Benefits of Fitness Communities: Performance, Mentorship, Accountability, and Kindness

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Bo and Sheel
(Left to Right) Bo Kratz, Paul Sandburg, Sheel Kohli

For those of you who just read the blog version of each episode…this is one where you really should listen to the podcast! There was just too much good discussion to capture in blog form. Click icon below to listen on Apple or Google. A summary of the show is below.

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II am super excited for the show today because I have two very special guests joining the program. These two gents have been integral in shaping my personal beliefs on fitness communities and have also become dear friends of mine here in Hong Kong. I can say, without question, I would still be cycling in circles (Redhill) and doing the same boring running and swimming workouts all on my own, without the help of these guys and the fitness communities they are a part of. With their help, I have learned that you can safely navigate the mean, dangerous, steep, and slippery streets of Hong Kong. I have learned that having friends with you while training isn’t just about motivation but also about kindness, caring, and understanding. Today we will discuss fitness community and the profound positive effects it can have on individuals, and the group as a whole, from numerous perspectives including performance, mentorship, discipline, inspiration, and accountability.

So who are these guys I speak of?

Bo Kratz

Bo is the Chief Executive Officer for Conning Asia Pacific. Based in the Hong Kong office, Bo directs all current operations in Asia for Conning. He is responsible for developing the overall strategic plan to leverage Conning and Cathay Financial Holdings’ asset management resources in the Asia Pacific region. Bo has 30 years of experience in capital markets, of which more than 22 years in asset management. During the past 17 years Bo has held leadership roles in Hong Kong and Singapore. Mr. Kratz has worked extensively throughout Asia, managing operations in Hong Kong & Greater China, Seoul, Melbourne, Singapore and Tokyo. Before joining Conning, Bo served as Head of APAC for Northern Trust Asset Management, where he oversaw both equity and fixed income strategies for large institutional clients in Asia Pacific. Prior to joining Northern Trust, Bo held leadership and regional roles with Permal Group and ABN AMRO Asset Management. A Swedish national, Bo started his financial career in Sweden having worked in equity research and portfolio management, and serving as CIO at Alfred Berg Asset Management. He holds a degree in Finance from the University of Gothenburg and an MBA from Warwick Business School in England.

For as long as he can remember, Bo has always seen himself as a “sporty” person, but admits that his teenage years featured more motorbikes than push bikes and he was never a particularly keen participant in traditional team sports such as football or ice hockey. The real turnaround came in his mid-30s as his career and waist measurement both progressed seemingly correlated. It was not a pretty sight he says. A significant change in diet and a moderate increase in activity saw his weight drop by no less than 16 kg in the space of 6 months, prompting questions from his friends and family if he was alright or if he had a disease. A 35k daily commute on his bike (return) opened the door to various sporting events and when he relocated to Singapore in 2001 the cycling bug really took hold. He was introduced to a group that subsequently morphed into Anza Cycling and there was no return at that point. Seeing and experiencing first-hand how the group made a difference both for his fitness as well as his social life, he unapologetically “stole” the concept as he moved to Hong Kong in 2004. On Nov 7, 2004, SIR Cycling was born and quickly became much more than a cycling group, providing a hub in the wheel of quite a few cycling expats in Hong Kong. Bo moved back to Singapore in 2007 (forming yet another cycling group) but returned to Hong Kong and his SIRs in 2012. So for anyone who wonders why the SIR kit is blue and yellow…well look at the Swedish flag and you will have your answer.

Sheel Kohli

Sheel is a Managing Director of Credit Suisse, based in Hong Kong. He is Head of Corporate Communications, Asia Pacific and is responsible for all Private Banking and Investment Banking Communications. Sheel has worked in comms in Hong Kong for 18 years, 12 of which have been for Credit Suisse. He has found that as people consume more information and in many more different ways, his responsibilities for how Credit Suisse interacts and communicates with its many different stakeholders has grown. Today he is responsible for Credit Suisse’s relationships with the media, its internal communications, social media messaging, client communications, executive communications and financial communications. Prior to this he was at ING for 5 years, where he was also Head of Corporate Communications. He started his career however as a journalist, where one of his roles included being a London correspondent for the South China Morning Post. This is where he fell in love with writing and with Asia, and in particular all the promise that China offers. These are still two of his enduring loves.

