It's the inevitable question when interviewing a charismatic, energetic fitness coach like Singapore's Liew Wei Yong: "So, what's it like to coach men?" The entrepreneurial-minded go-getter doesn't hesitate to answer: "So far, I haven't run into this issue, because if a man didn't have confidence (such) that he would get proper training, why would he come to me in the first place?" Add smart, sassy, and logical to this woman's credentials!
RS: Wei Yong, can you tell us what was your most memorable race and why?
Wei Yong: Easy. The Thailand Temple Run. I'd never before raced through a dimly-lit village at night, but it was the bad cramp that hit me around the 30 km mark that required me to alter my running strategy. I was so upset, I left before I learned I had taken second place in my age category; I even had to ask a friend to pick up my medal!
RS: You've been coaching fitness for 15 years. We think it's such a noble job. Why did you start?
Wei Yong: As a teen, I was into sports. I played basketball and badminton, but my fitness instructor at what used to be called Clubfitt at Clementi Sports Hall (now ActiveSG Gym) really got me started. He was so passionate about the profession. He not only helped me become a better athlete but he inspired my career choice, too.
RS: 15 years now; there must have many success stories. What are your most satisfying memories?
Wei Yong: Training a 59-year-old client to compete in her first marathon in London and I also helped a client with bad back issues develop a suitable programme. She's now able to stay healthy and fit despite her bad back.
RS: What principles and coaching philosophy do you pass on to your clients?
Wei Yong: I believe in discipline and consistency and I urge clients to adopt these practices. Clients rarely skip their sessions—no matter how busy they are—because they have made commitments to themselves. I coach a married couple. They're so disciplined, they train as early as 5:30 a.m. so they can get their children to school on time!
RS: What do you think about when you are running?
Wei Yong: (laughs) I think about what I'm going to eat when I'm done! I also pre-plan my hydration stop at a petrol kiosk so I get enough water and I also think about my work schedule, clients and their training needs.
RS: Who do you usually coach?
Wei Yong: Aside from healthy men and women, I work with injured people, helping with their rehabilitation programme so they can return to their active lives and fully function again.
RS: If, as a result of losing an important race, a client wanted to quit running, how would you motivate him?
Wei Yong: I would remind him of why he started running in the first place—get him back in touch with his passion so he feels it again. We might also talk about losing the race and why. If we brainstorm for a while, I help him face what's on the surface and what's going on in his head. This process requires patience on both of our parts.
RS: You have become quite the international runner. Given a choice, which countries would you pick to set up training camps and why?
Wei Yong: Ha! How did you know that I've been searching for training camps? Every country is unique, so I would use terrain as my guide, taking advantage of that uniqueness. For example, Indonesia's volcanoes and paddy fields come to mind, and stairs in Hong Kong, because vertical training is so trendy and popular there.
RS: You've picked a crowded career; Singapore has no shortage of fitness and running coaches. What do people look for when they sort out candidates and choose just one?
Wei Yong: I believe that they look for a coach trained in many disciplines and methods, but a good coach goes beyond just supervising workouts: she has an obligation to offer advice on critical topics like cross-training, rest days, nutrition, hydration and monitoring vital signs like heart rate.
RS: Any other qualities?
Wei Yong: Yes. A good coach also motivates so clients believe in themselves. Watch the performances of national athletes. They are both emotionally and physically cared for by their coaches so they train properly, go to physio if injured—they may even insist that clients get massages and recovery ice baths!
RS: If we attended one of your training sessions, what could we expect to see?
Wei Yong: You'd better come wearing your athletic shoes because you'll run with me, undertake strength and conditioning exercises, do Yoga/Pilates and climb stairs, too!
RS: Your coaching business is both established and successful; is it true you've launched a new enterprise; a management company named TLC?
Wei Yong: It's true. TLC's objective is to build a community of well-trained, well-equipped sports enthusiasts. Our goal is to insert sports into the lives of people so they enjoy a healthier lifestyle through training and racing.
RS: What does the TLC stand for?
Wei Yong: Train. Live. Compete. Train is first because it's the secret to success—there are no short cuts to a healthy lifestyle without training. By helping people incorporate running into their lives, they reap so many benefits.
RS: You said when we first met that you modelled your career on your first fitness instructor. Is he your hero?
Wei Yong: Actually, my hero is the woman who was my running mentor. She's still an important part of my life. Even now, if I start losing confidence, she's there to motivate me. "Pretend it's a training session," she says. "Don't stress!"
RS: You launched a runners convention here in Singapore at Suntec this year. What were your motivations?
Wei Yong: Even before I launched TLC, I worried that training and nutrition information is scarce. Some runners have no clue what to eat before and after a race or how much water to drink! I'm eager to start such conversations here in Singapore. So far, around 300 people have attended these sessions and offered valuable feedback.
RS: Have you already chosen 2016 personal and professional goals?
Wei Yong: Lots! I want to repeat the Hong Kong 100 km to see if I can improve my first half timing and I plan to help organise races like the Powerman Asia Championship (on 6 March) in Malaysia plus the Langkawi, for which no date is set yet. I'll be involved in local races like Marina Bay Run and the Runners Convention will be back again in January 2016. A lot exciting plans ahead, we will be launching and organising training camps and overseas races so do keep a look out for us next year.
Dear Reader: If you had to remind yourself to take a deep breath while reading this interview, you're not alone. The amount of energy Liew Wei Yong exerts is enough to fuel a power station! That said, is there anything about this fierce trainer that's not on your personal requirements list for a coach? We're curious, so let us hear from you!
Find out how Wei Yong and her team of passionate trainers can help you achieve your PB and truly enjoy sports at TLC.