here's another crazy thing: Farhanna tells us she went for the Asian meet without having trained at all for a full three weeks.
She tells us she had somehow strained her intercostal muscles, which are the "fine, vertical striations of muscles" between her ribs, and started to feel pain whenever she laughed and sneezed.
And sadly, she says she sustained this back injury despite being diligent about keeping her form in check and "never compromising form for numbers".
"According to my sports therapist, it is not a typical or common back injury that athletes acquire.
We did speculate my imbalances and natural preference to load the right side of my body could have over-taxed the muscles. It didn’t help that I was moving house at the peak of my training."
And so during this period of recovery and "deload", as she calls it, she worked on drills that would not strain her back too much so she would not be completely "de-trained".
Deep tissue massages helped relieve the strain as well.
That being said, Farhanna tells us that although she had recovered for the most part, her back still felt a tad strained going into the competition, but as with many other life experiences she's had, she gleaned lessons from it too:
"Now, more than ever, I make it a point to do my warm up drills more mindfully.
Also, knowing when to call it quits when I’m getting a sense that my back will start acting up."
Looking forward to training again
While the Asian Classic was the ultimate goal for her, and she achieved what she set out to do (and then some), Farhanna has now set her sights on her next training cycle and what the future holds.
Of course, she battles feelings of exhaustion and times where all she's looking forward to is "the off season", but now, she's looking to keep hustling, and growing as an athlete.
"I would love to compete on the international platform again, perhaps even something on a larger scale."
Ladies can, and should, lift
Certainly, powerlifting is not a sport many women may think of taking up, and Farhanna also hopes to encourage more women, and Singaporeans in general, really, to consider trying it out because it's really "not just about grunting and heaving heavy weights".
In fact, she adds, the sport requires a "great deal of technique and finesse", as well as discipline.
To women who are interested in trying out lifting but who are scared of becoming too "jacked", she has this to say:
"Also ladies, you will not look like men if you lift!
We are not born with the same amount of testosterone, we cannot reach that level of ‘jacked-ness’ naturally.
We will pack on some muscles, especially in the beginning but personally I find muscles on women sexy.
Contrary to popular belief, muscles make women curvier. Strong is sexy! Healthy too I might add, especially as we grow older."
She added that in her time doing powerlifting, she has met and gotten to know an "amazing slew of female lifters" who come from all walks of life.
Some of them are even mothers, she adds:
"These women prove that lifting can be for everyone and that there’s no age limit to being strong and sexy!"
Her advice to anyone starting out in lifting: do your own research first, learn from experienced lifters and try out different workouts before settling on a routine that suits you best.
"Those keen to train with me too, feel free to hit me up! I’d love to grow this community and spread the love for powerlifting."
Top image credit to Carrie Choy & Mitchell Lim , Farhanna Farid's Instagram account
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