Sports science according to Karen Siah

Are you obsessed with sports? Have you dreamt about coaching Datuk Lee Chong Wei at the Olympics or advising Chris Evans on his diet for the next Captain America flick? Fancy being on the field to treat Cristiano Ronaldo when he sustains an injury? The science of sport offers many viable careers in our fitness-obsessed world today.

We speak to Karen Siah, fitness coach and founder of Kia Kaha Fitness Malaysia about why she chose Sports Science as her calling and what the benefits and opportunities are.

TIC: You’re an ‘Iron Woman’ with a degree in Sports Science. Why did you decide to pursue a degree in Sports Science?

Actually the official term is ‘Ironman’. We kinda want to stick to that term. The Ironman is a long distance triathlon race which I participated in and completed in 2015 in Langkawi. When you cross the line, they say –  “You are an Ironman!”  – and we wear that badge with pride!

That said, I have always loved sport—ever since I donned my first pair of sneakers. I was always active, never really sat still, and always found practical work in school a lot easier to comprehend than theory. I also always tried encouraging my friends and my cousins to get out there and be active as well. I have an athletic family, which is where all this stems from. So when I heard about what Sport Science was all about, that was my first pick! I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Sport Science together with a Bachelor of Commerce as well.

TiC: Has your education in Sports Science influenced your becoming an athlete?

The degree has definitely piqued my interest in my sporting performance and I started to learn methods of training, “experimenting” methods on myself, and applying what I learned to improve my performance.

In more ways than one, having the physiological and biomechanical knowledge has helped me understand the demands of endurance sport. So, it’s a little chicken and egg situation, I’ve always been a sporty girl, so I decided to do Sport Science at University, and then because I gained more in depth knowledge, I decided to become even sportier, and pursued higher level sports like running full marathons and eventually completing the Ironman.

TiC: How would you describe sports science, and what’s the status of sports science in Malaysia? How much do our athletes and coaches incorporate sports science with their training?

Sport Science is the study of the human body in response to structured physical activity. Anybody can start exercising, but in official sports, athletes have a structured training program, which includes not only training the body, but also the nutrition and recovery aspects.

It is slowly gaining more traction in Malaysia. I think even recreational runners or so-called “weekend warriors” are taking more interest in the science of their sport and thus the awareness of it all has risen. And anybody with a body and a goal to achieve is an athlete! I think our sporting communities whether at community level or at elite level definitely incorporate sports science into their training, with the latter group paying more attention to it, of course.


To learn more, visit the Study UK exhibition on 18 March where a seminar on Sports Science will be held from 3:30-4:15pm at KL Convention Centre. Pre-register for a chance to win movie and retail vouchers here


TiC: What are the common myths and misconceptions you see about sports science, especially in Malaysia?

That coaches, physiotherapists and nutritionists are for “Professional Athletes” is a common misconception, but it is slowly changing. People no longer treat a sprained ankle by resting it out for a week. Instead, they go and see a physio to get it checked and treated, which is the right thing to do if you want to prolong your athletic career.

Another myth is that it is not suitable for females to become coaches and personal trainers. This is a reaction I get a lot, too. But again, we are making big progress and it has gotten much better over the years.


TIC: What kind of careers can one expect to get into with a specialisation in sports science? Is it a lucrative industry? Is there a demand in Malaysia?

There are many areas in Sport Science, namely coaching, nutrition, psychology, physiotherapy. And one can choose to pursue the industry at an elite level (such as with our national sports teams) or community level. It can be lucrative, if done well and professionally. And there definitely is a rising demand as I had mentioned earlier, it is becoming more and more apparent that people take their recreational hobbies more seriously.


TIC: What kind of breakthroughs in sports have we achieved thanks to sports science?

Just look at how far our national athletes have gone. Lee Chong Wei, Pandelela, Nicol David…these professional athletes go through structured training programs incorporating good nutrition, physiotherapy, and even mental coaching to get to where they are. At our community level, I managed to become an Ironman, and so have many other people, and this is because information is readily available to us. Physiotherapists are more in-tune with athletes rather than just senior citizens and rehabilitative work. Sports Nutrition has also come a long way since 10 years ago, with special gels, powder drinks, protein shakes, energy shots.


TIC: What is the one key thing you think sports science has taught you in your pursuit as an athlete, and also outside of being an athlete?

That the human body is a lean, mean, training machine. And it can outdo almost any target you set for it, if trained properly. I will continue to pursue the sport of the triathlon for as long as I can, and a career as a Personal Trainer too.


To find out more about Sports Science and the career opportunities that are available, check out Making Science of Sport: Careers in the Field at Study UK on Saturday, March 18 at 3:30 PM – 4:15 PM, Hall 5, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (Seminar Room 2). Pre-register for a chance to win movie and retail vouchers here.


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