Are you a woman who feels somewhat intimidated when you see men dominating the weightlifting area? Do you feel unsafe or insecure while training because of unwanted attention from men? Charissa Tan opened Penang’s first and only all-women’s gym to solve these two of her clients’ most common issues. “I wanted to create a space where women felt empowered, safe, and comfortable to train without limitations,” said Charissa and her brainchild is Charis Athletics, situated at Island 88 (formerly known as Island Plaza).

Rojak Daily spoke to the Penang-born lass to find out more about her new space which opened in October 2023 and her journey of becoming a gym owner. The 29-year-old has a Master’s in Management Studies from the University of Waikato, New Zealand and is a certified personal trainer under NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine).

Charissa has also taken multiple other relevant certificates in training and nutrition such as Sports & Fitness Nutrition Specialist (FEA) but “I don’t emphasise that”, she says. “I think learning is a lifelong journey, and we have to continuously update our knowledge with new science and be open to new methods. I just genuinely enjoy learning about the human body, she added.

“Many, including myself, were doubtful that this concept of a women’s gym could flourish in Penang. But curating a space for women by women is in itself, an incredibly bold and empowering move. More than a business – we wanted to spark a movement, to prove to ourselves what women are physically capable of.”

For those who may have the misconception that the gym is for men-haters, she stressed, “It’s not about gender exclusion. We are so grateful to be supported and assisted by men who believe in our vision.”

Eat. Pray. Slay

Charis Athletics offers classes designed for women, by women. Their morning classes include Total Body Conditioning, Konga, TRX, and more. They also offer 1-1 personal and group training classes based on programs proven to bring results for weight loss, health, and strength goals. Charissa is the sole owner of the gym but has a team of female trainers “who are experienced, educated, and passionate in empowering women to achieve their highest physical potential”, she said.

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One of her clients, Dania Sadek said that she would recommend the space for all the ladies she knows, “It’s not just a space where you work out, but a safe space for women, The classes are great and the atmosphere is so energetic.”

On top of that, Charis Athletics also provides a special service: pre and post-workout meals/beverages for convenient and sustainable meal planning. “If you want to see significant and sustainable physical changes, then going to the gym once a week ain’t gonna cut it,” Charissa said.

She added, “You also need to change your nutrition habits, have a supportive community, and take care of your rest and recovery. That is why we collaborate with a team of physiotherapists, protein suppliers, and meal-planning experts to provide our clients with the most convenient and effective options for a holistic lifestyle transformation.”

She Didn’t Always Like Going to The Gym

Charissa has always been athletic and into fast-paced sports but she dished, “Honestly, I didn’t always enjoy going to the gym. It seemed boring and repetitive, unlike the adrenaline and unpredictability of team-based sport.”

Then she changed her mind, “I got into strength training because of my boyfriend. He is a dentist but always loved bodybuilding and debated becoming a Personal Trainer (PT).” Surprisingly, Charissa was the one who persuaded him to “just try it”, saying that she’d join him if he got certified.

“Long story short, we both got certified, I turned my mom’s unused apartment unit into a small studio with minimal equipment, and we started training our friends for experience. He decided that being a PT was not for him and stuck to dentistry (lucky girl gets free dental treatment, we assume). I ended up getting deeper into training and taking up the job full-time. How the tables have turned!”

Charissa initially wanted to start a social enterprise by travelling to other countries to help communities in need by teaching them to start businesses of their own. But life has a funny way of not turning out how we want it to. “This gym venture isn’t what I imagined myself doing, but I have big dreams that one day this business can give us the platform to make good social change,” explained Charissa.

She Lifts Heavy Things for Fun

Besides being a gym owner, Charissa is also a bodybuilder. “I joined my first bodybuilding competition under the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF) in October 2023, chaotically the same month as the gym launch. I joined the Fit Model category while my boyfriend joined Men’s Physique.”

It took her months of preparation for 15 minutes of stage time, and she and her boyfriend both impressively took home the gold medals in their respective categories in “The First Naturals” 2023 World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF) Malaysia competition, as Fit Model Novice Champion and Men’s Physique Novice (182cm & above) Champion.

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She cited her reasons for joining including to better understand her body by putting it through a physical experiment to test the effects of training and nutrition (ours is by how many burgers we can eat, oops). Charissa also explained she wanted to step out of her comfort zone and be a better coach, by empathising with her clients and learning more practical tips. She summed it up by saying, “I wanted to walk my talk as a trainer.”

Being a bodybuilder is no mean feat as it dictates choices in every aspect of your life. “Every morsel of food and training session needs to be precisely measured, recorded, and planned ahead of time,” Charissa said.

This might just motivate this lazy female to go to the gym. Have you faced such issues at the gym as a woman? Let us know in the comments.

To know more visit their Instagram page @charisathletics or their website:

Bonus Perks

In February, Charis Athletics is carrying out a special promotion for Rojak Daily readers: they will waive RM150 off their signup fee for all new members who mention this promo to them. Note that it is valid for a limited time only.

Opening Hours: 9 am – 9 pm Monday to Saturday

Business Number: +60142141194

Address: Unit 1-01, Level 1, Island 88, Tanjong Tokong, Penang.