We talked with Betty Ng in December, 2019.
👋 Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training
If you had asked me, Betty Ng, ten years ago whether I could see myself becoming a full-time fitness trainer, I would have laughed and walked off.
To me, not only was it challenging for someone who just turned forty, it wasn’t feasible as I was battling autoimmune issues.
Until my health crisis had forced me to go on sabbatical, my career was singularly focused on finance, living and working in “NyLonKong” (New York, London, Hong Kong.)
I have certainly been active and have enjoyed hiking, skiing, squash, Olympic air gun shooting, and tennis. In fact, several tennis coaches had said I was a natural and top-seed material. But fitness for me was a hobby, not a vocation.
Fast forward a decade and I’ve been working as a functional fitness trainer for over five years. Against the odds I’ve pulled myself together, got back on my feet (literally) and am now teaching and coaching fitness.
I give credit to this method I now teach called Essentrics®/Aging Backwards®. It’s a standalone conditioning program that LENGTHENS to STRENGTHEN. The program complements all sports and training, whether it is yoga, marathon, or bodybuilding.
Using body weight, each session works you from head to toe through large, continuous, rotational movements. It conditions not only all 650 muscles and bones but also joints and fascia. I find it so smart and inclusive I call it the New Millennium Workout.
Although I’m a NASM CPT, I teach mostly Essentrics® because it gives safe, fast results: leaner, sculpted, taller, stronger, more flexible, with greater range of motion and balance. If hypertrophy is your goal this won’t be your primary workout. However, you will be smart to include Essentrics® as part of your training routine. A good ratio will be 80/20. So if you train five hours a week, one of those hours should be Essentrics®.
I work with a diverse client base because the method is highly scalable: I started doing the easy versions a few minutes at a time when I was working through my medical issues. It eased my body aches and reversed my muscle atrophy from illness and inactivity.
As I grew stronger, I dialed up the challenge accordingly for strength, endurance, and power. The workouts can look deceptively easy at all levels, until you try doing them properly.
Not many people are familiar with Essentrics® because its Canadian creators do not commercialize the program – i.e. no franchising, no private equity or corporate investors. They wish to keep the integrity of the method.
Yet it has a loyal following among professional athletes such as the Montreal Canadians (NHL), Olympic fencers, World Pair Skating Champion Meaghan Duhamel, and former World Squash Champion Jonathon Power. Physiotherapists love Essentrics because it incorporates many of their techniques and movements.
I use Essentrics® to coach a diverse client base including bodybuilders who have sustained injuries from overtraining. It’s common for these clients to focus on large muscles while neglecting the small ones, creating imbalances.
Many also neglect to condition their joints, tendons, and fascia for balanced, optimal results.
⏱ Describe a typical day of training
I train almost everyday – head to toe, largely via circuit and horizontal training rather than a split routine. But there are also movement sequences that require the full body.
The daily training is possible because I lengthen to strengthen (i.e. eccentrically; e.g. extended arm pumps), as opposed to shortened positions (i.e. concentrically; e.g. bicep curls).
The eccentric technique using our body weight means no muscle fiber tears or DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscles Soreness). It also requires 10% more effort than concentric technique, that’s why you build strength faster.
I often teach and coach six days a week at clients’ homes, at gyms, and in secular wellness space. Essentrics® requires me to teach by working out with them so I get a fair amount of movements from work.
The challenge for me is not quantity but quality: Training in a way that suits my body. Not all of my clients are fit, and some are recovering from accidents or surgery so I start them with gentle work. I would then finish the day with half an hour of intensive bootcamp routine after I get home.
Sometimes I would invite an athletic friend to join me for an hour-long private bootcamp session because it’s fun working out with others who are at your level.
It helps that Essentrics® is equipment-free and doesn’t even require shoes so I only have to carry my fruit smoothie, water bottle, and snacks in my bag. I can do it anywhere.
What I do and teach is mainly endurance training but there are some plyometric and power training so it gives me moderate cardio work.
Also, living and working in Manhattan means frequent power walking from one client to the next. As I carry my smoothie and hydration everywhere, it means loaded power walks! Rarely do I have time for a sit-down breakfast so I always make a fruit-only smoothie to drink on the subway.
The body digests blended fruits very quickly so I am ready to do/teach a bootcamp session in 15 minutes.
👊 How do you keep going and push harder?
Less is more.
I enjoy the large, fluid, rotational movements in my workouts. They feel natural and pleasant because they engage muscle chains rather than muscle groups. My body feels loose yet strong after. Those feelings are a great motivator to keep going. Having a killer playlist also helps immensely!
