Career Path

Flexing that managerial muscle

by Maggie Tang

Michael Cheng
regional director
fitness, California Fitness
Photo: Edde Ngan

Fitness and health centres arrive in Hong Kong at lightning speed. Their existence proves there is an obvious demand for fitness services, but what are residents really looking for? Michael Cheng, regional director of fitness, California Fitness knows best.

Mr Cheng joined California Fitness 10 years ago as a fitness professional, which is the entry level for people interested in a career in personal training at the company. Leveraging on his natural passion for fitness and health, Mr Cheng remained diligent, regularly updated his skill set and maintained his impeccable physical shape to advance to his position today.

Clear goals

Before relocating back to Hong Kong from Canada, Mr Cheng attained the National Academy of Sports Medicine qualification and his immediate goal was to secure a sports-related job. Fortunately his return coincided with California Fitness' launch in Hong Kong so he seized the opportunity and jumped on board.

He spent his early days helping clients and ensuring their safety on the workout floor. "New California recruits go through a fitness foundation programme organised by our company or one of the recognised certification organisations. Upon completion of the programme, they can then give advice to clients regarding effective exercising and safety," he explains.

Determined to excel in the field, Mr Cheng soon became a certified personal trainer. "All our personal trainers have undergone stringent training provided by a recognised certification body and have passed the certifying examinations," he remarks.

Personal trainers at California Fitness initially assess each client's fitness levels and devise an appropriate fitness regimen to achieve individual physical goals. "In addition, a personal trainer motivates clients to incorporate exercise into their lifestyle on an ongoing basis. Essentially, we need technical knowledge as much as soft skills including communications and coaching. Effective personal trainers understand clients' needs and specific situations. In this regard, building a trusting trainer-client relationship is fundamental," Mr Cheng reveals.

According to Mr Cheng, clients hire a personal trainer for a number of reasons. "People have certain expectations when it comes to fitness and appearance. A personal trainer can help customise a fitness plan which drives them towards their ultimate goals. Other clients may hire a trainer to facilitate their preparation for professional competitions or races," he notes.

"We need technical knowledge as much as soft skills"

Climb the stairs

Soon after his promotion to personal trainer, Mr Cheng took one step further and qualified as a master fitness trainer, a position which involves much greater leadership competencies. "I became responsible for coaching new entrant fitness professionals," he recalls.

At the turn of the millennium, Mr Cheng was promoted to assistant fitness manager and later fitness manager, overseeing the overall operations of the personal training division. "By that time, staff management had become my major duty. I looked after the performance, quality and recruitment of personal trainers at our Central club. My role in the company shifted from client-focused to staff-oriented. For example, if a personal trainer had difficulties gaining customer satisfaction, I would help him or her analyse the situation and solve problems based on my knowledge and experience," he says.

Following this, Mr Cheng quickly climbed to the position of district fitness manager, country fitness manager, regional fitness manager and his current position. Now looking at the bigger picture, he adds, "I help steer the personal training function of the company in the region towards our company objectives. In addition, I am also actively engaged in staff training, helping each employee reach their potential."

Healthy outlook

Mr Cheng's day starts with exercise at one of the California Fitness clubs, which he describes as an act serving dual purposes. "Fitness is part of my life. And as I am working out, I can observe and evaluate the operations of that particular gym," he highlights. By nine o'clock, he is back at his desk and reviews the operations and performance of the various clubs in the region. Offering support, staff coaching and each club's performance audit all play a significant part in his schedule.

California Fitness is a wholly owned subsidiary of 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide, the world's leading fitness centre chain based in North America. It now operates 25 clubs across China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. This year California Fitness celebrates the opening of its 10th fitness club in Hong Kong. Business development in new markets also forms part of Mr Cheng's responsibility. "I have helped open up the Singapore, Malaysia and China markets by setting up fitness clubs there. At present, our focus is on Beijing and Shanghai, where we have just opened two new clubs last year," he adds.

Mr Cheng appreciates the fact that the company has given him exceptional opportunities for professional development. In years to come he foresees his position will incorporate more generic business development obligations. However, he is forever grateful to the club for fostering the spirit of upward mobility among staff concluding that, "Personal trainers at California Fitness are offered excellent career opportunities and rewards for their effort and loyalty."


Taken from Career Times 18 April 2008, p. B18
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