Credit: Janice Yap

When Janice Yap sets her mind to something, she pulls all stops to ensure that she not just excels at it, but that she becomes the best in class. The 40-year-old investment banker started her fitness journey to get her body back in shape after two kids – two years later, she would break three records at the Singapore Powerlifting Competition, namely Squat, Deadlift, and Total Score.

Not too shabby for someone who only made the decision to compete 10 months before the actual competition. Mervin Ortono, Janice’s trainer at Ultimate Performance, says, “It’s not common to break national records when we are at the novice phase of the sport – it’s literally Janice’s first powerlifting competition. It just so happens that I saw that her starting strength when entering the sport had the potential to break the existing national records for Squat and Deadlift.

“Our main goal was to train, prepare and perform on stage for the experience. It’s already a great achievement for a busy professional in her 40s with two young kids to still join these kinds of events – beating records was only secondary. We just realized we broke the National Total Record for her Age and Weight class as well after the event, so for us beating records was just a bonus.”

We speak to the investment banker and record-breaker on what it takes to become a national champion.

When did you first get into powerlifting–was it after the birth of your first child or before that? What made you want to get into powerlifting?

I first got into strength training in 2019, once I started weaning my second child, which was a little before his first birthday.  Training at that time was really to just get back into shape and be fit again after having two kids, and so I started with Ultimate Performance given their experience with transformations. But by the time I hit my initial fitness goals, I got “addicted” to the work-outs and wanted to have other, more performance-oriented goals, like being able to do pull-ups (which I was never able to do before in my life, despite having been relatively fit when I was younger), and lift double my body weight.

I continued training with Ultimate Performance with these new goals to work towards, and amazingly I managed to get there as well. That’s when I seriously considered taking up powerlifting. I have a close friend who is very active in the sport, and that’s how I got to know about powerlifting in the first place.  I’m relatively goal-oriented so I usually need something external and specific to work towards. I decided to give powerlifting a try. (In some ways I’m also quite lazy, so I’d rather lift heavy for fewer reps, than have to lift a lighter weight for more reps).

So, in consultation with my new coach at Ultimate Performance, who could work with me specifically on powerlifting, I started training competitively after Chinese New Year in 2021, with the hope that there might be a competition later in the year.

Why did you choose Ultimate Performance as your training ground? What did your training regimen for powerlifting competitions entail? How often do you train? 

I started with Ultimate Performance because my husband was already training there, and his transformation was extremely successful. He did this after we had our first child, but I waited till after we had our second before starting the programme.

In the beginning, for my initial transformation and fitness goals, training consisted of three sessions a week at the gym with a personal trainer, and running a couple of times a week outside. But once we decided to compete, the gym sessions stepped up to four times a week. The training regimen became a lot more focused on the three big lifts (squats, bench presses, deadlifts) at that point, particularly on technique.

What made you want to become a competitive powerlifter? You’re an investment banker and a mother to two children: what sort of sacrifices have you had to make in all aspects of your life? How do you juggle working, parenting and powerlifting?

I suppose the eventual decision to compete was a fortuitous culmination of a few factors: celebrating life’s milestones, needing new fitness goals to work towards, and actually having a more predictable work schedule to support the demanding training regimen (given travel was made impossible with the pandemic). 

I also decided to compete because looking at the numbers we had to work towards if I wanted to break a record (based on my weight-class and age), it seemed like the best kind of goal to set – one that is extremely difficult and challenging, but not impossible! (To be fair, it’s a very specific demographic – I would certainly not be competitive in the Open category!)

I am very fortunate that I receive a lot of help at home, and even have my mother staying with us – this is a huge pillar of support with respect to childcare and certain household responsibilities, so juggling everything becomes a lot more manageable. In fact, if there was anyone that I would dedicate my medal to, it would be my mother, who is effectively the strongest woman I know, with all the love that she gives to everyone around her. My husband was of course also extremely supportive, and totally encouraging of me pursuing powerlifting.

I would also add that, in some strange way, training so hard was essential to finding my balance. It provided a form of stress relief, and lifting heavy weights with huge bursts of energy is arguably the healthiest way to channel any pent-up tension from work! When the weights get extremely heavy, you have to be so focused on executing the movement that it becomes almost meditative.

In October 2021, you competed at the Singapore Powerlifting Open and broke three national records in the Women’s Masters 1 Under-52 category. What do your wins mean to you? Do you feel that your age is an advantage or disadvantage to your pursuit of the sport?

The wins were a birthday present to myself! But they are hopefully also just the first step in what could be a slightly longer journey in the sport. It’s definitely very encouraging to be able to hit goals that you’ve set for yourself, and it makes me absolutely grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given in life. 

Age is obviously a hurdle to performance in sport, otherwise age categories would not be created in the first place. But that said, just because you’re starting from a less advantageous position doesn’t mean you can’t try something new, nor does it mean that you can’t achieve something special. If you’re interested enough in something, you owe it to yourself to at least give it a go. And in some ways, for me at least, age is an advantage, because I’ve learnt to be more patient with myself and with the process of change and making progress. I also think many people get less anxious with age, because you’ve been through so much more, so the prospect of having to compete in something new feels less daunting than maybe if I were to do this when much younger.   

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had in powerlifting and how did you overcome them? 

The biggest challenge has got to be dealing with all the aches and pains that come with a much more intense level of training, and having a fantastic coach was obviously important in helping me manage that, as well as a good physiotherapist. Another challenge was time management, and for that I obviously have my family to thank, with both my wonderful mother and extremely supportive husband enabling me the entire way.

Being subjected to a couple of lock-downs during the training cycles was certainly disruptive, but from a “glass half full” perspective, it was also the complete inability to travel for work (which I had to do very frequently pre-Covid) that allowed me to follow such a structured training programme.

Training so hard was essential to finding my balance. It provided a form of stress relief, and lifting heavy weights with huge bursts of energy is arguably the healthiest way to channel any pent-up tension from work.

Janice Yap

What is some advice you have for female aspiring powerlifters? What would you say to someone who is interested but intimidated? 

Finding a good coach is very important and integral to the whole process, especially if you want to compete. Even if you don’t choose to compete, if you want to simply improve, it’s relatively difficult to do so without having someone guide you very closely. I would also say that progress is never linear, so expect the occasional plateau, and also be ready for frequent muscle aches and even emotional fatigue! 

On the latter, I would say that feeling intimidated is completely normal, and that comes with trying anything new, especially something so physically consuming.  I guess the path to larger goals is always paved with smaller ones, and I didn’t start out wanting to do powerlifting either. It all began with a more generic fitness and weight-loss goal, which gradually evolved to basic strength goals and finally to competing in powerlifting. The entire evolution of what I wanted took a couple of years.