A new man


  • Health
  • Sunday, 02 Mar 2003

The slim and fit Zabidi with Nor Zalina during their courting days.

At this time last year, office worker Ahmad Zabidi Omar woke up every day wracked with pain, and he couldn’t even lift up his baby boy. Visits to GPs and tukang urut (traditional masseurs) proved futile and the former football player thought that he would have to endure these pains forever. Then, he tried his luck at his office gym where well-qualified trainers, proper exercises and a sensible diet changed things for the better. Zabidi tells VERONICA SHUNMUGAM about his success story 

WATCHING Ahmad Zabidi Omar, 36, effortlessly work out at the gym, it is hard to believe that he was once overweight and suffered excruciating pain almost every waking moment of the day. Today, he has a toned body and eyes that are eager with health and confidence. 

He says he feels as good, if not better than he did when he was in his early 20s – when he was a terror on the football pitch!  

“I was so slim at that time. If you had seen me then, you would never have believed that one day, I would be so unfit,” says Zabidi, who stopped regular football once he started working. 

“Because I wasn’t exercising regularly, I injured my knee in a football match I played after months of relative inactivity. The knee injury was to be the start of my problems. It eventually led to back pain because of postural problems, and I suffered for almost 12 years,” he explains, wincing at the memory and adding that he also had an old injury to his left shoulder sustained during his earlier football days. 

When he sought medical help for his knee pain, the doctor diagnosed a torn ligament and advised him to stop playing football. For his shoulder, Zabidi didn’t see a doctor and thus endured shoulder pains whenever he played badminton prior to his gym days. 

The rather plump Zaibi before he started at the gym.

“To stop my knee pain, I went for urut (traditional massage) but it did not heal. So, I went for an operation three years ago to remove my ligament,” he explains. 

However, the operation did not help with Zabidi’s back pain and he decided to seek help at his office gym when it opened in March last year. “I started going to the gym gradually. Thankfully, the instructors there – R. Selvamuthu, whom I call my ‘sifu’, and A.T. Thilagawathy, or Thi – knew about rehab exercises and were able to help me,” says Zabidi.  

Selva, 36, a former Asian Games bronze medallist and SEA Games gold medallist in tae-kwon-do and a National Sports Council coach (in the areas of strength and conditioning) and Thi, 30, a former World and SEA Games exponent and national multiple gold medallist in tae-kwon-do, monitored Zabidi when he first started and only later assigned him exercises for his back. 

Selva says that most gyms offer body-building and body-toning programmes whereas the programmes he offers are geared towards sports training, which builds strength, speed and agility and cuts down body weight without bulky muscular build-up (like body-builders). “When someone first walks into our gym, we get him or her to fill in a form and tell us what problems they have, for example, back and knee pain. Once I know what their problem is, I work towards their needs. Getting injured and operated on is easy. Rehabilitation is always harder.” 

For example, says Selva, when people have back pains, doctors normally tell them not to do anything. However, the patients often rest too long, and the pains don’t go away. Selva, who did a three-month Rehabilitation Practical Course in Liepzig, Germany, says he is able to conduct a rehabilitation programme to strengthen the back muscles. 

“What I do is that I get patients back on their feet as soon as possible in the same or better fitness level as they were before. In Zabidi’s case, I had to first ‘rehab’ his back injury before making him do other exercises and weights,” he explains.  

Thi explains further that Zabidi’s knee problem weakened his hamstring and this, in turn, weakened and caused pain to his back muscles. “Once the gym rehab programme strengthened his hamstrings, his back mucsles were also strengthened and the pain gradually went away.” 

It was at this stage that Zabidi began gentle exercises: “I felt okay. There was no pain straight afterwards but the next day I would feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, the discomfort would last a few days.” 

Despite initial problems, Zabidi felt assured thanks to Selva and Thilaga who monitored him and suggested other exercises if existing ones were discomfiting. 

“Because of his back, we gave him gentler exercises that used the Fitball and not the machines. But now, he is able to work on the machines. Last time, he couldn’t even do push-ups,” recalls Thi.  

A much leaner and fitter Zabidi now able to use the gym machines with Selva's programmes and Thi's encourgement.

“Yeah, sometimes, I felt like giving up!” sighs Zabidi.  

“There’s no sense in giving up. You must try! Every time someone feels like giving up, I will tell them that they ‘can do it’ and cheer them on. Zabidi is one of my success stories,” smiles Thi, adding that Zabidi also made it because he had the discipline – he was at the gym during lunch hours and straight after office, and changed his eating habits. 

“So far, I have lost 8kg. I really look different now – almost like how I was when I was younger! Now that my back feels okay, my aim is to trim my tummy,” says Zabidi, who doesn’t follow any special diet but does not eat lunch anymore, avoids iced drinks and stays away from his once-favourite nasi lemak and roti canai, which Thi says are very heavy and fattening. 

“Breakfast is bread. Dinner, however, is whatever my wife cooks – I have no choice! I do cut down on my rice intake but sometimes when the lauk (side dishes) are delicious, I finish them off! I can’t help it!” he says.  

So, how does he cope during Hari Raya? 

“I do reduce my food intake a bit but I am not so disciplined as I take into consideration that festivals only come occasionally. For some foods like lemang (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo shoots) which I like very much, I only cut down a bit. But when I do eat lemang during lunchtime, I skip dinner,” says Zabidi, who hails from Perak. 

And yes, Zabidi’s wife, Norzalina Haron, 37, is quite impressed. Everywhere they go, people comment and ask about her hubby’s new look so much so she gets tired of explaining to them all that has happened. When Zabidi accompanied her to the family tailor last week, the seamstress didn’t recognise him and expressed surprise that he had lost so much weight. Nor Zalina just waved off the compliment, saying, “Alah ? he’s always going to the gym-lah!”  

At home, however, she prepares more vegetables and less fried foods. Amused, she recalls how Zabidi used to complain about his increasingly tight trousers and how, at present,he complains they might drop off! 

Zabidi is enjoying his newfound health: “Last time, I couldn’t carry my baby because my back would hurt. Even if I bent forward in the mornings, the pain would be terrible. But now I have no problems – I can carry him all the way up the steps to my apartment on the fourth floor! No sweat!” 

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