Getting fit means an expensive gym membership, personal trainer and special equipment, right? Wrong; all you need is your own body.
Street workout is a form of exercise which can be performed anywhere, usually in parks and other public spaces.
The type of training it involves is known as callisthenics, which is a lot like the exercise you probably did at school or that you might do at a military boot camp, with sit-ups, push-ups and jumping jacks.
Workouts can be a mix of strength training, where you hold one position for a long time, and aerobic training, which involves rapid movements. You don’t need any weights; instead, you use your own body weight, and you will still gain strength and build muscle.
This form of exercise goes all the way back to Ancient Greece, while the modern movement was developed in Russia and America in the early 2000s. Now, the annual Street Workout World Championships are held across the world with competitors coming from 76 countries.
And it’s a fast-growing trend in Hong Kong. In 2014, Kevin Lee co-founded the Street Workout Hong Kong (SWHK) movement, which now has among its members young athletes Ken Lai Kai-jib and Nicholas Wong Wai-fung. Young Post met up with all three at one of their regular workout spots in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay.
“Street workout is just doing what you want in the park - and you don’t need to have a lot of money. You can also do it any time and anywhere. Everyone is welcome, so you can be who you are,” said Lee.
Both Lai and Wong had different reasons for getting involved in street workout. He was inspired by watching callisthenic videos on YouTube, Lai said. After seeing a 64-year-old man exercising in a local park, Lai realised there was nothing to stop him from trying it himself. He was 18 at the time, and working as a waiter and construction worker.
Now, at 21, Lai is a full-time coach and was crowned the 2014 Hong Kong Freestyle Street Workout Champion. Wong, meanwhile, said he used to spend most of his time playing video games and wasn’t interested in working or studying. But he began working out at his local Tsz Wan San park in 2012, and went on to become Hong Kong Street Workout Champion from 2015 to 2017.
More impressively still, Wong came fourth in the Street Workout World Cup Super Final in Beijing , as well as 16th in the World Street Workout and Callisthenics Federation Street Workout Championships in Moscow, both held last year.
His favourite movements are the human flag (in which athletes must hold onto a vertical bar and extend their bodies outwards), the planche (where athletes lift their body with just their hands, keeping it in line with the ground), and the Hefesto muscle-up (where athletes lift their upper body backwards over a bar). All these movements take control and a strong core. Wong advises both beginners and advanced athletes to warm up first and not push themselves too quickly.
“Don’t ever rush a movement – take each movement step by step – properly and safely. This way you won’t get hurt,” said Wong.
Wong, 23, looks up to Eryc Ortiz, the French street workout world champion of 2014 and 2015.
“We have a similar build – small and short. As a champion myself, I feel pressure to win every year – especially the competitions in Hong Kong. The feeling of winning is very addictive,” he said.
As impressive as this sounds, Lee says the sport isn’t all about training and competing: “As a non-profit organisation, we also help our community,” he said.
“Ken and Nicholas both teach at-risk young people at the YMCA. We believe that all children and teenagers who participate in this sport shouldn’t be hindered by a lack of opportunity, resources or money. They should only be hindered by a lack of ability – which is where we can help them. We can act as mentors,” he said.
The trio would love to see street workout become an Olympic sport, and plan to spread SWHK’s reach as far as possible.
“We hope to get more training facilities and government support,” said Lai. “As this sport is expanding in Hong Kong, we want to head into high schools, so we have a bigger pool for finding future athletes”.