How life in the Canadian army gave a Hong Kong fitness guru his love for exercising

Ever since he was a teen, Owen Ng knew he wasn’t cut out for the desk jockey life. As a final-year secondary school student in Toronto in 2000, the Hong Kong-born Ng joined the Canadian Armed Forces – less because of a particular passion for serving his adopted home country than to hold off taking the university entrance exams.

But during his three-year stint as a reserve infantry gunner, Ng found his calling: physical fitness.

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“My time at the army was special; we rode on choppers and tanks, learned to shoot machine guns and throw grenades, it was like something out of a movie,” Ng, now 36, recalls. “But what stayed with me most was the physical training. The Canadian Armed Forces was where I raised my physical level.”

Like many Hongkongers who migrated to Canada in the ‘90s, Ng’s family did so out of concern for the impending 1997 handover. But once it became clear that Hong Kong’s way of life would remain mostly intact post-handover, Ng eventually moved back to Hong Kong, where he took part in the Mr Hong Kong 2009 beauty contest. Though he didn’t win, he impressed TVB execs enough to land a contract as an on-air personality.

In addition to acting in TVB series – most notably a supporting role in the hit 2013 medical series The Hippocratic Crush (known alternatively as On Call 36 Hours) – Ng served as the channel’s entertainment news anchor.

The double duties often left him exhausted. In a separate interview with local media HK01, Ng lamented the long hours TVB forced on him, which he said was like “a full-time plus a part-time job”.

“It was very hard to find work-life balance,” Ng says. And so in 2016 he quit. He had taken some personal trainer courses during his Mr Hong Kong days, so he decided to try that as he re-evaluated his life.

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The career change brought much needed stability to Ng’s life, in addition to letting him get back into fitness. But in the years since his training for the army, fitness trends and awareness had changed.

“Back in my teenage years, every guy just wanted to be big like Arnold Schwarzenegger,” he says. “So we just lifted heavy weights. But now it’s all about functional training and gaining practical strength instead of looking very huge.”

So Ng took up functional training that emphasises stretching and breathing, core workouts and getting heart rate up consistently over just benching as much as possible. It helped that he had plenty of friends in the fitness industry. One of them is Lucia Tam, a former professional dancer who started the Sheung Wan fitness studio BounceLimit, whose workouts are centred on mini trampoline-like “rebounders”.

The benefits of doing exercises on rebounders include significant reduction of impact tension on joints and increased intensity of simple movements due to the momentum generated from the rebound.

“I began going there as a brand ambassador, but I liked the workouts so much I decided to stay on as a trainer,” Ng says, adding that his health has improved drastically from his days at TVB.

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One new addition to his workout regime recently is the Apple Watch. Ng initially began using the smartwatch so he could leave his smartphone in the locker during workouts, but when he and other trainers began noticing that most of the participants were wearing the Apple Watch anyway, Ng began incorporating its functions into his workouts.

During sessions, Ng will have his students use the watch to track their heart rate, water intake, and most importantly, to breathe.

“Breathing is something that we take for granted, that most people don’t think twice about,” Ng says. “But it’s absolutely crucial to [control breathing], not just [for] workouts, but to keep a relaxed state of mind.”

A fitter Ng has not abandoned his entertainment dreams. In addition to teaching at BounceLimit, he still participates in TV and movie shoots in China and locally, having had small roles in local films including Special Female Force (2016), Night Life (2016), and as a journalist in Shock Wave (2017). He recently shot an episode in the new Amazon web series The Romanoffs, and next month he’ll shoot a Hong Kong movie which he says will be like “Fast and Furious, but set in Hong Kong.”

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If these acting roles ramp up, Ng’s life may get really hectic again, but he says he won’t be consumed by it as before.

“I learned how important being mindful of work-life balance is in a hectic city like Hong Kong.”