Career Advice Working Women

A career's core strength

Heather Shalabi, director of Flex Studio, believes that allowing the body to move in the right way is the key to maintaining health. Starting out as a private trainer, she founded Flex Studio in 2005. The centre now boasts a 45,000 square-foot space, with a team of 20 trainers and administration staff.

A pioneer in combining different exercises such as yoga, Pilates and Xtend Barre to achieve the best results, Shalabi offers a programme that is about helping people stay in shape. She helps athletes enhance their performance, pregnant women to stay healthy before and after birth, and kids to let off steam after school.

How did you start your business?

I am from New York and moved to Hong Kong 11 years ago with my husband, who was a banker. I was immediately attracted by the business-friendly environment of Hong Kong - the low taxes and the ease of registering a firm are great for business people.

I had always been keen on yoga and Pilates and had practised both for many years, but it was not until I came to Hong Kong that I was able to make it my career. After building up a client base through personal training, I started my own studio in 2005.

Overall, it was a smooth process, though it took time to find a suitable venue and employ talented trainers.

What is unique about Flex Studio?

I stress what I call "intelligent movement" in all my programmes. I hope this will help my clients move the right way and stay healthy in the long term.

Many of my clients are athletes who love golf, soccer and swimming. They work out often and have athletic bodies, but the one thing they lacked before coming to Flex was core strength. I taught them how to improve their core to have better body balance and a better range of motion so as to enhance their performance and prevent injuries.

Similar to athletes, women also need to strengthen their core to carry the extra weight on them during pregnancy. Many women who are having a baby, or who have given birth recently, come to me to get stronger in their core so they will not hurt themselves.

Local children are pretty stressed from school so I also offer fitness class to help them relax. Since I offer a lot of programmes for women and children, mothers and children often come to my studio together to work out and relax together.

What do you think is a common misconception about body fitness?

Hong Kong people have become more aware of working out to stay healthy, but they do not know much about how to move correctly and the importance of building a strong core. I hope to create more awareness of these two areas with my programme.

Also, being thin does not mean you are healthy. People who are thin look good but they do not have muscle definition. It is important to stay in shape and to gain strength, otherwise it is very easy to get hurt. Many women hurt their back when lifting their child because their core is not strong enough.

What is your definition of a healthy lifestyle?

It is important to excise both the mind and the body. A healthy life is having a sound body and a sound mind. If you do not feel great physically, it will also affect your performance at work. Last but not least, eat correctly: your input should be equal to your output.

What are your plans for Flex Studio?

We will keep bringing in new workout programmes from overseas for our clients. In Hong Kong, people tend to be always on the move so there seems to always be a need for recruitment. My challenge is to keep looking for talented people to be trainers.

My studio also allows trainers and clients to have lots of interaction, and so many trainers join us because of that.