The rise of the culture of bodybuilding in HK
There has definitely been a rise in interest in fitness in Hong Kong, and with that the quest for physical perfection, muscle mass, muscle definition, has been undertaken by many.
I admit, it is a sport that got my interest from a young age. I’ve always been a huge Arnold Schwarzenegger fan, and the film “Pumping Iron” really opened my eyes to what the world of bodybuilding really is.
From the surface, bodybuilding seemed like an incredible sport that pushed the limits of one’s discipline and physical capability.
But bodybuilding here in Hong Kong? Hong Kong wasn’t well known for its fitness scene, let alone for its prowess in bodybuilding, especially when compared to athletes from the west.
I wanted to meet with one of Hong Kong’s athletes to better understand the rise in popularity of this sport.
When I first met Mack Pijewski, he totally shattered any prejuidice of what I thought a bodybuilder would look like. He had his suit on, with a very trendy hair cut and looked much more like a model and a business man.
Mack: “Every sport has its risks and rewards, its extremes, where, when you compete, you push the limits of the mind and body. I like that challenge, pushing myself”.
Mack competes in the IFBB Men’s physique category. He explained that the governing bodies of the sport created these relatively new categories so that athletes could compete in a more aesthetic category that focused on body composition than just the raw size and muscle of the traditional pros.
How Mack looks closer to competition time
It didn’t take long into our conversation to realize that Mack was an extremely focused individual who’s goals, especially as a coach would be to encourage health, flexibility, functionality. He talked about how many clients, both expats and locals sought out fitness because it gave other benefits than just aesthetics like boosts in confidence; a better understanding of themselves, their mind and spirit; a sense of community.
If you take a look at Mack’s instagram, you’ll see the occasional #throwback post where Mack shows me the way he used to look:
No way out of shape on the left…
I was curious, how did Mack become the way he is? How did he get into this lifestyle?
“It really started when I lost my dad”
Mack: “It really started when I lost my dad”. Mack explained that his father died due to health issues, and that was a wake up call for him. He decided that he wanted to be in control of his health, and that no matter how much wealth or money he acquired in his life, none of it would matter if he didn’t have his health.
“As I began to learn more, I wanted to share my knowledge. I wanted to help as many people as possible. I didn’t want to lose people that I cared about because they didn’t know how to take care of their own health.
“Another big incident in my life, was when I broke my knee playing soccer. They told me if I had an operation, there was a 50-50 chance I would lose some functionality…Or, I could try to recover by myself, but it would take a long time.
“I was in the United States at the time, and health insurance is….tough. So I began to research heavily in how the body worked, rehabilitation, health, diets, weight training, strength, recovery, you name it…”
“OK, well that’s health – how did you get into competing and pushing your limits?”
Mack: “As I began to gain knowledge of my body and training, I really enjoyed the challenge of “shaping my body”.
“I love movement”
“But really, I love movement. Movement, and functional strength give the most benefits for health and fitness. Running? That’s not THAT beneficial. Strength? It is sustained, functional, combines so many parts of the body, it is balanced. I always aim to stay nimble and flexible – this requires different disciplines.”
“Combining different disciplines – that sounds like Crossfit?
Mack: “Crossfit is great. The combinations and range of disciplines is extremely interesting. But there is the lifestyle, and the sport; and this too, if pushed too far has its own health risks for the sake of performance.”
“I know you’re a Spartan Race Ambassador”
Mack: “Yes, its a great challenge and also combines many disciplines. However, at least for right now – I only go for the short “sprint” distance, its fun. The longer distances will require me to make different adaptions to my body, and that’s not what I’m looking for right now.”
For more info about the Spartan Race in Hong Kong: click here
“Is there an end goal? A perfect physique?”
“I always come from a place of questioning and discovery – I am driven by learning and experimenting – especially on myself! If you’ve reached “the best” possible you, then you’ve stopped learning – you keep going, keep being open to change”.
“You want to give back and impact other people’s lives – how important is community to you?”
“strong communities are formed around shared values.”
“Extremely. But strong communities are formed around shared values.
“Fitness is for everyone. But as a lifestyle, it depends on your goals. Fitness has clearly been strongly integrated in a “western lifestyle” and the Chinese are just catching up to this. Fitness and diet can lead to improvements in work, work ethic; a better body leads to better thoughts, sleep and emotions.”
Often people think of “weight-loss”, but they should be thinking of “body-composition” and that might be muscle gain and fat loss
“The KEY when I train someone, is to find out their goal, what drives them; and then if they are open enough to allow me to guide them. Often people think of “weight-loss”, but they should be thinking of “body-composition” and that might be muscle gain and fat loss.”
Any top tips?
Sometimes it is what we need to “eliminate” rather than what we need to “add” to our lives.
“Start with small changes. Conscious eating, be aware of what you’re putting into your body. Limit alcohol. Sometimes it is what we need to “eliminate” rather than what we need to “add” to our lives.
Are there any tools that you use?
“Yes. It always helps to know a few things about your body. Food Sensitivity tests are great and if you want to take it to the next level, you can do DNA tests: These can really help you understand foods that are good and bad for you, but also the correct type of training for you to do.
“You might be genetically predispositioned to be a long distance runner or a sprinter. Don’t get me wrong, you can be anything you want to be, but there are some things that will come more naturally to your body-type.
“A great example is Serene Wiliams. Tennis is essentially and endurance based sport; but she is a power athlete. Instead of trying to fight her genetics, remain as slim as possible and focus on endurance, she embraces her power and looks to win that way.
“Own your ‘body-type” – its more important to be happy and healthy, than to wish to be something you’re not. Ego is your enemy!”
What is the fitness community like in Hong Kong?
“Health is slowly becoming part of mainstream knowledge in society. In terms of visuals, more people are becoming interested in aesthetics. Sometimes people come in seeking to get jacked, I always try to manage expectations – it takes a lot of time, money and sacrifice.
“It’s nice seeing couples train together. Sometimes one comes, then their bring their partners, and then they start doing it together and it becomes part of their shared lifestyle. This is the same with eating habits, its a lifestyle change and its easier when you’re able to do it with someone or are part of a community.
Mack will be competing August 15 in Macau. We wish him the best of luck!
You can follow him on instgram at @mackpijewski