But believe it or not, when he is not thinking about how to communicate as effectively as possible, Sheel is an avid athlete. He comes from a very athletic family. His father’s side were national level hockey players for India, while his mother was captain of the netball team. His brother is an accomplished cricketer and Sheel himself competed at a national level in middle distance running. Even now his septuagenarian and octogenarian parents still go to the gym and do yoga. He raced competitively at university but when work and career began to take over he put these pursuits aside until he arrived in Hong Kong. Living at the base of the Peak and with all of Hong Kong’s trails on his doorstep, he began to find it just too tempting to not see how far and fast he could run or ride up them. Indeed his weekend rituals were two times up the Peak on Saturday by bike, a run in the afternoon, and then a ride to Shek O for breakfast on Sunday.

He became aware of the Hong Kong Dragons Triathlon Club in 2009, attracted by their red and black kit, and their super relaxed attitude to riding and running. The president of the club at the time, was a cockney Englishman called Drilly Thornton, who was built like a body builder but was one of the most welcoming and genuine athletes Sheel has ever met. He loved the approach. Very open and a warm and inclusive culture, but the offer of disciplined training through regular sessions, come rain or shine. It’s still a hallmark of the Dragons today. Sheel joined the Dragons committee in 2013 and has never looked back. The fun spirit, the openness and the inclusiveness of the Dragons, still is the club’s biggest strength and it is one of the reasons we are discussing community today.

As you can see these gents are not only great at inspiring others to fitness but also have managed to be quite successful in their own quests to find wellness balance. They are also both very intelligent and eloquent speakers so I will try not to jump in too much so you all can absorb as much from them as possible. With that said, let’s kick things off with a little discussion about the SIRs and Dragons.

Bo, Sheel, and Paul discuss founding of the clubs, objectives and goals, benefits of being in a fitness community, and funny stories

I will share a few studies to get us warmed up for our roundtable discussion on fitness community.

The Research

Firstly, in a 2012 study, researchers at Kansas State University found that people who exercised with someone they thought was better than them increased their workout time and intensity by 200 percent.

A 2011 study in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology found that participants were able to hold a plank longer when working with a partner and increased their plank hold by up to 24% when working out with a more capable partner. This ability for a weaker partner or team member to perform better in a group situation than they would on their own is called the Kohler Effect (named after researcher Otto Kohler in late 1920’s discovered)

A 2014 study in the International Journal of Nursing Studies found that older adults who had fitness mentors had higher success in overall retention and participation rates, as well as the best improvements in fitness scores as opposed to the group without mentorship. Interestingly the mentors were broken into several groups including young student mentors and peer mentors, and the mentorship effect was the same.

Mentoring, leadership, workout buddy, whatever you want to call it, has no age limit. You can reach up for help and you can reach down to pull others up. Everyone has an off day on occasion and can benefit from fitness mentors. As I said previously, for me, the community and mentorship is about kindness, caring, and understanding. For example, when cycling in our groups we wait for the slower folks up the hill (and down). Everyone can get a great workout in and no one gets left behind.

Round Table Discussion

Bo and Sheel – Any stories of how fitness community has helped you personally?

Bo and Sheel – Do you think that having a fitness community is more important in a big city from a safety perspective?

Bo and Sheel – Please discuss how the SIRs and Dragons can facilitate fitness for varying skills and abilities.

Bo and Sheel – Do you think social media plays a role in community fitness? (Strava, Facebook, Instagram)

Bo and Sheel – What advice would you give to someone considering starting a fitness club/ community?

Bo and Sheel – Any advice for someone still on the fence about joining a fitness club/community?

Bo and Sheel – Anything we didn’t cover that we should discuss before wrapping up?

Again there was too much good content in the podcast to try to capture here in the blog. Listen on Apple or Google below to hear all of the great content!

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20 episodes available. A new episode about every 12 days averaging 33 mins duration .