Health and wellness

Why personal training is back in trend among fitness fans in Hong Kong

  • Forget newfangled fitness fads, PT is seeing a resurgence in popularity in Hong Kong
  • People are after long-term fitness programmes to get results
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018, 6:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 November, 2018, 11:00am

Hong Kong has had its share of fitness fads, but the latest isn’t cutting edge or newfangled – it’s not cycling in the dark or trampolining your way to a new you. With credit to social media, personal training (PT) is having a resurgence in popularity, say leaders in the fitness industry.

Some believe it’s because more people feel that bespoke fitness programmes are more likely to create quantifiable and sustainable results. Jamie Owen, a personal trainer who ran a women’s focused gym in Wales and now works with Hong Kong’s ATP Personal Training, believes a push towards PT is down to the psyche of today’s general population.

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“People know what they want to achieve, but they don’t know how to achieve it, so they try many [programmes] instead of sticking to one. And they think [body transformation is] only about fitness, so they focus on that, and when they don’t see quick results, they change,” he says.

“People are always looking for quick fixes ... instead of focusing on the long term, but it’s a marathon rather than a sprint. Most people are actually looking for a psychological change rather than a physiological one.”

While few personal-training programmes offer instant gratification, marketing messages and visual case studies (eg before-and-after photos) have been wooing the formerly fearful into taking the plunge and committing to a PT. A 2013 study from The New Zealand Register of Exercise Professionals found that working with a personal trainer makes you fitter, stronger and helps you to increase your lean body mass more effectively than working out alone.

An Indiana University study from 1995 suggests that 43 per cent of solo gym-goers drop out within the course of a year. Add a partner or someone you have to answer to, and the rate drops to just 6.3 per cent. 

A number of gyms now work almost exclusively on a PT basis. ATP is one – newly opened on On Hing Terrace in Central, it offers training programmes that include nutrition consultations according to your personal lifestyle, rather than a one-size-fits-all workout or diet.

“A lot of it is nutrition,” reinforces Owen, “and that’s where a personal trainer can help, because hopefully they have a lot of knowledge in nutrition and they can couple the two together, and people can actually reach their goals.”

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Ultimate Performance, a UK-founded chain, is known for its 12-week transformations, which include thrice-weekly sessions with a trainer as well as regular nutrition monitoring. Ultimate Performance does offer group classes as well, but caps the class size at eight.

“In a group setting, you might miss out on important cues that you could help fix in a personal setting,” Owens says. “Even if you have six people in a group training class, that means you can only give 10 minutes of attention [to each] person … In one-to-one, you have 60 minutes to see everything – how difficult an exercise is, how a client is feeling, and get feedback each time. In group training, you don’t get enough feedback in a session to move the programme forward next time.”

Watson Chao, a banking executive, is one of Ultimate Performance’s success stories. Having completed the 12-week transformation programme, he has stayed with the personal training for a year, achieving and exceeding his goals. Age was the major impetus to take the leap.

“I was about to turn 36, and back pains were starting to become a constant,” he says. His sessions consisted of full-body weight training and high-intensity cardio, but he believes exercise wasn’t just the key to his transformation. “As much as I hate to admit it, diet is majority of the battle. Also, I stated from the beginning [to my trainer] that I need lots of positive reinforcement to keep me motivated.” Chao says his back pains have now been eliminated.

How closely a trainer works with their client varies from client to client, says Owen, particularly when it comes to lifestyle changes. These changes are the most difficult to implement as they take place outside the gym – and outside the trainer’s control.

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Some clients will require a hotline – it’s not unusual for some clients to send photos of their meals to their trainers via WhatsApp – whereas others can track their own dietary progress on apps such as MyFitnessPal, or simply use good sense and judgment. Owen suggests coming armed with questions for you trainer. He says it is essential to getting the most out of a personal trainer, every step of the way.

Owen also frowns upon the idea of taking on training for a fixed period. While 12 weeks is a good starting point to form better habits, going cold turkey afterwards is counterproductive. Be warned, long-term personal training can add up financially – though, that was one big motivating factor for Chao. He says since he was paying more than HK$1,000 (US$128) an hour, “I couldn’t let myself waste the session with a subpar performance.”

Owen suggests cutting down on the number of weekly sessions after achieving the initial goal, and integrating other types of exercise into your lifestyle.

“Many people opt to take group classes in addition to private sessions, and it’s always easy to spot the folks who take privates,” says Heather Thomas Shalabi, founder of the popular yoga and Pilates-focused studio, Flex.

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“We’ve seen a huge increase in the demand for more personalised attention when it comes to training,” she says. It helps people to perfect their technique faster and increase their performance, “rather than spending time likely performing exercises incorrectly, or performing exercises that aren’t optimal for one’s own body”.

“There is something to be said for group class energy, music, and an energetic instructor. But for mind-body disciplines [such as pilates and yoga], class pace can be adjusted [for the individual],” says Thomas Shalabi. “If something needs to be ‘workshopped’ that day, for example emphasis on pelvic opening, balance, or shoulder range of movement, the instructor has the flexibility to do that. At first it may seem that group classes move faster than private training, but once clients master the system, the opposite is true.”