Inspired to perspire
A once puny industry is developing considerable muscle - and creating jobs - as Hongkongers jump on the treadmill, writes Tim Metcalfe
WITH HEALTH awareness in Hong Kong at an all-time high, the fitness industry has taken off - creating a booming new avenue for careers.
A decade ago there were only a handful of gyms, focused predominantly on aerobics, helping weight-conscious women keep trim. Men traditionally played sport.
But now, as people seek ways to cope with increasingly demanding lifestyles, fitness clubs are all the rage, fuelled by high-velocity workouts fusing disco and hip hop, satellite TV to alleviate the monotony of solo exercising, and an exotic selection of exercise options. These range from pilates and yoga to kick-boxing and RPM team cycling, dubbed a 'rock concert on wheels'.
A proliferation of job advertisements underlines that the fitness industry, while still relatively small, is among the fastest growing in Hong Kong. There were 747 positions advertised in the third quarter of last year, compared with 647 in the second quarter and 399 in the first.
As new clubs and gyms continue to open for the growing numbers of people inspired to perspire, there is no sign the demand for staff will ease.
Fitness trainers and specialist instructors in the disciplines of yoga and pilates are in extremely hot demand. But opportunities extend to areas where little or no previous experience is required, from service staff running club restaurants and bars to sales representatives marketing club membership offers.
Since 1996, the first global player in town, California Fitness, has grown from one club in Lan Kwai Fong to six around Hong Kong. With more than 400 staff, the group was looking to expand further in Hong Kong and the region, said regional fitness director Rocky Chow. 'With plans to grow to 20 clubs in the region by the end of 2005 from 13 now, we have a huge demand for staff,' he said.
Explaining the boom in the industry, he said: 'People in Hong Kong are a lot more health-conscious, especially since Sars.'
Newly opened and occupying the fourth floor of Two IFC in Central is Pure Fitness, an off-shoot of Pure Yoga in SoHo, where chief executive Colin Grant said that, while enthusiasm for fitness was growing, the trend was towards specialised exercise regimes - especially yoga.
'Three years ago when we opened Pure Yoga, there were only three dedicated yoga centres. Now there are more than 50, and we have up to 700 students a day. It's remarkable,' he said. 'Hong Kong is becoming a yoga capital of Asia.'
As for employment opportunities, he said: 'We are definitely hiring. We are opening another yoga centre and are especially on the lookout for qualified, experienced trainers.'
Fitness First, with 380 clubs and more than 840,000 members worldwide, is another fast-growing global player in town - with seven of its 21 Asia clubs in Hong Kong.
Physical, which formerly focused on clubs for women but is now opening its doors to men, is perhaps the biggest group.
Among the many 'boutique' outfits opening to offer more personalised and specialist disciplines is the Isodynamic Fitness Centre in Lan Kwai Fong, specialising in pilates and gyrotonics.
Trainers in specialist disciplines such as yoga or pilates are in short supply in Hong Kong.
'Anyone wishing to get into this industry should first establish which area they have a passion for, whether it's yoga or kick-boxing or whatever. Then they should attend courses.
'The top instructors are overseas, so for the best qualifications it's best to travel, although we have started bringing in leading gurus for training courses,' Mr Grant said.
Group fitness manager
Personal trainer/instructor in yoga, aerobics and kick-boxing
Abs General term for the abdominal (tummy) muscles. Perfect 'abs' are known as a
Combat Self-defence exercise to music
Bodypump Popular group weight-training workout
Cardiovascular Exercise that raises the heart rate and burns fat, like walking, running, cycling and swimming
Delts (deltoids) Shoulder muscles
Free weights Dumb-bells, barbells, ankle weights
Glutes (gluteals) General term for the buttock muscles, including the gluteus minimus, medius and maximus
HEAT High energy athletic training
Hip hop How to move like the dancers on MTV
Lats Back muscles
Pecs (pectorals) Chest muscles
Pilates Low-impact exercise routine performed on a mat
Step Workout using adjustable platforms
399 positions advertised in first quarter of 2004
647 positions advertised in second quarter of 2004
747 positions advertised in third quarter of 2004
508 positions advertised in fourth quarter of 2004