At 63, yoga-based training on Hong Kong rooftop a shock for lifelong sportsman

Wanting to get back his physical edge, but determined to avoid gyms, Anthony Root signed up for outdoor training classes – and quickly changed his view of yoga as mild exercise for the lazy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 June, 2016, 6:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 June, 2016, 6:01am

“When you have spent most of your life exercising outdoors, it’s pretty hard to start working out in a gym – in fact, I find being in a gym stifling and boring,” says Anthony Root from the expanse of his rooftop in Hong Kong’s south side, overlooking the South China Sea.

Rain, hail or shine, this rooftop is where the 63-year-old trains twice a week with his personal trainer, Jinhwa Kim from Ape.Fit.

When the American moved to Asia in his 40s, Root maintained the outdoor lifestyle he had grown up with: an active regimen of tennis, mountain biking, hiking and diving. But a demanding career as a managing partner of a Wall Street law firm soon curtailed his passions.

While he enjoyed the “adrenaline rush of leading high-profile deals and the cultural diversity of global travel”, Root soon realised the lifestyle was costing him his strength and, worst of all, his mobility.

“I was always proud of my strength and endurance both in work and outdoors. I knew the incessant demands of my professional life were taking a toll on my body, but I ignored it for years,” he says.

“I never expected the acceleration of change as I crossed key age thresholds, particularly 50 to 60. It was a huge psychological blow to realise my body was deteriorating and I was shocked by how much harder I had to work simply to stay in the same place.”

Root’s passion for sailing was a catalyst to seeking out new training programmes. He leads a successful race programme that this year alone has won several of Asia’s most coveted sailing trophies. His custom-designed 42-foot race boat “Black Baza” is a high-performance machine that puts its crew under intense stress, particularly racing offshore with little or no sleep for days.

“I knew long-term there was no way I could handle the sustained pounding on my body without improving my core stability and endurance,” he says.

Looking to regain his edge – but determined to avoid the gym – he responded to an ad for outdoor training, run by Linds Russell of Ape.Fit. “It was an all-female class [of Ape.Fit], so I figured it wouldn’t be too demanding and I could easily keep up. I had no idea what I was getting myself into – the women were supremely fit and crucified me.”

It was the beginning of an enduring fitness relationship with Russell and her outdoor training team at Ape.Fit. In the past 18 months he has moved from more aerobic and bodyweight training to a yoga-based training regimen with Kim.

“I used to think yoga was a lazy mix of meditation and mild exercise, and I was totally unprepared for Jinhwa’s way of training. She totally crushes me in two-hour sessions – these days she has me contorting my body into positions I never thought possible.”

What’s the first thing you think of when I say “your workout”?

Torture. I always joke they’re like torture, because they are intense and Jinhwa is relentless. If I complain about discomfort, she just says: “You need to learn to overcome your pain – it is part of life.” I am grateful for how she pushes me and her workouts make me feel great. More importantly, they’re slow, and to some extent reverse the unavoidable decline of muscular strength and flexibility that comes with age.

What’s your goal training with Ape.Fit?

When I started five years ago my goals were to lose weight and build muscle. Getting older, my goals have shifted towards endurance and flexibility. I have never been able to touch my toes, but I’m almost there. I also want to stay away from the crowded confines of the gym and enjoy the beauty of my rooftop garden and sea view.

What does your morning workout routine bring to your life?

It is critical to my sense of well-being and confidence. Physical activity was always important to me, but I didn’t appreciate the detriment to my physical and emotional health when I allowed the pressure of my career to virtually eliminate regular outdoor activity. I misunderstood how difficult it would be to regain my vitality later in life.

What’s the benefit of having a personal trainer over joining group classes?

A good personal trainer gives you the focus and attention that wouldn’t be possible in a group. This focus allows me to achieve much higher levels of commitment than if I were in a group. Also, there is no way I would work out without the discipline of a trainer showing up at my door.

What does your workout bring to your sailing?

The sport of sailing has become more physically demanding as technology improves boat performance. Like driving a racing car, high performance sailing requires top physical condition. I trained extra hard before the Rolex China Sea Race because I was paranoid that I wouldn’t make it to the Philippines in rough conditions. To my surprise, my workout regimen has also improved my mental ability and emotional stamina to cope with intense seasickness.