Of course, there are days when I don’t get enough sleep and loose my drive. I simply listen to my body, do a shorter workout, and dial back the intensity.
Our body is different everyday and we should customize our training accordingly. Otherwise we are stressing and depleting ourselves rather than getting fit.
It’s one thing to challenge the body to raise its limits, it’s another to stress it and run on adrenaline. Sometimes, less is more.
🏆 How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I am very happy with my training results – I am stronger, fitter, more alert and balanced than ever.
Given my age and where I am right now, the focus is maintenance. That means continuing with my training and staying abreast of the latest research on physiology, exercise science, and neuroscience.
It informs my training, refines it, and helps it to evolve. This maintenance also allows me to keep doing any sport I want.
In terms of the future, I would love to keep spreading the word about Essentrics® with my own story to inspire others.
My first clients were a group of male martial artists of all ages who had a hard time keeping up with me during our session. With the right training you can really progress and catch up fast in strength, flexibility and endurance!
I’d also love to raise awareness about training not just our muscles but also conditioning our joints and fascia. I’ve worked with several clients who focused on how many pounds they can lift without noticing how stiff their bodies and their movements have become. Those who were aware became cognizant because they have come down with pain (e.g. tendinitis).
The whole “no pain, no gain” mantra is misleading. It is a cute rhyme, for sure, but it’s also an exaggeration that has poisoned the fitness culture. Pain is a signal to stop because something is wrong and needs attention. It is foolish to push through pain and keep working out.
To me, “train to gain” is more sensible. Or perhaps “move to improve.”
I started blogging about movements, physiology, and Essentrics® a few years ago. My blog posts that explain my training rationale have been very popular with clients and other trainers. I would love to keep writing and perhaps compile them into a book eventually.
🤕 How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
My workouts incorporate physiotherapy techniques to re-balance the body so I don’t get injured. In fact, the method prevents them and helps to heal from them more quickly.
That said, I do run out of stamina if I have to teach several sessions a day and power walk in between!
Getting enough sleep is paramount for me. I’m obviously not alone: top pro athletes such as Roger Federer sleeps twelve hours a day.
My twice daily Vedic meditation is perhaps my secret weapon. I learned that from The Soft Road, a gift from a grateful client.
I meditate first thing in the morning and again before dinner. It is the ultimate power nap!
I’ve tried other types of meditation before but this resonates with me the most because it is secular, easy, with immediate and cumulative benefits.
It sends my brain (and perhaps my body) into a state that is three to five times more restful than sleep. (I didn’t make this claim, it was studied.) My sleep quality at night also improves because of it.
🍎 How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
In the last three years I’ve transitioned from an omnivore to become mostly plant-based. I mostly follow the food and supplement recommendations by Anthony William in his book “Medical Medium.” There are variations depending on your individual condition, it’s not a cookie cutter.
I certainly also follow my own intuition by listening to my body, hence the occasional fish. A very good friend with chronic conditions was William’s client and saw drastic improvements using his approach, so that inspired me to follow. It takes a leap of faith and enormous discipline, but it works for me.
Throughout the day, I graze on snack combos that nourish and support the adrenal gland. They are a great support for stress (physical/mental) and have got rid of my cravings for sugar, salt, fat, and caffeine, keeping my energy steady throughout the day.
👍 What has inspired and motivated you?
All the people who have overcome adversities and thrive are my inspirations. They teach me that setbacks and obstacles can bring out the best in us, if we treat them as glass half-full.
✏️ Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
You are your own benchmark.
Use yourself as your own benchmark because we are all shaped and built differently. Enjoy what you do. Look for a method/a routine/a sport/movements you like and build on that. You can think big and aim high, but get there with incremental changes. Rushing it by overtraining only backfires by causing injuries.
At the height of my chronic illness, I could only do floor stretches for five minutes at a time. That’s how I started but within a year and a half I was fit enough to be training pro athletes.
🤝 Are you taking on clients right now?
Yes. I take both private and group class clients. Sometimes my schedule gets full but there is usually room in the group classes. Many people feel the need to work with me privately but some of them can get similar and additional benefits from joining my small group sessions.
When I train clients privately, I usually do it without music to focus on alignment and techniques. But moving to the rhythm is an important brain-body training to stay young.
Essentrics® is NOT a dance workout but it’s about syncing the brain and body, using music as a tool. Also, in a group class we do the workouts seamlessly without breaks which improves endurance.
📝 Where can we learn more about you?
I am more active on Facebook than on Instagram, because I often post the latest research on health and fitness as well as my own blog posts. My blog is popular with clients and other trainers.