Hongkongers hit Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park for free regular early-morning workout

New fitness pop-up #JustShowUp welcomes Hongkongers of all fitness levels to participate in a free weekly 45-minute boot camp in Sheung Wan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2016, 10:46am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 August, 2016, 5:37pm

There is no such thing as a free lunch, but there certainly is such a thing as a free workout. Since April, a trio of Americans in Hong Kong have been leading a 45-minute boot camp class every Wednesday at 7am at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park in Sheung Wan. Rain or shine.

On one recent Wednesday, just as the Hong Kong Observatory issued an amber rain warning, a group of 13 people – myself included – gathered at the park. Pelted by raindrops, we did a series of bodyweight exercises and sprints in teams of three. Every five minutes, we would switch moves, from bear crawls to burpees, push-ups to planks.

There is no fee, no membership, no commitment needed to join the workout. No hidden advertising, no sales pitch, no strings attached. No limit to participation. The only catch (which is also the group’s namesake): just show up.

“We all really love working out and, for me, this city is so expensive and we’re going to do this workout on our own anyway, so why not involve other people and give them something to do?” says Lisa Hopey, who co-founded #JustShowUp with fiance Trevor Fox and long-time friend Rebecca Shore.

Shore, who moved to Hong Kong from Washington State in October 2015, adds: “Another reason [we’re doing this] is because I do so many of the Meetups in Hong Kong – like hiking, running or cultural tours – so it’s a chance to give back to the community. I really like the team aspect of working out together; being able to lead and to get people excited about working out is where I get pay-off.”

#JustShowUp is really a product of passion. All three founders have day jobs: Hopey is a designer, Fox a digital marketing consultant, and Shore works in innovation and capability development.

Hopey is also a US National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer, and used to run group training classes when she lived in Los Angeles and New York for supplementary income. Fox once played baseball professionally and has coached the sport as well. Shore used to play basketball and volleyball growing up, but now her focus is running.

The inspiration for the group came in early April this year, days after the trio attended a pop-up workout by American grassroots fitness movement November Project , who were brought to Hong Kong by adventure gear company The North Face.

Started in November 2011 in Boston by Brogan Graham and Bojan Mandaric, the project was a way for the pair of former college rowers to stay in shape during the cold New England months. It quickly grew into a year-round movement of free workouts, now present in 30 cities mostly in North America (Serbia and Iceland as well), that motivate and encourage people of all ages, shapes, sizes and fitness levels to get out of bed and get moving. Members vary from Olympic medallists and weekend warriors, to complete fitness rookies and recent couch potatoes looking to kick-start their healthy life choices.

“After attending the November Project pop-up in Hong Kong, we thought, yeah, we could do the same,” says Hopey, who has lived in Hong Kong for 18 months. “Three days later, we just showed up [at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park] – and we’ve shown up every week since then.”

For the first two workouts, there was only Hopey and Fox. Then a co-worker, Hugo, showed up. Shore, who went to high school in Pennsylvania with Hopey, was roped in, and she set up the group’s Facebook page . News of #JustShowUp started spreading by word of mouth and through social media.

More and more people started coming – the biggest group has been 32 people. Hopey says the retention rate is “pretty good” – few people ever just show up once. Participants have been diverse: from weekend warriors to professional fitness trainers, lawyers to waiters, teenagers to middle-agers, tourists and even a 67-year-old passer-by who just decided to join in. All exercises can be scaled to suit varying fitness levels.

“We sometimes do a roll call of the countries participants are from, and there have been times when there are 16 countries represented,” says Fox. “Our group is really cool. All the people that keep showing up are really friendly; they perpetuate a really cool vibe so it makes the workout really fun.”

Most participants live on Hong Kong Island, but some have come from as far as the New Territories. Michelle Ho, a property surveyor, lives in Kowloon and wakes up at 5.45am to get to the workout on time. She learned about #JustShowUp through event listing website Eventbrite, was drawn to the many happy faces and positive energy depicted in the group’s Facebook photos, and has been showing up weekly since mid-July – even though she pays for a Pure Fitness gym membership.

“I am rather committed to join #JustShowUp so far as I see the many benefits it has brought me: I get to sweat a lot, it’s outdoors so there’s fresh air and sunshine, and I’ve got to know a bunch of nice people,” says Ho. “Most importantly, I was never a morning person. I find I can think more clearly at work after the workout. I realise the benefits beyond my fitness goals.”

For Fouad Khalife, who works with Fox, the group provides him motivation to work out. “I get new ideas for exercises that I then use in my personal workouts,” he says.

Christine Phan Chan, an attorney, used to attend the November Project in Boston and joined #JustShowUp in June. “It brings together a really cool, open and random group of people who just want to play outside,” says Chan, who has a Pure Yoga membership. “With what Hong Kong has to offer in terms of harbourfront running, beaches, waterfalls, parks and mountains, fitness shouldn’t cost you anything more than the cost of some good running shoes.”

Participants are enjoying the workouts so much that some have been asking for a second or third weekly workout, Hopey says. To this end, for the past six weeks on Friday at 7am, there has been a stair and hill workout starting at Blake Garden in Sheung Wan, near Man Mo Temple.

There have also been requests to have workouts on Kowloon side, as well as in the evenings after work. Those may be something for the future, but for now, the #JustShowUp founders have just one target: getting 100 people to show up on a Wednesday morning.

Can we do that, Hong Kong?

Keep up to date with #JustShowUp through Facebook (facebook.com/groups/justshowuphk) and Instagram (instagram.com/justshowuphk)

6 other free fitness groups in Hong Kong

Apart from #JustShowUp, there are a number of other opportunities to get fit and sweaty for free in Hong Kong. (Just show up for these, unless otherwise stated.) Get in shape with these free fitness classes:

Monday Sprint Series by the Hong Kong Trail Runners

When: Mondays, 7.15pm

Where: Happy Valley Racecourse (meet in front of changing rooms)

What: a series of interval training sessions specifically aimed at increasing running ability organised by the Hong Kong Trail Runners Meetup group. Good for runners of all ability.


Hong Kong Harbour Runners

When: Wednesdays, 7.45pm

Where: changes weekly

What: a community of runners that aims to connect people through running and exploring Hong Kong's beautiful cityscape. Each session usually covers seven to 10km. Details of meeting points on their Facebook page.


Nike+ Run Club

When: Wednesdays, 8.04pm

Where: various locations

What: sportswear brand Nike organises weekly 90-minute sessions led by expert coaches and pacers. Registration required and opens online every Sunday at 3pm.


Friends of Bikini Fit

When: Sundays, 8am

Where: Tamar Park

What: a free weekly boot camp session for domestic helpers. Search for the private group “Friends of Bikini Fit Team – HK fitness family” on Facebook and click to join. There, you’ll be notified of the workout details.

Lululemon community events

When: various dates

Where: Lululemon Hysan Place store, 104-105 Hysan Place, 500 Hennessy Rd, Causeway Bay

What: athletic wear brand Lululemon organises regular community run and yoga events, and sometimes other workouts such as muay Thai and boot camp. RSVP required – the best way to get event and sign-up details is on their Facebook page.


The North Face Outdoor Training

When: various dates

Where: various locations

What: adventure gear brand The North Face organises group outdoor boot camp sessions led by experienced trainers a few times a month. Registration required – get event and sign-up details on their website.