Health & Fitness


The other week I had the great opportunity to meet the amazing Heather Thomas Shalabi of Flex Studio! Not only did I get to try their new Xtend Barre class, but I also got to ask her a few curious questions of mine. In addition to sharing with us her inspirations and fitness advice, she even gave us a little hint about what's in store for Flex Studio in the future!



What first inspired you to start Flex in Hong Kong?

When I first moved to Hong Kong in 2001, I became a Pilates devotee, and soon after the birth of my daughter in 2002, I completed my instructor certification.  After freelancing around town for about a year at IsoFit, the Aberdeen Marina Club, and in my own home, I really wanted to open a studio on Hong Kong’s south side.  In fact, when I moved to South Bay in 2003, I was amazed there was no stand-alone, high caliber yoga or Pilates studio on that side of the island.  It seemed like such an obvious place to have one!  After I built up my client base to the point where I felt confident I could sustain a studio, I opened the first Flex in Stanley back in 2005.

How did you first discover Xtend Barre™ and what made you want to bring it to Flex?

I knew I wanted to bring a barre-based class to Flex for over a year before we launched Xtend.  I’d known about the barre class craze in the States and London for a while, and I’d seen its effectiveness at sculpting muscles.  I began to research various licensed methods to decide which one to bring to Flex. I reviewed a number of factors, including the caliber of instructor training and required instructor qualifications, how well organized their marketing programs were, professional development opportunities to progress the work, and understanding of the international market.  Xtend Barre™ was very impressive, as it’s an extremely well organized company, with a rigorous and detailed training program for new instructors.  All Xtend Barre™ instructors must be certified Pilates instructors, which played a major role in my decision.  The company also has a strong image in the international community, and they were extremely supportive of Flex during the licensing process.

Xtend Barre™ is really effective at targeting women’s “difficult” areas, including back of the arms, abs, glutes and thighs.  Exercises are small, concentrated movements designed to chisel the muscles in all the right places.  Even women with no dance background easily pick up on the exercises and see benefits after a few sessions.

I’m sure you get asked all the time, but what is your secret to maintaining a fit and healthy body?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula; my boring but very honest answer is discipline!  There are no shortcuts when it comes to maintaining a fit and strong body – every day counts.  I really endeavor to have at least 1-2 hours of exercise, 5-6 days per week.  On the days I exercise more intensively, I eat more, especially protein-based meals; if I don’t exercise much or at all, I try to eat less.  Input and output must be balanced, it’s that simple.   With regard to the types of exercise I practice, I try to vary my programme from day to day: I regularly practice yoga, Pilates and barre in addition to running.  I also love TRX©.  It’s critical to keep muscles stimulated and challenged in unpredictable movement patterns, and pushed in new ways.  If you perform the same routine every day, the muscles will soon plateau in their strength-building.  Taking time to lengthen muscles through active stretching techniques is also extremely important in addition to strength-building drills.  And perhaps most obviously, I try not to be lazy about every day activities – I take the stairs rather than the lift whenever feasible; walk briskly when I run errands; I never remain sitting after eating a meal, particularly at lunch-time.  Collectively, little changes in habits make a big difference.

Describe your perfect weekend in Hong Kong.

I can go two ways.  One the one hand, I am a complete outdoor gal, and love taking advantage of the sand, sea and trails Hong Kong has to offer. I really enjoy taking the kids biking along the promenade between Repulse Bay and Deep Water Bay– I run, they bike, back and forth, back and forth.  I love going for long hikes on Sunday followed by an early, leisurely dinner al fresco.  I also take advantage of HK’s beaches with the kids, and we try to hit different ones on a regular basis.  My boys just got into surfing, so Big Wave Bay is quite appealing!

On the other hand, I do love a good spa weekend, holed up in one of Hong Kong’s amazing hotels!  Periodically, my husband and I treat ourselves to a “weekend away” and check-into a 5-star for a day and night of absolute pampering, r&r and no Blackberry.  We’ve found this really recharges our batteries, and leaves us feeling refreshed as if we’d actually been away someplace out of Hong Kong!

What future plans do you have for Flex?

I am always hatching plans for the studio – new programs, instructors, products for retail, cross promotions, and ways to more effectively reach out to the community.  Right now I am working on bringing a very exciting new program to Hong Kong, that people will absolutely love – watch this space!  I am also recruiting several new instructors from overseas, who are exceptionally talented and will bring a breadth of experience to our team.  We are also gearing up to do more work with tweens and teens, as we feel strongly that the programs we offer really benefit these age groups.  Taking a longer view, I am toying with the idea of “Flex Express” someplace closer to Central, but no concrete plans are in the works just yet.

About Flex Studio

The new Flex Studo - Regency Centre location boasts a Pilates mat/yoga studio, a dedicated Allegro© studio, a large Pilates apparatus private training studio, TRX© suspension training, circuit and personal training, FlexKids and teen yoga and fitness conditioning classes, pre and post-natal classes, Zumba© and ViPR™ Conditioning, and now Xtend Barre©. Myotherapy and Physical Therapy sessions with MyoActive Clinic and nail services can be arranged on site. The beautiful TONIC sports and leisure wear, JadeYoga Mats and other tempting buys are also sold in the retail area, while a coffee bar, waiting area and full service showers and lockers ensure comfort and relaxation for all ages.

Address: 1/F Regency Centre (Phase II), 43 Wong Chuk Hang Rd., Wong Chuk Hang, Aberdeen

Please visit Flex’s website at: www.flexhk.com for complete details about Flex Studio.