The community pursuing maximal strength: Brusthetics BASE

We take a look inside Brunei’s first powerlifting gym and speak to its founders, who are keen to break stereotypes surrounding lifting heavy weights

When it comes to lifting weights, many still hold that it’s a pursuit best left to hulking, muscle-bound bodybuilders. Brusthetics BASE, a newly opened barbell strength training gym in Jerudong, wants to prove that stereotype wrong.

A passion project a group of young powerlifters and weightlifters – BASE has a simple mission; it wants to build a community that strives to get stronger in five fundamental exercises with a 2.2 metre, 20-kilogramme barbell, loaded with increasingly heavier weights.

“Powerlifting focuses on getting stronger at three main lifts: the squat, the bench press and the deadlift,” explained Safwan Zulkofli, one of the five BASE partners. “Olympic weightlifting focuses on two lifts: the snatch and clean and jerk.”

Sounds complicated. Knowing absolutely nothing about powerlifting, I decided to drag my friend Aimi along, and give it a try.

“We want to be the place where anyone can come to train and learn the right form and technique to get stronger,” said Mueez Salam, another BASE partner.

The gym, upon entrance, seems like a spacious warehouse, different from the standard commercial gym cluttered with exercise machines.

There are numerous barbells, steel support racks, benches and plates in a curious array of colours – which supposedly indicate their weight.

The loud clatter of weights hitting the floor is intimidating at first – but all the BASE members give a warm welcome; they’re keen for more to join their pursuit.

Mueez grabs a small portable whiteboard and talks us through a workout that beginners – with no experience with a barbell – could try.

The main difference between the lifts tested in Powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting come down to technique. The clean and jerk and snatch are arguably more technical and explosive, while the bench, squat (pictured) and deadlift develop more maximal, static strength – and with the exception of the bench press – allow for heavier weights.

Together with two other female regulars at the gym took turns doing the first task: squats. But this wasn’t the air squats I had seen in women’s magazines – I learned that I would be supporting a 20kg iron barbell on my back, descending by bending my knees until they passed below my hips, before standing back up.

“Find a comfortable spot with your grip, then go under the bar and rest the bar on your upper back,” coached one of the girls. I did as I was told. Squatting while carrying something on my back was foreign, so the first try was shaky.

As we progressed, I got more confident on the squats. Every time it was someone’s turn to lift, there would be a spotter behind, making sure the technique remained intact, and the lifter remained safe.

“We all started with just the (20kg) bar,” said Safwan, who has built himself up to a 185kg squat, 122.5kg bench press and can pick up three times his bodyweight – 247.5kg to be exact – from the floor in a movement called the deadlift (pictured below).

Brusthetics’ members along with other powerlifters across Brunei have recently joined forces to set up the Powerlifting Federation of Brunei Darussalam, and if the sport grows so to will business.

Brusthetics began in 2015 with Safwan and Mueez, two friends who would travel to different gyms to train and set up a social media account where they would post their lifts. But the pair loved barbell lifting and had no intentions of oiling up and posing on stage, or spending hours pumping their muscles on exercise machines.

They didn’t fit into more traditional bodybuilding gyms in that sense – and their ultimate goal was to compete in international powerlifting competitions, a sport that Brunei has never truly pursued.

“We decided to open our own gym last year because wanted a place where we could bring together like-minded people who just wanted to get stronger,” said Safwan.

Safwan, Mueez along with three other friends, Abdul Qawiem Yacob, Al-Aqib Jamain and Hafiz Haslen, decided to invest a total of $30,000 – and along with other members who also helped with operations – they were able to make the gym a reality.

The outlay seems steep for a warehouse style gym, but strength training enthusiasts with a keen eye will notice that they have competition grade equipment including a squat, bench press station, bars and weights that are approved by the International Powerlifting Federation.

“This is something we really pride in having,” said Safwan. “With this equipment also means that we are able to host meets and competitions at the BASE.”

The gym likens itself to a community, giving a sense of belonging to enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Far from the intimidating, angsty weightlifter stereotypes, I received encouragement, instruction and even though I can barely lift the bar – I was invited to return for the next workout.

“It’s about setting personal records and seeing yourself getting stronger than you ever thought you could be,” said Mueez. “And once you have the basic foundations of strength training, it can help you generate more power, be more explosive in any sport.”

Brusthetics BASE is located at Unit No. 1, Ground Floor, Block A, Jerudong Centre, Jalan Jerudong, Brunei Darussalam (previously HSBC Jerudong). Their opening hours are from Monday to Thursday 8.30am to 3.30pm and 4.30pm to 11pm, Friday 2.30pm to 11pm, Saturday 8.30am to 8pm and Sunday 8.30am to 11am.

Monthly rates are $70 ($55 for students) and daily rates are $7 per entry or $5 for groups of two or more. Personal training packages will be announced soon. For the latest updates follow @brusthetics and @brusthetics.base on Instagram.