Are you passionate about becoming a Personal Trainer as a career choice but unsure of what to expect? We speak with Barbara Chng, who has 12 years of bodybuilding experience and has been a Personal Trainer for 11 years.
Barbara’s achievements include:
- Strongman SM World Champion
- International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) Pro Athlete – the exclusive category of elites in bodybuilding.
- Active Competitor in Strongman under 62 kg from 2015-2019 (12 competitions)
- Asean Silver Dollar 260 kg, bodyweight 60 kg, 2019
- Just 6 months later, she won IFBB Pro Physique in Muscle Contest Vietnam, 2019
What sparked your interest in personal training?
I have always been active in sports like rock climbing, skiing, cycling, rollerblading, running, yoga, and lifting weights. I was in Singapore’s first synchronised swimming team in 1989!
After the birth of my twins in 2010, I returned to running and lifting weights to regain my strength and figure.
When I competed on stage in 2014 in athletic physique, I came in second.
How did you become a Personal Trainer?
Thereafter, I trained under Singapore’s Strongest Man, Ahmad Taufiq, as a Strongwoman.
People started to look for me to train them in strength, so I decided to get certified as a Personal trainer.
Why did you choose to become a Personal Trainer?
I found my passion and purpose in training others.
Having started from scratch to become an elite athlete, I empathise with and understand the struggles and frustrations of someone who wants to achieve a fitness goal but is unguided.
Having made many mistakes through my own experiences, I am able to effectively guide others on their fitness journeys.
What does it take to be a good Personal Trainer?
Anyone can go online and be certified as a Personal Trainer, but it takes years of hands-on experience, both in personal training and in training others who have different types of bodies, to be an exceptional personal trainer.
I do not see myself only as a Personal Trainer. I also solve issues that people face.
80% of my clients have had previous trainers. They come to me with specific issues or weaknesses they wish to improve on.
I am bewildered that most of them were not even taught compound movements or proper techniques and form of compound movements (squat, deadlift, overhead press, bench). These compound movements are basic strength and muscle-building exercises.
For example, some clients are quad dominant and were not taught how to activate their hamstring and glutes, so they have big quads but flat hamstrings and glutes.
Some clients have big shoulders and biceps but have weak back muscles because they do not know how to train their back and end up pulling with their shoulders and biceps instead.
On top of being strong and being able to carry this strength in their day-to-day living, i.e. functional strength, balance and symmetry in their physique are what most clients look for.
What’s your typical day like?
My typical workday starts at 8 am.
Wake up, make breakfast, train myself, eat, train clients, eat, and train more clients.
I do not take on more than 6 clients a day as I do not want my quality of training to suffer for quantity. I also feel it is important that Personal Trainers continue to train themselves to stay sharp.
Some days I finish at 8 pm.
I am blessed to have a supportive husband and 12-year-old twins who help with housework because we do not have a helper at home.
How much can one expect to earn as a Personal Trainer?
If you are attached to a gym as a full-time trainer, you earn basic pay plus commissions on training sessions. In addition, you will be allocated clients by the gym.
If you are a freelancer, you set your own fees. But you have to look for your own clients or through referrals. If you don’t work, you are not paid. As a freelancer, it is important to remember to declare your income and factor in CPF contributions.
The income range of Personal Trainers can be wide. How much one can earn depends on various factors, including experience, successfully helping clients to achieve results, the number of clients, the number of hours clocked and word-of-mouth.
What are you most proud of as a Personal Trainer?
I’m proud of transforming ordinary people into extraordinary people.
For example, a vegetarian (a working professional with a torn ACL), who can now lift more than 2 times his body weight.
A cyclist who trained with me for 3 years recomposed his body to have less fat and more muscles. Even as he transformed, we worked on maintaining his ideal weight and he went on to break his cycling records.
I also train my mum, who has osteoporosis and bone degeneration in her spine. She came to me with weak legs. Now she’s so proud to have stronger legs, and she is able to have a better quality of life.
I believe that no matter which fitness stage you are at or whatever sports you are into, the right strength conditioning and training will help you do better and improve your quality of life.
What are some of the challenges when it comes to personal training?
I always tell my clients, “I am with you only for an hour of training.” What is also important is what you do and eat for the rest of the time.
I can’t drink 4-6 litres of water for you, I can’t do cardio for you, I can’t sleep or go for deep tissue massage for you, I can’t eat healthy meals for you even as I guide and give you a nutrition plan, and I can’t get enough sun for you.
If you do not follow my guidance and continue doing what you’ve been doing, don’t expect a beach bod or hot bod. Be realistic in your commitment, and don’t blame anyone else but yourself if you do not reach your goals.
What advice would you have for those who are looking to get fitter and healthier?
As I always tell my clients, training, nutrition, and recovery go hand in hand. If you have the discipline and consistency in all three, not only will you be strong, you will feel and look the best version of yourself.
However, given other competing responsibilities in life, such as work, family and social, it may not be easy for some to be consistent in fitness routines.
Remember, just like financial investments:
- Daily contributions such as budgeting for the day (akin to eating a set amount of calories in the day);
- Not exceeding your planned expenditures (not over eating);
- Saving and investing (investing in an hour in the gym, and cardio);
- Staying invested and following the plan even when it falls in value in the short-term (still training and sticking to the nutrition plan and getting enough sleep even though you feel like giving up and don’t think you’re making progress).
All these add up in the long run, and in 3-5 years, you’d be thanking yourself.
Any closing thoughts?
Be healthy inside and outside. Health is wealth. Don’t be so caught up in earning wealth just to spend it on repairing your health.
Have balance in life, everything in moderation, unless you are a competitive athlete and you have to perform or look a certain way.
If you feel like having ice cream with your kids on the weekend (not on a daily basis!), eat the ice cream and cardio or train harder later.
Food should not be demonised as well, as this is unhealthy, resulting in eating disorders.
And please do not compare yourself with others. We are unique in our own ways. What you see on social media is not all real.
Instead of making yourself feel miserable for not looking a certain way, strive to be the best possible version of yourself. That version changes too, like life.
* All pictures courtesy of Barbara Chng, unless stated otherwise.
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