Following the dramatic closing of gym chain California Fitness last year, some may have noticed that another brand has risen in its ashes in the very same locations across town — Goji Studios. Touting a holistic approach to fitness rather than simply a gym selling you monthly packages, Goji is adamant in proving itself as a one-stop-shop providing everything from workouts to meal plans to health assessments to help you embark on a complete lifestyle overhaul. Ricky Cheuk, Goji Studios’ COO and former Hong Kong rugby star, is perhaps the strongest believer in this holistic approach towards fitness.
“In the Hong Kong market, there’s two types of fitness businesses — one is the large, mass gyms, and the other is the smaller studios that focus maybe on one thing; one discipline. What I wanted was to bring the best of both worlds into one,” says Cheuk. “In the past year or two there’s been a lot of negative publicity about what we do. Part of my job is to create a new company culture. It’s not about selling you the biggest package, but about getting what you need as an individual. It’s going to take time.”
“Here, we can provide different services such as yoga, pilates, spinning and personal training, then bring in specialist touches. You can visit our [holistic health clinic] Youni Body for nutrition lab testing to find out what you should or shouldn’t eat for your body type. From there, [our onsite cafe] Youni can help to tailor-make your meal plans. You can also give your results to a PT, who can build programmes according to your body type. The goal is to find everything you need for a healthy lifestyle under one roof.”
Sports and fitness was very much always a part of Cheuk’s life, thanks to his early rugby career. It brought him to Argentina in 2001 for the Rugby World Cup Sevens while he was still doing his A-Levels, despite only starting to train for the sport at age 16. Cheuk then captained the sevens team at the Asian Games and was vice captain at the 2007 Hong Kong Sevens. However, his sports career came to a halt after two severe ACL injuries and subsequent knee surgeries, which led to his retirement in 2009. In 2015, he was inducted into the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s hall of fame.
“Back then, rugby was everything, and I trained six days a week,” Cheuk says. “Since the injury, there was a big hole I had to fill; I had to find another passion just to keep myself busy.”
Cheuk feels fortunate that despite his injuries forcing him to retire from a sport he lived and breathed, it opened the doors to his current world of entrepreneurship. “Psychologically it was a big impact, and I was feeling down for a couple of months. I had a couple friends back in town from L.A. and I asked them, ‘are there any hot businesses in L.A. right now that we should bring to Hong Kong?’ The first thing they said was frozen yogurt. Within three months, we set up the first ever frozen yogurt shop in Hong Kong — Yogo — and it was my first business as an entrepreneur. This was about nine years ago. I was still working full-time in finance.” From there, Cheuk dove into the world of F&B, going on to open restaurants such as Ramen Jo and NOM — Not Only Meatballs, as well as Slices Pizzeria in Causeway Bay.
“It was around then when I also started doing Thai boxing. I grew in love with the sport. I was never going to fight competitively, but I loved the training, I loved the intensity, the discipline. Eventually, that gave me the idea to run my own Muay Thai place.” Cheuk set up Warrior Muay Thai five years ago, which now has two locations, one of which shares its space with Coastal Fitness CrossFit gym, founded by fellow former Hong Kong rugby players Ed and Ant Haynes.
“Warrior Academy in Sai Ying Pun was all my passions coming together as one. It had weights, strength training, personal training, Thai boxing,” says Cheuk. “The great thing is that I managed to build a healthy café within that studio. What we really noticed was that people were asking us what they should eat before or after training. But once they left the studio and went back to their own lifestyles, I was never a part of helping with their food intake. The great thing about Warrior Academy was that there was a kitchen and chefs on the spot who would cook healthy, affordable and tasty meals.”
“That’s where the whole Goji Studios concept came about: a combination of what I learned in my other F&B businesses and in my Thai boxing gym,” says Cheuk.
Despite being so busy building a growing wellness empire in Hong Kong — with plans to expand to the mainland in 3-5 years — Cheuk still emphasises that a healthy lifestyle is key. He shares with us a few words of wisdom below.
My fitness philosophy is… that you’ve got to find stuff you really enjoy doing. There’s nothing worse than trying to push yourself to do something you don’t enjoy, because eventually you’ll run out of motivation. It’s important to set yourself goals, because otherwise you won’t strive to improve. Lastly, you should integrate health and fitness into your lifestyle. If I don’t train or move, I feel like something is missing. On that note, I think rugby and sports has always been in me — if you look at the way I run business, and how I set up Goji, a big part is that discipline that was instilled in me since I was young.
