When Raj found Starting Strength and our gym back in 2017, he finally found something that gave him relief from the lower back pain that he has been dealing with for years. Since then, Raj has been advocating strength training, especially the Starting Strength method, to his friends and peers at work.

There was a funny incident where a few people in the gym started to chat about why they started training and how it has gone so far, and to their surprise, they all started because of Raj. Then another guy on the side jumped in and said, “Well, everyone here knows Raj!”

Before Raj started recommending his friends and colleagues to the gym, he brought a skinny 14 year old boy to join in his training sessions – his son, Aryan.

Coaching Aryan for the past five years has made me reflect on how this young boy has changed and grown to be a fine young man. But, biased as I am, I think his exposure to barbell training helped him to learn a few life lessons that all young men and women should have the chance to experience.

Meet Aryan

Aryan, May 2017, a few months after starting training

Aryan was tall for his age. The first time I met him, he was almost as tall as me. Aryan has long arms and legs, with a relatively shorter torso. At one time, we realized that our seated heights were not much different, but when he stood up, he towered me by at least 15 cm.

Raj said that strength training would probably help him with his shoulder injury. I believe that Raj had carefully explained to Aryan that strength training might also allow him to become a better basketball player, which he was passionate about.

Basketball was the entry point where I started to connect with him. I asked him what position he played, and he said that he played center. Not surprising for someone his height. I also figured out that he’s a fellow Lakers fan, which up until now, can be my handy source of information if I missed anything on the league.

I can tell that Aryan is a brilliant kid. He processes information very quickly, and he asks questions. It is not hard to explain new concepts to Aryan. He also has a fantastic memory. He remembers all his lift PRs, the day, and how it went.

Also, Aryan can talk to anyone in the gym; his personality makes it easy for everyone to feel at ease with him. However, one downside of that trait is that Aryan can get too chatty and make his workouts way longer than it’s supposed to be.

Lesson from Aryan about showing up, doing the hard work, and achieving success

The first day he started training, 14 years old Aryan started light. He ended his first day rack pulling with a 5kg bar because he didn’t have good control over his back muscles to maintain back extension. Over next few months, he added one kilogram to the bar on every session and lowered the rack pull to a deadlift.

That circumstance warranted Aryan to start off a little slower. However, things start to change after he started to have more control over his body. His movement suddenly became sharper, and he can handle bigger weight increments on every session like an adult.

One thing about Aryan that stands out is his hard work and perseverance. Aryan will unlikely become a national champion, but he is the hardest-working young man in the gym. I’m sure he learned it from the late Kobe Bryant (right, Aryan? 😉).

Not all of his training sessions are exciting. There had been good and bad training days for him. On bad days, I could tell that he was not as fresh, and sometimes it ended with him getting very pale and exhausted, but he still did his program without any complaining. He doesn’t ever miss training except during the exam season and when he gets sick/injured. Needless to say, because of this, he gradually got stronger over time.

Reaching 100kg is a significant milestone for a lifter. When Aryan was 16, he was almost ready to do his first 100kg deadlift. His whole family was training together and watching as he did it. Aryan finally did a set of five at 100kg, and the moment he was done, he immediately crashed to the floor. Aryan could not stand up for a few seconds until I pulled him up. He was neither in pain nor exerted too much on that set. It was his “interesting” way of celebrating it. I’m sure he’s slightly embarrassed we brought this up it up.

Aryan deadlifts 100kgs

However, he has every right to celebrate it that way. He trained hard for two years to do that. The barbell has taught Aryan that hard work in the right direction will result in something fruitful. Hopefully, in the future, the lessons learnt from picking up a barbell will also apply to picking up new skills, to his career, or any other aspect of life.

I wish I knew about Novice Linear Progression at 14 years old. All young men need to know that to be good at something, they must start small, consistently show up, and make a significant effort to improve. All young men also need to understand that the sun will not be shining every day, and the higher up you climb in any endeavour, things don’t get easier.

Getting strong also teaches young adults about achieving their own success. When they get stronger, they are the only person who’s responsible for making it happen, and that success is not handed over by someone else

Lesson from Aryan about when things don’t go as planned

There were a lot of disruptions in Aryan’s training for the past few years. Like everyone, Aryan’s training was disrupted during the COVID period. Moreover, Aryan can be clumsy sometimes. He famously dropped a 10kg plate on his toes, which sidelined him for a few weeks. These events, coupled with sickness and family travel, affected Aryan’s training consistency. Nevertheless, this year, he’s still hungry to make new personal bests.

