Fitspiration: F45’s Stevun Vongtongtip on the most efficient workout in town

Updated on March 9 2017

Stevun Vongtongtip was the first to bring Australia’s F45 fitness craze to Hong Kong in October 2015, with two branches currently under his ownership in Sheung Wan and Wan Chai. Originating in Sydney, the workout is designed as a 45-minute training session based on rapid and intense intervals. Vongtongtip stumbled on F45 by complete accident just over two years ago, and is now the workout’s biggest advocate in Hong Kong.

Growing up in Sydney, the Laos-born fitness junkie was always interested in physical activity and fitness. “The outdoors is a big thing, growing up in Australia, so I’ve always done some kind of sport, whether it be cricket, Australian rules [rugby] or surfing,” he tells us. “I’ve been keeping fit since I was 18. I’m 46. I feel more fit now than I was ever before.”

Previously, Vongtongtip worked in software engineering for 20 years. It allowed him to travel dozens of times a year, often connecting to Europe via Hong Kong. In between, he would help others as a personal trainer. An unfortunate spine injury from CrossFit led him to try out F45, something with comparatively lower intensity, using lighter weights and higher repetitions, which helped him to recover. “[These days] if I keep doing it I don’t feel it, but if I stop, the numbness in my arm comes back occasionally. So I’m stuck doing F45!”

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We caught up with Vongtongtip recently to chat about his desire to help clients reach difficult goals, the best source of motivation, and his favourite exercise — the “Maneater.”

F45 is about “lighter weights and higher repetitions,” Vongtongtip tells us. It’s not as easy as it looks…

I became a trainer… as a hobby. I did a degree in personal training in Australia, and I did personal training for about five years, mainly for weight training and cardio fitness based on High Intensity Interval Training, so my transition into F45 was quite smooth. It’s a good way to systemise HIIT principles.

When I was growing up, my parents were very religious. My dad’s a Buddhist monk. They were always helping people, so it was always built in me to help people and never expect anything back. So when I did PT and had my job in engineering, I liked the environment of having human interaction, of helping people solve problems or achieve fitness goals. That being said, I definitely feel more fulfilled doing this now, especially when I see people achieving results.

What triggered me to start F45… was when one of my colleagues got awarded for 40 years of service at the company. I was looking at him and I thought, I don’t want to be like that, although I enjoyed my job and the travel. I thought I’d get a license [to operate F45] and try Hong Kong. It was a gut feeling. I felt that F45 fit Hong Kong because it’s a fast workout, it’s efficient — just 45 minutes. It’s results-driven — you feel it after two weeks. Soon after, I just packed my suitcase, left my job, and came here, all in about a month. Then I signed the lease [to the Sheung Wan gym space], started a company, and opened in October 2015. That’s how F45 was born in Hong Kong.

The bench press is one of the signature moves at F45.

My fitness philosophy… is to not let things stop you. I’m very stubborn. If I get injured, I fight that by — it sounds silly — doing more exercise to counteract that. You’ve got to be careful of course, but you do light things, you work the small muscles. That’s what rehabilitation is all about. When I lost two of my front teeth playing Australian Rules, I had whiplash; my neck and my shoulders would get constantly sore. A lot of people would have given up, but I tried to strengthen that area to compensate. That’s always been my philosophy. You do what you enjoy, you live on. I don’t let those things stop me. The only time I don’t exercise is when I’m bedridden and sick, and that’s when I get depressed. But then I try to do some light cardio.

The key to staying motivated… is seeing results. I’ve introduced a new membership called the eight-week challenge. If you end up losing 10% of your existing body fat measurements — say you’re at 30% then you get down to 27% — then you get one month’s membership free. There was a guy on the eight-week challenge last, he lost 7 kilograms of fat, and put on muscle. I asked him, why do you continue to come to F45? He said he just sees more value. He used to have to pay $1,200 an hour just for personal training.

When I workout… I make sure to warm up. The F45 workout comes with a warm up. The best thing about it is that it wakes people right up, especially for clients that have rolled out of bed to come work out at 5, 6 in the morning, and they’re just sleepy.

For power food… I take my protein shakes after a workout, only because it makes me feel more energised, and it protects your muscle from eating itself. When you do an intense workout like at F45, you have to replenish the energy very quickly, and the most efficient way to do that is through a drink. A lot of girls think that they’ll pack on a lot of muscle by drinking protein shakes. But if there’s a protein shake you can take that makes you pack on a lot of muscle, you’d be a billionaire then wouldn’t you? Guys would just take the protein shake!

Look super fly with these reverse bench flyes.

I believe in eating… healthily. Food is 70% of your results, but you’ve got to enjoy life as well. You should strike a balance; if you pig out and go to a champagne buffet on Sunday, then the whole week you’ve got to be more disciplined. I love food. I try to eat healthy, I try to avoid bad carbs like white rice, sweet bread, and I try to eat whole grains and unrefined carbs and lean meat. I avoid carbs at night.

The best exercise for weight loss… is F45. The best thing about F45 — and that’s why I’m here — is that the workouts are efficient: it’s only 45 minutes. It’s also fun. Exercises change every day. Clients love the fact that they come here and they don’t know what they’re doing today or tomorrow, you never do the same workout. It’s innovative, you never get bored.

I’d recommend to also get on the F45 nutrition plan. Three meals, two snacks including a protein shake, no need to think about it. People follow that, especially in Hong Kong where people are lazy to cook and eating out is very easy. They pay for it, eat it, probably end up saving money too.

At least three F45 sessions a week, and drink lots of water, and sleep — it’s important, something we don’t get enough — and for sure you’d lose weight. After one week, you can usually see people with results already.

My workout playlist includes… everything from the F45 FM radio station. Every F45 studio in the world has the same workout each day. So we just go on the radio station and press play, we don’t have to think about the music or the tracks, it’s so good. For my own workouts, I like the F45 FM station but I’m also an 80’s fan. I don’t mind R&B, especially on weights days like these, with some old school stuff. It’s slower, I guess people like it [with R&B] because it makes it more of a dirty workout.

The “Maneater”: A dumbbell pushup, a burpee, then an overhead weights press, repeat.

Favourite exercises? It’s called the Maneater, and it’s hard. It’s one of my favourite workouts because it works the whole body. Anyone can do this, anywhere in the world, any time.

For more info about the F45 fitness programme in Hong Kong, check out the website at f45training.hk/sheungwan.

Photography by Today Tomorrow Photography