He was 51 when he died in 1877, but British legend Walter Bagehot has a hot young fan who's only 21! Ask Azimah Azmi’s and she will tell you she admires Bagehot with his philosophy:
"The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do."
What better inspiration for a woman who grew up in a family that prioritized fitness? Sure, Baghot may seem an unlikely muse for a woman whose passion is body building, but that fitness niche has brought her fame, recognition and admirers. Azima's other physical pursuits include running and roller derbies. Extreme sports? She's fearless! If Walter Bagehot met Azmi today, the first thing he might notice is her sparkling personality followed by a big smile and a body that doesn't quit. Who says one generation can't find heroes from the past?
RS: We’re always curious about how women discover their passion for fitness and training. What's your story?
Azimah. I must begin by crediting my genes; my Dad was a fitness professional! I grew up as Daddy's girl, so I was always around gyms and in the company of athletes and people dedicated to healthy bodies. Everywhere I looked, I saw how much fitness impacted the lives of others in positive ways, so perhaps I should amend my first words: I'm a product of both great genes and a great environment.
RS: Singapore has no shortage of ways for men and women to get fit. Why did you choose body building?
Azimah: I tried several different types of exercise, but something about body building struck a chord with me. I immediately liked the fact that the discipline required me to pay close attention to my body so I could imagine having the best body I could by working hard. Body building suits my personality; it requires discipline, perseverance and patience—all qualities I learned to respect growing up. One's physique is a reflection of the lifestyle one leads. My body gives everyone the impression that I work hard to get what I want.
RS: Have you faced unique challenges in the fitness industry because you are young?
Azimah: It's true that I'm just 21 this year, and I understand that some people stereotype and look upon me as being inexperienced. I can't blame them. Most people my age are still in school. I'm working full time and have many commitments on my plate, but I look beyond the impressions other people have of me because I know that I'm learning every day and I am genuinely eager to expand my knowledge and add to my experience. Sure, I've heard people say that this is "just a phase," but those people don't know me. If they did, they would also know that I grew up respecting everything about staying fit and this mindset will stay with me forever.
RS: It's obvious that you spend time at the gym, but do you take time to run—or have you considered adding running to your training schedule?
Azimah: I already incorporate running in my training routine! I warm up for other physical activities by jogging to achieve active body recovery after I undertake weight training. I also enjoy doing sprint circuits coupled with plyometric exercises for interval training, so running is very much part of my routine.
RS: Some say that body building is counter-intuitive for runners. You say it's beneficial. Could you explain why?
Azimah: When I undertake weight training and body building exercises in conjunction with maintaining a healthy diet, my entire body receives benefits and running is part of that process. If runners follow a programme designed to build strength and endurance, they can achieve maximum performance, regardless of the physical fitness path they choose. Body building complements a running programme beautifully.
RS: Could you give us an example?
Azimah: Sure. It's no mystery that the best runners have strong cores, glutes and leg muscles and these strengths mean that a runner can exert more force in shorter amounts of time when they hit their stride. Developing a strong core offers every runner multiple benefits. For example, a runner who develops strong gluts and leg muscles is unstoppable at the start line because she has the capability to push off from the ground more powerfully than competitors who haven't paid attention to building their cores.
RS: What gym exercises are particularly helpful to runners?
Azimah: For strength, the Romanian deadlift, Bulgarian split-squats or lunges and both back and front squats can turn a good runner into a great one because these lifts build core strength and strengthen the lower body. I also recommend plyometric workouts like box, squat and lateral jumps to generate explosive strength and power. Make use of the equipment in your gym, I say! Your dedication will show at the finish line.
RS: Would you encourage more women try strength training? If so, where and how should they get started
Azimah:. I think I've already given your readers plenty of encouragement to try strength training, so I will focus on your second question. Don't just grab free weights and start up on your own! Watch other women train, get tips from body builders on posture and form, and then once you are familiar with basics, start with light weights to get comfortable before moving on to heavier weights and increased workout times.
RS: You are into roller skating and indulging in roller derby activities. We'd love to know more: Is this a popular sport only for women? Has it become popular in Singapore or is this just starting to trend?
Azimah: Roller derby is a contact sport like rugby and not all women are interested in full-contact sports, but I am! We skate on a flat track and while it may look like a crazy riot, these events have many rules and objectives. Skaters play both offence and defence simultaneously. It's fast and exhilarating—and yes, it's a women's sport that was revived in Austin, Texas in the early 2000s. It’s more popular in the US and Europe than it is here. It's only been around Singapore for about four years. Our society still wrestles with "what's proper for women and what's not" issues, so I expect it will take some time to catch on because of these cultural barriers.
RS: It sounds like you think women should be more empowered and actively involved in sports!
Azimah: You bet! Long gone are the days that women were considered the inferior sex. Today's Singaporean woman is capable of achieving everything her male counterpart can—sometimes her dedication can help her surpass a man's best effort! I believe that women have more to prove, so when they get into sports, they don't shy away from jumping into the most extreme types of physical pursuits—even sports that tend to be male dominated. It's time women realized that anything a man can do, a woman can often do faster and better!
RS: How can females become empowered and strong?
Azimah: When a woman becomes physically and mentally strong, she instinctively feels a sense of confidence and power. By investing time and energy into developing a positive life, she can feel invincible—and in fact, do anything she sets her mind to. I sometimes refer to this phenomenon as morphing from bashful to bad ass!
RS: Who inspires you and what advice would you give to inspire other women interested in body building?
Azimah: My first inspiration was my father. He gets credit for bringing me to the gym at such a young age and setting me on the right path to physical health. Over time, countless numbers of beautiful, wise, inspiring individuals have come along and helped me learn about the power of strength—strength of mind and body. From family to acquaintances, I consider all of these people my teachers. Without their influence, I am certain I wouldn't have become so successful as both a human being and an athlete.
RS: What are your goals for 2015?
Azimah: I intend to enter body building and physique competitions and I'm not shy about admitting that I would like to win some medals. Along the way, I intend to explore opportunities related to my passion for body building that include helping and inspiring others to achieve their fitness goals. We're all on this earth to help each other and I take that mission very seriously. There's a reason I put Walter Baghout's saying,
"The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do,"
on a page of my website. I want to help others adopt this philosophy as their mantra, too!
Azimah Azmi takes her inspiration from her Dad and a man who lived nearly 200 years ago, which means that history has much to teach us, even when it comes to sages and prophets who don't live in contemporary times. Are you influenced and inspired by someone who's a legend? Do you respect a philosopher, a songwriter, a parent or a poet whose words became your go-to motivation in good times and bad? Are you willing to share your resource with our readers so we can all become more enlightened athletes?