Personal Training Client: Dr Don Pek

Age: 38

Occupation: Ophthalmologist

Personal Trainer: Nelson Chong


I have always been pretty active since university days as I was in the rowing team in Glasgow and maintained a 3 times a week gym schedule after returning to Singapore. However as work multiplied, training schedules worsened. Overnight, I stopped exercising and accepted being out of shape as part of growing older. I started feeling tired all the time and nurtured a recurring backache, which seemed to be a common complaint among my colleagues. Over the next 10 years, I gained about 12 kilograms. Three years ago, things took a sudden downturn during a medical mission trip in Bangladesh. I had been operating for 10 hours when I felt something go ‘pop’ in my back. The dull ache was immediately replaced by an excruciating spasm much like coiled ropes that were wound too tightly. On arriving back to Singapore, I went to see an orthopaedic surgeon, spine specialist, pain specialist, physiotherapist, acupuncturist, and chiropractor and had an MRI of my spine. I had a ‘slipped disc’, which was due to a curved spine that wasn’t diagnosed previously. After months of painkillers, alternative therapies and clinics, the pain specialist told me to ‘learn to live with my back pain’ and to ‘take it easy’. This advice was difficult to accept! This meant that I had to arrange my life according to when my back decided to hurt. Moreover, even the most innocent activities such as sneezing in the morning or brushing my teeth could result in a paralyzing back spasm and a week of medical leave. As a result, my boss became very concerned and he then recommended Nelson and said “just try to book him to get a look ok?”


I was very cautious and cynical at first. I’ve been to many gyms before and this one was filled with strange contraptions and bizarre strappy things with people doing seemingly ridiculous exercises that I had never seen before.   I told myself to keep an open mind while Nelson examined my gait, posture and took a history of my back pain. I liked his straightforward approach as he explained to me what my problems were and then confidently quipped “I’m sure we can get you back to being pain free”. I must admit that I didn’t believe him at all. The first few sessions were like learning to walk all over again. For all these years, I had perpetuated a bad posture, which overworked the wrong muscle groups and underused the proper muscles. I had to re-learn how to hold my pelvis and spine and unlearn bad habits such as collapsing lower back or slouching. This was tougher than I had expected! Next came balancing, psychomotor training, cardiovascular conditioning, strength exercises and even fun. I started tentatively, fearing a back sprain lurking at every training session. Nelson’s meticulous attention to correcting my form and maintaining safety assured me as I grew in both confidence and strength. I began to look forward to each training session as no two sessions involved the same machines, weights and stretchy rope contraptions. Nelson made it a point to keep things interesting and prevent my body from becoming complacent. So far, I have experienced gradual but marked improvements in strength, flexibility, endurance and perhaps coordination. My gait improved and I could perform longer operations without experiencing the same tightness and pain. My friends commented on a visible weight loss and most importantly, there was no more pain.

I have been training for about 4 months so far at FTI. To be honest, the most valuable thing I have taken away is a change in my lifestyle and attitudes. I now swim about 8-10 km a week in-between training sessions and perform trigger point release almost nightly. Mentally, I am more focused and enjoy much more energy in day-to-day activities.   Consequently, instead of planning my life around my back pain, I can now plan my life so that I can remain pain free. The training here is tough, only because the trainers want you to get better. When I do feel like giving up in-between the sets, all I have to do is to look at a lady twice my age working out and I just shut my mouth and soldier on and laugh later.

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