The key to staying motivated… is to set goals. When I look back at my career, and how I played rugby for Hong Kong for over ten years, I actually feel very privileged that I never got injured up to that point. Yes, you will have a setback, but you’ve got to set yourself new targets. You’ve got to have goals in life, because if you don’t, you won’t know what to look forward to. I say the same to my kids as well. You’ve got to find things you’re passionate about. That passion is what makes me wake up and look forward to going to work.
I think it’s also important to find someone who’s at a similar level and has similar goals as you. There are days when you feel like you can’t be bothered to train. It’s important to have a friend to say to you, ‘look, see you at the gym — just do it.’ Especially if you’ve had a long day and you’re mentally drained. Having that training buddy to push you, to have friendly competition, to motivate you, is vital.
A day in my life starts with… my two lovely kids jumping on top of me — even before my eyes are open. They’re my alarm clocks, and they wake me up pretty early. I usually get to the family table and have a big gulp of hot lemon water. That’s how I start my day. You’ve gone through a whole night of not drinking water, you’re dehydrated, and there’s no better way to warm your system up.
For power food… I’ll pack snacks with me during the day, and as I go into work, do my emails, my meetings and such, I’ll snack on nuts and apricots.
I believe in eating… a high protein, high fibre, low carb diet. I’m quite picky with my food and my intake, because how I eat affects how I focus during the day. For me, I’m a little bit boring — if I like something, I can eat that for months on end. For breakfast, that’d be avocado, toast, eggs, a smoothie. Depending on where work takes me, I’ll have a light lunch. It’s tough to keep it high protein and fibre and low carb in Hong Kong, especially because my head office is in Kwun Tong — an area with a load of cha chaan tengs. But even at a cha chaan teng — even with the huge portions, the salt and the oil — I try to hold back on all that. It doesn’t need to be unhealthy, and you can be smart about how you do it. I might get an omelette with prawns, and bok choy.
If not, I’ll have Thai food, because Thai can be very healthy. It’s usually just the sodium that goes into the sauce. I’ll normally get the lettuce wraps with less sauce, non-spicy. Then I’ll probably get some satay sticks on the side.
In the afternoon, I might have a smoothie or protein shake, and I’ll have dinner at home. Dinner is usually quite light for me, because after you eat at night, you’re usually not very active either since you’re at home. My wife is almost a vegetarian — no white or red meat — so it balances me out a bit, since my diet is high in protein already. I think the older I’ve gotten, I appreciate seafood and fish a lot more. It’s just easier for me to digest, whereas red meat takes a little longer.
For cheat day… don’t get me wrong, I love a good steak on the weekend, but I try to do less of it now. There are days when you just want to have a pizza, and yes, I love my wines. But discipline is a key word — having the discipline to train every day, to keep drinking that hot lemon water every morning… I don’t want to over-indulge, but it’s important that you reward yourself. You work hard because you want to enjoy these small things.
My favourite exercises include… weight lifting, but I do enjoy my boxing. It’s a full body workout, you get to sweat, it’s hard discipline. I don’t train in the morning because work starts early and the kids keep me busy. Before I took on this role, I was training five days a week. It’s been tougher now with my time, but I try to get at least four days in.
These days I try to change up my training — I do some outdoor running with the Aaptiv app — It’s a great app for people who just want to be told what to do but also challenged, and something I eventually want to create at Goji. Instead of just going on the treadmill, I could create this kind of app with personal training tracks — that’s my goal. Other than that, I play football every Thursday at KGV — it’s something I look forward to a lot. What I miss most about rugby is that team bond and spirit.
When I’m not teaching or working out… it’s all meetings, meetings, meetings. Otherwise, it’s all kids and family time. I like to take them outdoors, and swim at the beach. We don’t get enough outdoor time in Hong Kong. When I can, I’ll drive them to Shek O or Sai Kung just to enjoy that space.
My workout playlist includes… I don’t have a specific playlist, but I like my Jay-Z, Tupac, and I like my Usher too. I don’t mind the occasional Justin Bieber sometimes but I am into the more old school stuff.
Head to one of seven Goji Studios across Hong Kong to find out about the programmes on offer. For those looking to train for the upcoming Spartan Race Hong Kong on 4 November, Goji has also created a specific 6-week training programme including 18 total sessions between 27 September-4 November.