On the Job: as a personal trainer - we discover that getting people healthy and into shape takes more than just working out


In the first of our ‘On the Job’ career guide series, we learn about what it’s like to help others reach their fitness goals

Jamie Lam |

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Personal trainer Mike Wong (right) shows YP's Jamie Lam how to do a goblet squat.

I am 36 years old. I don’t do regular exercise. I am shaped roughly like a marshmallow. So when I was assigned to job shadow a personal fitness trainer for our “On the Job” career guide series, I was more than slightly concerned. But after being reassured that it would only be a very easy day of light workouts, and promises that I would learn the secret to getting shredded and #swole, I was ready to pump that iron.

I arrived at the gym in Wong Chuk Hang and met Mike Wong, owner of the Strength, Fitness & Conditioning Centre and certified personal trainer, who would be my mentor. Having worked as a PT for more than five years, he was the perfect person to ease a total gym noob like me into working out.

We started with goblet squats, something Mike assured me was easy enough for a beginner. Holding a standard 12kg dumbbell by one end with both hands, I had to squat down slowly while keeping my back straight, and head up. I was assigned to do one set of 10 reps, and Mike stood beside me and corrected my posture throughout the set. He also gave me a lot of verbal encouragement, especially for the last few reps, which were much harder than those at the start.

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“One of the main things a good PT does is gauge how the client is doing, how much they are struggling, and how much they can take. This lets me decide how much more I can push them, so they can exceed their own perceived limitations.” Mike said.

Well, if that’s the case, Mike is a great trainer, because he pushed me way beyond my own perceived limitations. So far beyond them, in fact, that I was ready to call it a day after the goblet squats. However, the next exercise awaited – the dreaded Hex bar dead lifts.

Part of a PT's job is to design a workout programme for clients.
Photo: Alejo Rodriguez Lo/SCMP

The Hex bar is a 30kg frame with two rods that stick out at the side for you to add more weight plates to. That’s what a person with normal strength would do, but the standard bar with no weights already seemed quite heavy to me. Here, Mike taught me the process for the dead lift, the standard tool of powerlifters looking to sculpt their bodies like inverted pyramids.

With Mike shouting at me – many times – to keep my back straight, I finally finished one set of 10 reps. While my knees were trembling with fatigue and I could barely stand, Mike explained why he was being so harsh: “Safety is always my number one concern. If you don’t keep your back straight during the dead lift, it’s easy to sustain injuries. I always make the client learn how to do it properly with minimal weights before letting them try something harder.”

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This was a great time for a well-deserved break for me, so Mike walked me through his other duties as the gym’s owner. Besides providing personal training advice during actual sessions, he also has to design individual programmes for clients, depending on their own fitness goals.

In addition, running his own small business means Mike has to do the accounting and paperwork, and things like cleaning up the gym at night, and keeping up with his own training. It’s a difficult job with long, irregular hours, but he loves every minute of it.

“The best thing about my job is I get to help a lot of people. Whether it’s to help them reach their fitness goals or assist with a rehabilitation process, I hope to help others live a better life,” Mike said. It was hard to believe him after all the pain he put me through, but at least I gained a bit of insight into what it takes to be an awesome PT.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne

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