Meet the breast cancer survivor who’s changing the fitness game for over-40s in Singapore with women’s gym and Pilates studio, FitNut Loft.
A women’s gym and Pilates studio for the older woman
As a woman, if you’ve ever set foot in a male dominated weight room, you probably know the feeling: everyone’s either judging you, your form or the fact that you’re lifting weights at all. You’re not alone – experiences like this keep many women away from the gym. It’s no wonder, really, that women around the world are documented as being less likely than men to get the amount of exercise they need.
And it’s not just this gender gap that deters some women from the gym. It’s that sense of self-consciousness that many women feel around other women – that feeling of not fitting in with a crowd that doesn’t “look” like you. Social media and ads don’t make it any better, with “perfect” young bodies telling women they can look like that too.
For a woman going through menopause, this is sure to spark some self-limiting beliefs. It may even be the reason why she walks away from working out altogether; “I’m too old for that”, “I’m too out of shape”, “I can’t keep up”. And yet regular exercise is one of the most powerful things she can do to reduce her risk of chronic diseases, build bone density and benefit her mental health.
As a woman in her late 40s who has had two kids and battled breast cancer, ALY KHAIRUDDIN knows just how hard it can be to overcome the obstacles that can come with ageing. Luckily, as a certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor, she understood the power of physical activity right from the start. In fact, it’s how she clawed her way out of the hole that cancer treatment had left her in; this included immense pain to the point where she couldn’t get out of the tub by herself.
“I felt so embarrassed with what I’d ‘become’,” she says. So, after finishing chemo, Aly jumped at the opportunity to rent an available studio right near her house in Bukit Timah. Her goal? Making it a “safe” space where she could work out in private. In addition to Pilates, she started doing her own 15-minute circuit workouts, slowly adding weights to the routine as she got stronger.
“It took a while, but I finally got my range of motion, strength and flexibility back,” she says. “But, I knew that if I was struggling as a fitness professional, then there must be so many other women out there who are also struggling.”
Inspired by her own transformation and the desire to help other women feel the same way, Aly changed her focus from pre- and postnatal Pilates to concentrate on the older woman – the woman who, like her, wants to “reach her ultimate goal and not be swept to the back of the room because she has bulges and bad knees.” That’s when FitNut Loft was born – and, along with it, a sense of community that just can’t be replicated at a large-scale gym or co-ed Crossfit class.
From taboo to tribe
With a dedicated following of FitNutters even during the pandemic and a recent rebrand, the women’s gym and Pilates studio is laser-focused on helping women who want to get “better” not “younger”; they want to embrace the ageing process instead of fighting it, explains Aly.
“At the end of the day, we all want the same goal. We all want to live to an old age, being happy, fit and healthy so that we can do the things we love to do and be around the people we love,” she says.
“But when a 50-year-old woman can’t find her tribe, she ends up trying to do her own thing. Yet this may not be the best type of exercise for her. Or, she may end up dieting on salad without fuelling on protein. She disappears into the shadows and finds she isn’t feeling better physically – and the weight is still piling on slowly and silently. She’s trying to figure this out herself, while quietly hoping that she will find her tribe.”
By providing that tribe for the underserved segment of women over 40, Aly is helping her clients regain confidence and feel that they matter, regardless of their body shape or fitness level.
“I feel like we’re stuck in a time warp where the industry forgets about us after we’ve had children,” she says. “I want to change how we older women are spoken to in the industry; because, quite frankly, we aren’t spoken to at all. We can’t relate to what’s going on out there.”
Clients and classes
But, if a fitness and Pilates studio for middle-aged women brings to mind 1kg weights and some light stretching, you’d be mistaken. Aly works her clients hard. Her signature class, Strong and Lean, combines Pilates techniques with weight training to build strength and stamina.
“We lift weights every single day – groceries, children, grandchildren, bags and suitcases,” she says. “It’s imperative for women to strength train. If you don’t, you will age badly.”
There are other group classes to choose from. Reformer, for example, is a suspension training-based Jungle workout; Cardiotramp is a circuit-style class that combines cardio-trampolining with reformer Pilates and floor work; and there’s a a circuit-based strength training-HIIT (high-intensity interval training) combo class called Heat.
All group classes are kept small (up to six women max) to ensure personalised attention for everyone. “It’s so nice to work out with likeminded women all aiming to be healthier and stronger as we age; the coaches and FitNutters are always encouraging, and we have lots of fun together,” says 51-year-old ALLISON ROGIANI. Allison has been working out at the studio since 2018. “Having a group of women in this age group is comforting, encouraging and empowering. We all have specific fitness goals but a shared vision of what a strong woman is, based on our years of life experiences.”
She adds, “Not feeling the pressure to keep up with super energetic, high-octane 20- and 30-year-olds in a gym setting also helps make FitNut Loft a great place for me.”
In addition to the popular group classes, Aly offers one-on-one fitness training and nutrition coaching to help women become healthier and stronger. The fitness and Pilates studio also offers the popular Amazing 12 programme; this is known for delivering unprecedented body transformations in shockingly short periods of time.
One such FitNutter is JOYCE BILLINGTON (58), who’s worked with Aly for the past seven years. This period for Joyce has included diagnosis of and recovery from breast cancer, and a hip replacement due to chemotherapy.
“Luckily, I had been an avid FitNut participant before my diagnosis. So I was already in a better position to deal with the loss of strength and mobility I experienced. Through the FitNut sessions, I was able to focus on strengthening muscles, increase flexibility and movement, and improve my overall strength and fitness,” she says. “Both my surgeon and physio have been amazed at the speed of my recovery; and I know it’s because of the sessions I do at FitNut. Aly and her team have become trusted partners in my rehabilitation and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
2 Pandan Valley, #01-201
8686 8299 | fitnutloft.com
This article first appeared in the October 2021 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!