How CrossFit helps a Hong Kong mum keep her family fit and fab

Tax expert and mother of three Tobey Hill gets up at 5am every weekday do to CrossFit before work, an activity that has helped her build strength, confidence – and an active family

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 September, 2017, 5:15pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 September, 2017, 8:51pm

For Tobey Hill, fitness is a natural a part of her daily routine – a trait she shares with her husband Tom and their three sporty children.

Tobey, 45, and Tom, 47, roll out of bed at the crack of dawn each weekday to travel to CrossFit Asphodel in Chai Wan for their daily dose of high intensity workouts. Then their workdays begin: Tobey’s at investment bank CLSA, where she heads up the tax group, and Tom’s at HSBC, where he is a foreign account tax compliance act manager.

Tobey has tried many sports. As a youngster, she hung out with a neighbour who was a former Rockette precision dancer, and also picked up gymnastics. She later took up running, track and skiing, and in college became a regular gym-goer, trying all the fads, from step aerobics to Tae Bo. When she had children, she stayed active, working out to home-exercise videos and zipping through the neighbourhood with a jogging stroller.

“I have always been active, but get bored easily,” she says.

How a Hong Kong CrossFit team was declared fittest in Asia – thanks to their 300kg ‘worm’

When the family moved to Hong Kong in 2008, she joined a dragon boat team and visited gyms in the city, but nothing really clicked. Then she overheard fellow commuters talking excitedly “about this new class that was like circuit training, but wasn’t, had weights and was always different, and really good coaches”.

That was Tobey’s introduction to CrossFit, a programme that builds strength and endurance through varied, challenging daily workouts that cover a range of exercises, from handstands to weightlifting. She has been a regular for more than six years.

Tom, a baseball and softball player, saw the effect CrossFit was having on Tobey and signed up as well. “The exercise generally makes everybody happier – it’s a stress reliever and it’s an outlet,” he says. “It’s a good example for the children. We never told them to go to the gym, or to go work out.”

Is CrossFit the ultimate workout? Five of Hong Kong’s crossfitters say why they love it

Their son Tommy, 17, is a keen baseball player in a league that his dad coaches. He has had to add weights to his training so sometimes joins his parents at the CrossFit gym. Daughter Alexandra, 15, does dance, sport and drama and is now playing high school field hockey and softball. Kiana, 10, is a rock climber and has done about 450 climbs since she was six years old. She is also into baseball and tennis – and is keen to do CrossFit, too.

“Tom always tells me I set a good example for the kids,” Tobey says. “I think he does, as well.”

Here Tobey answers a few questions about her CrossFit routine and the benefits she receives.

What is CrossFit’s appeal?

Exercise in the late ’80s and ’90s as a female was all about whether your thighs were smaller, waist thinner, body more toned, how much you weighed and how many calories you burnt. CrossFit is about more tangible goals, like “can I squat five more kilos or do five more reps at a particular weight? Can I do more pull-ups? Can I do this particular workout?” They also have benchmark workouts, so you can see whether you can do them faster than last time. Everything is tangible.

She wants to rope more Hongkongers into fitness, so what’s Vanessa Cheung’s game? CrossFit, cold showers and kale

What time do you usually get up and head to the gym?

I am usually up around 5am. I head out the door around 5.40am for a 6am one-hour class.

I really like working out in the morning. It energises me, keeps me going. It’s different from work, where I have a lot of intellectual challenges. It’s nice to go to the gym and be physical and lift heavy things. Lifting is just a great release from work stress.

Do you think about work when you’re working out?

No. It’s kind of hard to, because a lot of times you’re concentrating on what you’re doing even if it’s just like breathing so you can get through the workout. When I’m showering, then I’ll start thinking about work.

How do others react to your physique?

Because my shoulders are a little bigger and rounder, I’ll be asked questions like, ‘what exercise do you do?’ And I’ll talk about it, especially with women, where being a little bigger and weighing more is a stigma – but it’s not at all in CrossFit, ever. I’m maybe 9lbs (4kg) heavier than what could be considered my normal weight. But my clothes all still fit, so it’s clearly muscle.

How Jamie Lee, co-founder of CrossFit 852, turned his interest into a successful business

It’s a good example for my girls as well, in the sense that it’s OK to do these things and have muscles. You don’t have to be waiflike. It’s about body image. I do mentoring for women and am involved with the Women’s Foundation. I think that’s just one aspect of not being afraid of who you are and doing things that make you feel good.

What is the most weight you have lifted?

I lift more than three times that which I lifted when I started CrossFit. I’ve dead lifted 120kg and I weigh around 57kg. I can squat 85kg and can jerk [overhead] 60kg. I like being strong and I like being able to do the things that I like to do.

What is the pay-off?

Body confidence – and just generally better self-confidence. Other benefits are the general wellness benefits: my heart rate is lower and my body fat percentage is lower, even though my weight is higher. Sleep is better, and physical things are easier. It helps me focus better at work. I’m lucky I found something that I really like, that’s different every day, motivating and goal-oriented.

Can you see yourself doing this 10 years from now?

I imagine I would be still doing it, but I may be using lighter weights or doing different scaled movements appropriate for how my body feels. Perhaps I’ll be lifting heavier.

The Hongkonger, 57, who’s learned to do handstands and wants to climb a rope

But the community aspect of it is also fantastic, so I wouldn’t want to miss out on that. It’s motivating to be in a class, to have attentive coaching. I would never do this stuff on my own. If there’s nobody there, you don’t feel that motivation to keep going and to try hard. It’s not that you’re competing – it’s just that, if everybody else is doing it, you can do it too. That mentality is brilliant.