City Weekend

Hong Kong women look to raise the bar in a man’s world – personal training

A new crop of trainers hope to shatter stereotypes and meet growing demand for women in the fitness industry

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 September, 2017, 9:17am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 September, 2017, 9:17am

When Lona Shiu Ying-tung got into Hong Kong’s male-dominated fitness industry, she wanted to build a rewarding career as a personal trainer by helping others achieve a healthier lifestyle.

Although traditional attitudes that regard women as the weaker sex still dominatethe fitness industry, statistics have shown that more women are choosing to become trainers.

Those in the industry say they are seeing more women enter because of an increased awareness of health issues and growing numbers of female clients.

Meanwhile, the fitness market has evolved from its traditional focus on weightlifting to incorporating more aerobic exercise, for which female trainers are in demand.

“I strongly believe that one’s gender should not determine whether you are fit for the industry or not,” Shiu said. “Your drive and hunger to lead and educate your clients should be the deciding factor.”

The percentage of personal trainers in the city accounted for by women has doubled in the past year, from 10 per cent to 20 per cent, according to a recent study by the Asian Academy for Sports and Fitness Professionals (AASFP), a local institute that trains and qualifies fitness staff.

But Hong Kong still has some catching up to do on the gender gap. In the United States, some 54 per cent of personal trainers are women, according to a study published by the US National Institutes of Health.

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Hong Kong does not have a unified registration system for personal trainers, but the AASFP estimates that the total number employed by gym centres could be as many as 20,000, of whom 4,000 are women.

One of Hong Kong’s biggest gym chains, Pure Fitness, has seen a 30 per cent increase in female trainers at its centres in the past two years, regional fitness operations director Marco Ferdinandi said.

“Personal training is becoming a more respected career choice, especially when a healthy lifestyle is becoming a cornerstone of what most people see as a successful life,” he said. “This is naturally attracting more passionate men and women who enjoy helping others.”

According to the AASFP, the number of gyms in Hong Kong, including yoga and martial arts studios, rose from 608 in 2012 to 743 this year.

Ferdinandi said one of the challenges for the industry was to meet the growing consumer demand for ways to live a healthy lifestyle, and he believed this trend would create a greater need for personal trainers.

AASFP marketing and communications manager Gordon Yau Yick-chung said more young women had signed up for the academy’s training courses. In one course this year, 12 out of 40 students were women, compared to one in 40 last year.

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He said more women employees in the fitness industry had helped attract a diverse range of new clients, including many who did not enjoy traditional weight training.

Janice Kau Wan-na, 27, who started working out in 2015, said she found her female trainer a better motivator than a man.

“Because, as a woman, I can always look to my female trainer as a role model,” she said. “I know if I work hard enough I can be as fit as her one day.”

Kau, who recently changed to a male trainer for a different type of workout, said female trainers generally focused more on toning the body by using high-intensity interval training. That method involves clients doing exercises in short bursts that focus on specific body parts.

By contrast, she said, her male trainer tended to use more weightlifting exercises for building muscles.

Ferdinandi pointed out that exercise regimes had evolved from men doing free-weight training and women doing aerobics, to becoming a “very nuanced and personal experience”. He stressed that the demographics in the fitness sectorhad evolved to become more mindset-driven than gender-based.

Yau agreed. “Not everyone would love to be muscular. Female personal trainers have advantages in doing high-intensity interval training,” he said.

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“I think male and female personal trainers can work together well in the industry.”

Dr Lobo Louie Hung-tak, an associate professor at the department of physical education at Baptist University, said many women preferred using female trainers because they felt more comfortable with them when it came to physical contact.

Stephanie Siu Hoi-ying, 25, who signed up for a gym membership in 2015, said she felt more comfortable with a woman when describing the goals she wanted to achieve for her body.

“The one thing I really wanted to focus on was enhancing the muscles on my butt, and I felt more comfortable discussing that with my female personal trainer,” she said.

Louiepointed out that more and more women were doing sport, not only because they wanted a healthier lifestyle, but because sportswear brands had increasingly targeted women.

“The men’s market is pretty much well covered,” he said. “And it makes sense for these companies to expand to a bigger pool. Women are a big market for them. For example, it’s not uncommon for a woman to have five pairs of running shoes.”

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Siu admitted she was attracted to sports partly because she enjoyed buying fashionable sportswear.

But Ferdinandi said that, no matter whether a man or a woman, the most important thing when hitting the gym was what a person wanted to achieve.

“I believe the criteria for most people when it comes to choosing a fitness professional are quality, integrity and dedication to your personal goals,” he said, “regardless of whether you are male or female.”