Tips For Staying Fit During & After National Service

It’s one thing to have fitness goals. It’s a totally different ballgame having to keep up with them.

By Sean Yee        22 February 2024

It is an indisputable fact that staying active and fit are the key pillars to living a healthy and vibrant life. However, this could prove to be challenging to many, especially after National Service when other aspects of life get in the way of one’s personal fitness and exercise routines.

SSG (NS) Danie Dharma (@daniedharma) understands this all too well. During his formative years, he was often picked on for his scrawny physique. Not one to let his circumstances take him down, he has worked tirelessly to ensure that he remains his best both physically and mentally. A former SAF Navy Specialist of over 10 years, he has since taken on an array of mantles and causes that he is incredibly passionate about. 

We speak to Danie, an award-winning professional wrestler, bodybuilder, personal trainer and fitness model, who addresses some of the most common questions and doubts NSmen have about fitness, and shares tips on how to be your best self, during and after National Service. 

Danie Dharma from his skinny to bodybuilding years
Danie, progressing from his skinny years to winning bodybuilding contests.

“I am a bit intimidated and overwhelmed by all of this! Where do I even begin?”

For Danie, running is a great way to kickstart any fitness pursuit. “It keeps your BMI low and helps build up stamina for high-intensity exercises like our IPPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test),” he says. “Right now, I run 3km to 5km regularly but I’m hoping to increase it to 10km”. 

Hate running? Danie recommends an hour of paced cardio in place of conventional running. You can consider a stationary bike (spinning) with attached resistance to keep the body moving, or alternatives like stair climbs. 

Golden Rule: A run, or a paced cardio exercise of your choosing is a great way to start out any fitness journey

“I feel so weak. Others can complete an entire training circuit without breaking a sweat and I can barely complete 10 push-ups.”

Danie’s passion for fitness guides his training philosophy. “I have always been physically active since I was 13 and physical training has been a very integral part of my life even before my enlistment,” he shares. It’ll make a huge difference if you incorporate your personal goals into your fitness plans, as they will serve as its main driving force. 

For those unsure about how to go about setting their own exercise plan, Danie has a simple rule of thumb to offer: “ It is always good to begin any fitness plan with a good cardio workout. Follow that up with calisthenics, such as pull-ups, push-ups, and ab exercises.”

And it cannot be stressed enough that you need to follow your own pace. 

Recommended calisthenics exercises for beginners: 

Danie Dharma staying fit with friends
Danie (second from left) staying fit with friends!

“Keeping fit is important, yes. But I just find exercising so tedious.”

Fitness is one of those things where you really can get the best of both worlds. In fact, for Danie, a workout doesn’t feel like a chore or an obligation because he simply enjoys it! 

It is always crucial that your fitness resolutions and plans accommodate your own interests. Enjoy the thrill of competition? Try out competitive group sports in your local community. Craving for the resonances of electrifying club music? Zumba and dance-centric classes are perfect for you. There is definitely something out there for you if you look closely enough.

SAFRA has a rich array of vibrant interest groups that will get your heart pumping for sure! 

Resources to get you started:

Danie Dharma with his family
Danie with his family.

“I have been trying to get my partner to exercise. How can I better encourage him or her to get going?”

For some fitness enthusiasts, the workout itself serves as the incentive, especially if it’s something they really enjoy doing! There is also the gang that craves the release of endorphins – the “feel good” chemicals. And then there are people like your partner who are still figuring out their motives. 

Danie says, “Instead of focusing on the act of exercising, ask your partner about his or her fitness goals. Perhaps they want to look better for an upcoming vacation. Or they prefer an activity that is more socially engaging”. Incentives, whether they are tangible or intangible, will ease the assimilation process for beginners as they have something to look forward to at the end of every workout.

Suggested responses to:  

    • The Food Enthusiast: “Don’t Grab! Let’s walk/run there lah!” 
    • The Body Proud: “Come with me to the gym! I want us to look good together!”
    • The Couch Potato: “Come walk/run! I’ll buy you your favourite ice cream after!”
    • The Work Addict: “You look really stressed out. Tell me more about it during our walk!” 
Danie Dharma as a Navy regular and at a bodybuilding competition
Danie Dharma as a Navy regular and at a bodybuilding competition.

“I did everything this guide mentioned. I had a fitness plan; I was working out. But somehow, life got in the way, and I stopped. What’s the point of trying if I know I’ll fail?”

You want a training plan that is progressive and sustainable, says Danie, adding “You have to give yourself some credit for the attempt! Remember, the longer you do something, the better you get at it. Give your body some time to ease into your routine!” 

Danie’s tips for avoiding exercise burnout:

  • Make sure your training plans are targeted and goal-specific

“I have noticed many young gym enthusiasts jumping straight into weights at the gym, lifting them erratically and cluelessly. Many improvise their training sessions and end up with unintended results. Take, for example, a person who wishes to sprint faster should be doing sprint-specific training instead of generic running exercises.”

  • Set a realistic timeline

“When some don’t see results fast enough, they give up not realising that their efforts weren’t even sufficient to scratch the surface of their goals.” Do not rush the process; ensure that you have a reasonable timeline that is well-informed and representative of your lifestyle.

  • Follow a progressive training framework

“Those who lack a progressive model of training end up front-loading their training programmes. They either train too hard or too frequently at the beginning and experience burnout too soon or feel that it’s too physically challenging.” Set a fitness planning framework, and stick to it. Be patient and you’ll see results.

EnergyOne offers its members easy access to seven gyms islandwide and usage of its extensive facilities, with membership fees starting from just $2 a day! From now till 31 March 2024, all new sign-ups of Main/Spouse/Term memberships can get an additional two months free by extending the membership immediately for another 12 months. For more info, visit safra.sg/energyone-gym/promotions

Save more with SAFRA! Enjoy special deals and discounts on dining, entertainment, travel, fitness and more from over 1,500 merchant outlets islandwide. Sign up or renew your SAFRA membership for one year at $43.60 inclusive of GST) and get two years FREE! Plus, get your spouse and children on board to enjoy the same privileges too at $5.45/year. Visit safra.sg/savemore for more details.

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