Career Path

Tough guy with a tender side

by Charles Mak

Ben Shiu (middle), fitness manager
Fitness First Hong Kong
Photo: Edde Ngan

Fitness enthusiast Ben Shiu has many tricks up his sleeve. Currently a fitness manager of upscale international gym Fitness First, Mr Shiu is a certified trainer in personal fitness, kick boxing, Muay Thai, resisted movement, special forces training and children's fitness. More impressive still, he has a breadth of other skills to his name including Jeet Kun Do, Wing Chun, Tai Chi Cheun, Karate and sport climbing, plus a St John's Ambulance CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) qualification, and proficiency in Japanese to boot. These, however, are not all.

"Communication skills are 'the' vital element in my line of work — from the customer service approach to tone of voice and even a smile or the occasional stern look," he explains. "Our job is not simply to help members boost muscle gain or lose weight, but more importantly, to assist them with their overall personal wellness by giving them the most appropriate advice on exercise and diet."

Measured up

Fitness First members require Mr Shiu's expertise for various reasons. Some of them may want to get in shape for wedding photos; while some others are looking to shape up for an upcoming trip to Thailand. "Whether it is a long- or short-term goal, it has to be realistic," Mr Shiu emphasises. "For instance, shedding five stones in a month is humanly impossible. Losing two kilos a week is more like it."

It can be a challenge to explain expectations but a personal trainer must exercise their intellectual authority and combine that with the professional know-how they are qualified for. "People usually see the physical aspects of our job, paying little heed to the psychology of it. The reality is that much of our duty is to look after the interests of the members and take into account their health at all times, Mr Shiu adds.

Since health is at stake, members requesting one-on-one training are required to take a fitness test. "After that we tailor an exercise regime for them, see that they stick to it and whenever they're ready, take it to the next level," he says.

"Charisma and character supersede academic qualifications"

Keeping himself in top form encourages members to observe discipline. As such, Mr Shiu follows a strict weekly workout schedule, with weight training on alternate days and a 40-minute run every other day, plus intensive cardiovascular exercises on Sunday. "If we expect customers to trust and respect our expertise, we must set a good example. At the end of the day, everybody wants to look their best and feel comfortable with themselves," he emphasises, revealing that the job involves a certain sales element but with the integrity of a professional and an undisputed reputation, no hard-selling is ever necessary.

Rise and shine

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential for Mr Shiu since his working day can stretch from 7am until late into the evening, depending on the time and number of bookings, meetings and internal training sessions.

He stresses however that the hours may be long but the flexibility suits him. "I have a passion in what I do," he adds. "And if I do it well my team will follow my lead."

Mr Shiu's interest in fitness sprouted when he was studying in Japan. "I was just starting to work out and found the professional fitness training industry dynamic," he says. It was right then and there he came to terms with his career aspirations.

Back home in Hong Kong he subsequently studied for an NASM (the National Academy of Sports Medicine) personal training certification and started out on a career in small local gyms. With two years' experience under his belt, he signed on with Fitness First when the company launched its operations in Hong Kong in 2001. "I remember thinking this is a reputable company with many international branches," he says. "The perfect career launch pad."

Within two years he was promoted to supervisor and in another 18 months he became a fitness manager, obtaining yet more qualifications along the way. He also took part in Fitness First's management and administration training which enabled him to play a wider role and shoulder increased responsibilities including staff training and development, not only for personal trainers but also for the company's sales teams.

It is apparent that Mr Shiu's job entails highly visible satisfaction. "It's all about achieving results, be it fitness training or staff development," he notes, advising newcomers that a genuine passion for helping people is indispensable. "In this industry, charisma and character supersede academic qualifications," he says. "But whatever job you do you must have a positive attitude towards it."


Taken from Career Times 16 January 2009, p. A16
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