Personal trainer and mother of five, Sam Blakey, is proof that it’s never too late to make a change. Formerly a journalist and sub-editor in the UK, Sam moved with her family to Singapore four years ago and decided to pursue a career in personal training. Having launched her fitness company, Ooberfit, in 2012 with just three friends on the books, her client list is now over 100, ranging from 60-somethings down to clients in their early teens. Sam talks to Amy Greenburg about her love of personal training, her inspirational career change, and juggling her kids and clients.
What inspired your transition from journalism to the field of fitness?
Money! With no expat deal, the cost of living here in Singapore, high rental fees and four kids at the time in international schools, plus one at university back in the UK, I needed a job! There were lots of accompanying spouses like me with media backgrounds, but not that many openings and, although I had enjoyed my last newspaper job in the UK, I quite fancied taking a completely new direction.
What better time to reinvent myself than after moving halfway across the world where only a handful of people knew me? Back in my school days, I wanted to be a PE teacher or a journalist, so in a way, my career has gone full circle.
I re-evaluated my life when I was 39 and decided it was time I got healthy, lost weight and improved my fitness. I’d run my first 10K by the time I was 40, and I’ve been a fitness enthusiast ever since.
How did you get started with training in Singapore?
I enrolled at the International Sports Academy (ISA) to complete my CPR/AED and a foundation course with The Singapore Sports Council, so that I’d be eligible to join a personal training course. I hadn’t studied since I’d qualified as a journalist, so it was a bit of a shock going back to school after a gap of almost 30 years. Biology had never been my favourite subject, but I found physiology and human anatomy in the context of exercise fascinating.
I chose the American Council on Exercise (ACE) certification because it’s an internationally recognised fitness organisation, endorsed by the European Health and Fitness Association, and allows me to work anywhere in the world. ACE also publishes great research and, as a member, I’m kept up to date with all the latest fitness trends. I’m required to recertify every two years with additional training, which means I stay fresh.
This year, I qualified as an internationally certified Pilates instructor, which has enabled me to bring a unique cardio-Pilates mix to my sessions. I personally advocate interval training, because it’s proven to work and you can offer different intensities of the same exercise to suit all fitness levels. I teach it in all my group classes and in one-on-one sessions in the gym, unless I’m working with a client with back, postnatal or joint issues that may restrict their cardio work.
What’s your typical daily routine like?
Stupidly, I thought working for myself would mean a better work-life balance and fewer hours. Turns out, however, that my boss is a real slave driver! My work day usually starts with a one-on-one client session at 7.30am or an outdoor group bootcamp at 8am, and then it’s pretty much a full day from there. I’m fortunate that I get to work in the Botanic Gardens and in parks on the East and West Coasts where our sessions are punctuated with the most amazing bird song – beats a cold, damp, wintry session in the UK for sure!
I’m lucky that my kids now range from 13 to 24 and are more independent, but balancing work with their needs is still a fine line; I don’t always get it right – but they understand and seem very proud of what I do.
What types of fitness and diet habits do you follow?
I spend at least 19 hours a week just driving between clients, as well as conducting 30 bootcamp sessions, so I keep fit by exercising with some of the smaller classes or working out alongside my one-on-one clients to encourage and pace them. When I have new clients, especially guys, they are usually way younger than me so I always do the cardio sessions with them, as I think it’s important to show that I’m not asking them to do anything I’m not capable of doing myself!
My crazy schedule means I don’t eat as healthily as I would like to, but I always tell my clients to do as I say, not as I do – and I have a great nutritionist I refer them to if they need any advice. If I need to shed a few pounds, I switch to a low-carb diet for a few weeks and then follow Ooberfit’s “Bikini Challenge” to keep it off.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
“Finish what you started” – or, to put it another way, “Don’t start what you cannot finish”. When you build steadily, you can achieve what you thought was impossible.
I was 19 when I watched my first London Marathon go past, and was absolutely certain I could never run such a distance. I was almost 40 when I decided to run my first marathon, in New York of all places. Six weeks before it was due to take place, the Twin Towers collapsed during the 9/11 terror attacks in the US. Many charity runners dropped out, but I was determined not to waste all my training nor let down my chosen charity, so I opted to go anyway.
Completing that race turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life. The sense of achievement I felt was huge; it changed my whole perception of myself and gave me a much-needed confidence boost. That was to be my first of several marathons; just before we came to Singapore, I completed three marathons in five weeks, just to see if I could.
What do you love most about being a trainer?
I think I have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to work with people who have made a conscious decision to change their lives by getting healthy, and I help them achieve their goals. My clients come in all shapes and sizes, and vary from the very fit to people who haven’t worked out in years, if at all. Watching them grow in confidence, get fitter and change shape is the best reward for any trainer.
I get such a buzz from working with an older client whose heart murmur is no longer detectable with a stethoscope, a woman whose bone density has improved significantly, a guy who has shed 12kg in eight weeks and a postnatal mum who has closed up a three-finger gap in her abdominal wall. I never expected I would end up doing a job that had such a positive impact on others – that’s why I love it!
I think my unique selling point is the fact that I’m just a normal mum who, in the past, has been everything from lazy and post-natally overweight to sporadic with exercise, so I really understand how my clients are feeling and the battles many of them struggle with.
Do you believe in making New Year resolutions? If so, what are yours for 2015?
I occasionally make them, but, honestly, I think we set ourselves up to fail by not being realistic. If you want to lose weight and get fitter, set a reasonable target; start with small milestones and build on them. If I’m out running with a client, I get them to concentrate on the next turn, not the top of the hill or our final destination. Pick an interim target and then expand on it as you reach the smaller milestones – just don’t decide to start with a marathon!
2015 is going to be a pivotal year for Ooberfit, as I’m in the process of going into partnership to incorporate the business so that we can expand it. This month, I’ll also start teaching fitness classes for families at the new Tanderra Club in Loewen Gardens, which is exciting. If I were to make a New Year’s resolution, it would be to take Ooberfit forward without compromising its reputation for fun, safe and effective training, and to build on the foundations already laid, while always remembering that one size doesn’t fit all.
Ooberfit’s Six-step Bikini Challenge
1. No alcohol during the week, Monday to Friday, with the exception of twice in the entire month.
2. Absolutely no snacking. Choose between five small meals or three of your usual meals a day.
3. Ban all crisps, chocolate or any other treats. You can nibble on a carrot if you feel peckish!
4. Participate in a minimum of two bootcamps per week, plus…
5. At least one other cardio exercise per week.
6. Absolutely no cheating!