I hit the gym with a 2-time Mr Singapore winner and saw how unfit I was – here’s what I learned training with Adrian Tan

A few weeks back, I got the chance to hit the gym with the former bodybuilder and hoped he could show me how to get rid of all the holiday pounds.
Business Insider / Lamont Mark Smith

Going to the gym is far from being an everyday affair for me.

Much less so with a personal trainer, or two-time Mr Singapore winner Adrian Tan for that matter. 

Crowned Mr Singapore back in 2006 and 2011, Tan was also the MuscleMania Asia champion for overall physique in 2014.

The 44-year-old, who now runs his own personal training business at ONE Personal Training – which specialises in body transformation plans – told me he left competitive bodybuilding in 2014 to spend more time with his three-year-old daughter.

Now, he wakes up at 4am everyday to head to the Cecil Street gym to meet his first client at 6am.

A few weeks back, I got the chance to hit the gym with the former bodybuilder and hoped he could show me how to get rid of all the holiday pounds.

Here’s what it was like for a gym-noob like me to be trained by Adrian Tan for the very first time:


I am a complete newbie when it comes to the gym, and I consider myself an unfit 19-year-old.

Being able to train with Mr Singapore isn’t a privilege one gets every day, so you can bet that I was all ears during our 45-minute session.

After all, a session at his specialised training facility would have cost me around S$150, if not for the interview opportunity.

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Business Insider / Penelope Hannah Lee

According to Tan, the most important step before you start any exercise is to get your blood pumping.

I started out with an inclined brisk walk on the treadmill that lasted about 3 to 5 mins before he turned the speed up.

Alternatively, you could also warm up on an exercise bike.

The time you take to warm up should be around 10 to 20 mins, he said.

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Fun fact: It was my first time on a treadmill.
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Business Insider / Penelope Hannah Lee

After the treadmill, it was time for Mr Singapore to get a closer inspection of my fitness level, especially since it was our first training session together.

Based on his assessment, exercises usually start getting more intense, while workout plans become more tailored in subsequent sessions.

As I am quite new to the gym, Tan had to show me a brief demonstration on how some of the equipment works.

Unsurprisingly, the workout looked like it was second nature to him.

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Business Insider / Penelope Hannah Lee

For example, he made the weights look like a walk in the park. Can’t say the same for myself, though. After trying out 10 repetitions at a lower weight, my flimsy arms were already starting to give out.

However, he reassured me that this was normal during the first few sessions, especially considering that I did not work out prior to the session at all.

I’ve been told I look like I’m contemplating my life choices.
Business Insider / Penelope Hannah Lee

When asked how he maintains his fitness level while juggling clients and family, Tan said that his flexible schedule was key.

Throughout the day, he keeps pockets of free time to spend working on himself, or to spend with his three-year-old.

In fact, he headed straight to pick up his daughter right after this session.

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This one was pretty easy, but it was probably because Tan was assisting me.
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Business Insider / Penelope Hannah Lee

For people who don’t have the liberty of a flexible schedule, Tan recommended taking some time out throughout the day to keep yourself moving.

“Especially if you have a work place at your gym, why not right? Lunchtime will be a great time to get your workout in,” he said.

In addition, Tan said many of his busy clients like to get their workouts done in the mornings before work so that they can focus on work and family for the rest of the day.

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Squats are still horrible though.
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Business Insider / Penelope Hannah Lee

After what felt like an eternity of squats, I decided to squeeze a break in to ask him about his eating habits.

Being a foodie, the first thing I wanted to know was whether I could still expect progress even if I continued to eat the junk (fried food and carbs) I usually do.

“You can see progress,” Tan said, but added that someone who has already made the commitment to work out three to four times a week would also want to “maximise other areas of their lifestyle as well”.

Which means to say junk food is still no good. Okay, got it.

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Business Insider / Penelope Hannah Lee

He added that I should eat food that can help to accelerate my progress, and make wiser choices like opting for plain white rice when buying chicken rice.

However, Tan admits that since he has a daughter now, he “can’t be too restrictive” in his own diet, and the fitness guru does allow himself one cheat day every week.

For me, where everyday is a cheat day, that sounds pretty difficult, but Tan assured me by saying: “As long as you’re eating pretty healthily throughout the day, I think it’s fine to have a small bad meal.”

Phew! The key word being “small” though.

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Business Insider / Penelope Hannah Lee

As break time ended, it was time to go back to working out.

By this point, only 30 minutes had passed. Tan estimates that most of his training sessions with clients range from 50 mins to an hour.

Usually, each client would go through a circuit of 10 exercises three times, he said.

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Of course, I am taking longer as I am asking him lots of questions along the way.
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Business Insider / Penelope Hannah Lee

Since I was getting tired and had more work to do back at the office, it was time to move on to the last workout.

As the pain in my arms kept growing, I could only think about how much time it would take me to recover from the next day onwards.

Which begs the question: Do I need protein shakes if I want to continue with my gym sessions?

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Business Insider / Penelope Hannah Lee

According to Tan, protein supplements like shakes are not necessary as long as I have enough protein in my diet.

“But the problem is that most people are only eating two to three meals a day, so they might not be able to derive enough protein from those three meals,” he said.

When he prepared for competitions in the past, he would eat six to seven small meals a day, which ranged from just protein shakes to a cup of rice.

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Business Insider / Penelope Hannah Lee

Regardless of what your fitness goal is, the main thing Tan recommends is to always keep yourself moving, even on rest days.

It can be anything from taking a walk or cycling, Tan says – just “make sure you’re burning calories actively”.

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Business Insider / Penelope Hannah Lee

Overall, I learned a great deal about fitness from Tan, who brings with him 26 years’ of fitness experience.

I also liked how personable and attentive he was, as it helped me ease into the workouts much better than I’d expected.

And surprise, surprise, I survived my very first gym session. Maybe I can celebrate with some french fries? Just kidding.

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Business Insider / Penelope Hannah Lee

As part of a special for Business Insider readers, the first 20 people who email Tan citing this article will get a complimentary session. Just drop him a note at at adrian@onepersonaltrainingsg.com. Good luck!

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