Interview with a Fit Girl, Tiara Soemakno, on Training

Still in our quest to be Fit N Fab, I’m bringing you an interview with one of the fittest girls I personally know. If you attended the first Female Daily Kick Starter event in Fit N Fab, I shamelessly dragged her to the stage and showed the audience a  proof of why strength-training is the way to go for women. Adding to that, Tiara Soemakno is someone I have known dearly for the last 15 years. We’ve gone back a long time ago when we were a pair of chubby girls (well, I was way chubbier than her. Ha!) in first year high school, sitting together on the same classroom bench. We continued on to live in the United States, in different cities, but we kept in contact. A few years ago, she came back to Indonesia and we often discuss about training. She is my go-to person when it comes to training and nutrition.

She took the time from her busy schedule to chat with me about exercise and training. Enough foreword from me, and let’s get to her!

Can you tell us more about yourself?

I am a mother of 2 little boys who definitely take up most of my time. I went back to school in January this year to get my health coaching certificate. By this summer, I will get a temporary license to see clients for health consultation. In the mean time, I am also building up my new business that focuses on health and nutrition. The consultation will eventually be part of my service. For now, I write nutrition and training plans for my clients based on their goals. I also give training at my house to a handful of clients who want the extra push and motivation.

What are the 3 biggest myths in exercising and working out that just refused to disappear?

#1 – Women shouldn’t lift weights because it will make them bulky (keep on reading for the elaborate answer on this one! -W)

#2 – You can cancel out calories by doing extra cardio.

I hear women say all the time,” I’m gonna go run on the treadmill now to burn off the cupcake I just ate!”  Well… Fat loss isn’t all about “calories in, calories out.” It’s true that the calories we use need to be greater than what is consumed. Otherwise, they will be stored as fat. That is, unless they are used to build muscles (through strength training). So these women will burn calories and muscles while doing excess cardio. This leads into being “skinny-fat”. Yes, you may lose weight but you are not losing fat. If anything, your body compensates the muscle loss by signaling more hunger signals and then you eat more! It’s a never-ending cycle. Your diet is what counts the most. I cannot stress this enough. No matter how hard you train, you cannot out-train a bad diet. (The last sentence is the word of wisdom that I live by, FDers! -W)

#3 – If you want a flat abs, then you need to do more sit-ups.

I am not saying sit-ups are bad. But it is literally useless to do sit-ups if you still have layer and layer of fat on your belly. Make sure you clean up your diet FIRST.

I know you always say “fat loss” and never “weight loss”. What’s the difference, really?

It’s quite easy to lose weight. You eat apples and yogurt and you go run a lot every day. Guaranteed, you will lose weight (and yes, part of this can also be fat loss). However, a lot of this will be muscle loss. You will not achieve the “toned” look you want and the most important thing is, it is very unhealthy! I see so many skinny women with body fat over 28 percent and I have seen overweight women with the same fat percentage. Scale is useless. Try step on a scale, drink a glass of water and step back on. You might gain 0.5 kg or even 1 kg. Does that mean you gained fat within 10 seconds? NO. Many of my clients lost body fat and centimeters off their bodies but their weight only down by a little bit, or for some, even stay on the same weight. Now in that case, does the number in the scale matter to you? Or does fitting into your old jeans matter more? Strength-train to lose fat and prevent muscle loss!

And you don’t do steady-state cardio … What is the case on that?

The answer is similar to the second exercise myth I mentioned above. I don’t do it because it is boring and it makes me lose muscles I train very hard for! I do heavy interval training like sprinting and kettlebell swings for my “cardio”. I call this metabolic conditioning. This is very short, very effective method for fat loss in addition to strength training. Traditional cardio is NOT bad. It just cannot replace lifting and intervals. I encourage you to walk every morning after you wake up on an empty stomach for 30 mins. It’s an excellent active recovery, as well as yoga. But doesn’t mean just by walking and doing yoga you can lose fat.

Women are afraid to be lift weights because they think it would make them bulky…

This is a very widespread myth and I hope more women realize that this is indeed a myth. Strength training helps decrease body fat, increase lean muscle mass and burn calories more efficiently. And I don’t mean 2-3 kg dumbbells. You gotta lift HEAVY to lose fat (with good form, of course!). You need to challenge your muscles to grow and change your shape. When you replace your fat with muscles you will achieve a leaner look, which I believe is much more attractive than being skinny.  Women don’t have the testosterone level that of men’s, so we won’t be “bulky”, unless you take steroids. It is actually extremely hard to build muscles. You really have to kill your muscles often at the gym to make this happens.

And believe me, when you are the only woman in the weight room deadlifting 60 kg for example, you will make people’s jaws dropped and you will exude confidence more than ever.

(I can’t help but attest to that! People do stare when you load up an Olympic barbell bar and lift more than what you would seem to! I mean, honestly people, who thought the girl in the Mickey Mouse t-shirt could lift more than her bodyweight in a deadlift? -W)

So, in a nutshell, how are we supposed to exercise then?

If you were a beginner in lifting, I would focus on big compound exercises that use all muscles in your body. Deadlift, pull-up, squat and standing shoulder press, for example. Go heavy on these master lifts and add high-intensity interval training (or HIIT) once or twice a week. The frequency all depends on your schedule. The more days you can dedicate to working out the better. But as a beginner, don’t workout more than 5 times a week. Your body needs to rest too. Rest and sleep are essential parts of fat loss.

You’re a busy girl; a mother of two, with a growing business in the local health industry. What do you say to the people who tell you, “…but I don’t have time to exercise”?

Well, then soon they will have to make up time to get sick. You don’t need to spend an hour at the gym if you can’t. You can still do short intense exercise at home. Schedule exercise as you would schedule business meetings. Because if you don’t take care of your body now then who will? Your body is an asset and you only have one. Take good care of it.

Lastly, do you have tips on us newbies trying to get fit and be healthier overall?

Make small sustainable changes. For example, you can start by eliminating soda and walk 30 minutes every morning on an empty stomach. The week after try to put one spoonful of sugar in your coffee instead of 2 and start doing bodyweight exercises. Get support from people around you and be consistent. A health coach is a good investment as well who can direct you to the right training and nutrition plan and motivate you (shameless self-promotion, LOL!). You just have to commit and trust the process. It’s not easy but it will be very much worth it.


So, there you go! These things she elaborates are truly the words of wisdom when it comes into exercising (ahem, training). Don’t be afraid to break from the stereotype of women lifting only light weights. Because it has been tested time and time again, women are capable, and actually made, to lift  heavy weights, without looking like a she-Hulk. The proof is in the pictures. Does she look “too muscular” or “too manly”, by any measure? I guess not! She looks completely Fit N Fab, and her strength really translates into everyday functionality.

Follow Tiara on Twitter and Instagram (same user name: @redsoxangel) for her Fit N Fab journey and for excellent, myth-debunking, tips on training and nutrition! (You may see some of the FD crew making cameos in her accounts, too! :D )