This year, his training was going really well, and it looked like he would be able to set some huge PRs before his exams. So, we set a date for his PR attempt before taking some time of to focus on his exams and start training for his IPPT. Plans were set leading to the big day, and out of nowhere, he fell sick 2 weeks before it happened. He couldn’t train for about a week and barely trained before the PR Day.

He attempted 142.5kg for his squat anyway for a 2.5kg PR. Out of the hole, the bar was going up fast; it was a promising attempt before he felt his balance tipping forward, causing him to fail.

He reattempted it and gave it another fight. It was so close, but he couldn’t stand up with the bar fully.

His facial expression immediately changed into frustration. Aryan realized things didn’t go according to his plan, and a PR might not come that day. Those two failures started to get into his head, and when he tried the third attempt, he was already mentally checked out.

We tried it again on the following training, where he PRed his deadlift by 2.5kg, but there was no redemption for his squat.

Another factor that made it harder for Aryan to accept this result was the rivalry with his twin, Karran, who are stronger despite starting training later than him and not having Aryan’s consistency. To a teenager, this might seem unfair.

Aryan and Karran

Aryan was obviously crushed, but what did he do after that day?

He followed his plan of focusing on the exam and is now still preparing for his IPPT.

Despite the disappointment, Aryan realized it was time to move on to the next priority because life goes on.

I hope that experience teaches the young man a few things.

Firstly, despite all of the hard work, there might be factors that we can’t control. Aryan did all the right things during his training, and the sickness came as a curveball. He missed a strike and accepted that it was not his day. The only thing to do now is to increase the chance of making it happen the next time by preparing and training hard for it.

Secondly, our attitude when things don’t go our way matters. While obviously upset about the outcome, he still got his priorities right and knew when to let go. He only had that week to test his PR; after that, it was study time.

Lastly, while rivalry can often push people to do better, there are some aspects of life where comparison can be detrimental. We move at a different pace at different times, depending on our skills, effort, and sometimes luck. So just stay in the race!

I hope these few stories about Aryan have been interesting!

When I started thinking about the effect of barbell training on young adults; I immediately thought that Aryan and Karran were the perfect examples. I have coached Aryan for five years and Karran for three. However, the moment I start writing, it seems like there are more and more things to tell. So, in the next month, we’ll talk more about Karran!


My interest in fitness started when I was around 19 years old. Being overweight for most of my growing up years, I decided to do something about it. After months of not being able to achieve the desired results, I began poring through books and articles about training and nutrition. The more I read, the more interested I became in this field, and got better results when the the newly discovered knowledge was applied. After 1 year of persistence and hard work, I lost 24kg and felt fantastic. The sense of achievement motivated me to pursue a career in working with people to help them achieve their own fitness goals.

After achieving my weight loss goal, I tried a variety of training programs for a few years, looking for a new goal to train towards. After aimlessly moving around from program to program, I chanced upon a book called Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, written by renowned strength and conditioning expert, Mark Rippetoe. Little did I know that this book was about to change my life and coaching career.

At that point, I had experience training with barbells and was relatively familiar with it but never have I come across any material that gave such explicitly detailed explanations of how to perform the barbell lifts. I devoured the book and modified my lifting technique and program. In just a few months, I was pleasantly surprised by how much stronger he had become. I now had a new goal to work towards – getting strong.

With full confidence in the efficacy of the Starting Strength methodology, I began coaching my clients using this program and got them stronger than they ever thought was possible. The consistent success my clients achieved through the program cemented my confidence in Mark Rippetoe’s teachings. I then decided to pursue the credential of being a Starting Strength Coach and I’m currently the first and only certified coach in Singapore and South-East Asia

In my 9 years of experience, I have given talks and ran programs at numerous companies and worked with a diverse group clientele of all ages with a variety of goals. Today, I specialise in coaching people in their 40s, 50s and beyond because it brings me a great sense of satisfaction to be part of the process of improving this demographics’ health and quality of life by getting them stronger.