By Stephen Thompson
August 28, 2007

Here is the second and final part of Stephen’s article on personal trainers. To read the first part click the relevant link at the end of the article.

My third and only female personal trainer taught me one of the most important lessons: it is just as important, or even more important to rest, as it is to exercise. Up until I started training with her, I had subscribed to the rather macho philosophy that more exercise is better. We are all living in her shrinking Motion Ocean”, in which technology is eliminating our need and incentive to take exercise, causing and aggravating problems such as obesity and RSI and chronic pain. Pete Egoscue’s book “Chronic Pain” explains this concept well.

Before moving to Brazil, I had gradually been building exercise into my working routine, by cycling to work, and swimming in the lunch hour. I had gotten rid of my car, and used public transport or my bicycle to get around London.

The Pope once said that if God is Brazilian, then the Pope is a Carioca. Brazil is a wonderful place to get fit, and for physical activity, whether it is climbing, rafting, canoeing in the Amazon, floating down rivers in Bonito, horse riding, playing soccer on the beach or in doors, diving or swimming.

And there is probably no place that combines so many alternatives as the state of Rio, which has some of the highest mountains in Brazil, as well as the biggest urban parks, best preserved Atlantic rainforest and most beautiful waterfalls and beaches. Not to mention Brazil’s best Samba schools and biggest football stadium.

I had great fun in São Paulo, finally learning to play football after years of avoiding it in England. I learnt to chip the ball over the player before running around to pick it up behind, “fazer um chapeu”, in Portuguese, the ultimate in cheeky football or beautiful football as the Brazilians would say. I also enjoyed climbing up the Pedra do Bau dancing forro under the stars in Itaunas, Bahia, and canoeing in the Amazon at night, the yellow eyes of the crocodiles lit by our flash light. Both helped to get me fit in different ways. But I got more injuries playing football.

Eco-sports describes a whole new range of weekend tourism physical activity which has been developing in Brazil. Rapel, for example describes the adrenaline-stimulating sport where you lower yourself down waterfalls on a rope.

Many small towns in Brazil have built up a profitable tourism industry around these kinds of outdoor sports, such as Brotas, three hours drive from São Paulo, Bonito in Mato Grosso, or Lencois in Bahia.

Here in China, I get the impression that most people are too tired to try to work out. Once famous as the nation of bicycles, the governments have gradually reduced the bicycle lanes in order to make space for the increasing throng of privately owned cars. But there is no great expansion in the number of personal fitness academies visible on the streets of China. Many residential complexes have a small physical fitness facility, but these are often poorly equipped, badly starved and neglected. I have tried looking for personal trainers here, but I had been uninspired by both their customer service skills. Some seem to be technically competent, but are not customer friendly. Others seem bored and to lack even technical competence.

I am not an expert on working hours, and I know that many Brazilians also worked very hard, despite the tendency of government officials to take extended public holidays every month when a feriado occurs. But the Brazilian employment legislation still guarantees fixed working hours for those fortunate workers who have formal, registered employment. To check my theory that Chinese work far longer hours, I asked our reception/security person. He told me then he works seven days a week, 12 hours a day, and is always too tired to consider having a workout.

One day when Diego noticed that I was having trouble filling my days, he suggested that I should take a full time course in Physical Education at his old school, FMU. I applied and passed the entrance exam. The campus is in Liberdade, São Paulo’s “Oriental neighbourhood” where you can find some of the most authentic Chinese, Korean and Japanese restaurants in the city. The first week of term I went to enroll, but backed off when I saw students ragging the newbies, cutting holes in their hair, damaging their clothes with paint and scissors or simply drenching them with water.

The next week I went again, and noticed that all the male students had shaved heads. We sat in long rows, over 50 in a class. One teacher addressed us as “children”. After a few more visits, I found out that I would have to wear a uniform. But by then I had made friends with some of the students many of whom I liked. Class ended at 11am after a lot of time wasted with the attendance register, and afterwards many of the students went on to their jobs. There was also an afternoon school and a night school, which meant a lot of flexibility for students who needed to work.

The teachers varied from the enlightened to the atrocious. One explained to us that during the military dictatorship, Physical Education had been made compulsory, while Philosophy had been banned. Others taught as though the military dictatorship had never ended. An huge amount of time was reserved for rote learning. After a month, I dropped out. I regret it; had I stayed I would have a new profession by now.

If you have chronic pain, or are a couch potato and simply want to get fit, and want a complete change of lifestyle, try Brazil. The quality of Brazilian Personal Trainers is the highest I have encountered in the world. They genuinely know their stuff, have great bodies to prove it, and are usually friendly. There are lots of good physiotherapists too who have experience with sports injuries. You may find you get fitter a lot in Brazil, where the weather, culture and lifestyle encourages a healthy preoccupation with physical fitness. And there will be no shortage of healthy fruit to keep your vitamins up and your cholesterol down. They say that Brazil is also very good for plastic surgery too, but I can’t afford it, so I will just have to stay ugly. That said, I urgently need to start getting fit again. Nearly 2 years in China have done my health no good at all. The Chinese work style of long hours, punctuated by bouts of heavy drinking, gluttony, Karaoke and trips to the local/sauna/bathhouse/massage parlour/casino is unhealthy.

So from November, I’m going to start working for a Brazilian fitness company called Infinitum, whose mission is to bring Brazilian style physical fitness to China. We will be offering the services of personal trainers and nutritionists, working the local authorities to promote sports and health education, and organising corporate sponsored running events.

Stephen Thompson lived in Brazil from 2001 to 2005. He is married to a Brazilian and has a daughter. He works for Xpress Holdings, a Singaporean printing group, as their Shenzhen Marketing Manager.

To read previous articles by Stephen click the links below:

Brazil: Physical Fitness and Personal Training in São Paulo Part 1
Brazil: What’s in a Name?
Brazil: Go East, Young Man
Brazil: This Is The Life I’ve Always Wanted
Brazil: Stolen Computer
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 2
My First Business Failure in Brazil Part 1
Getting your Brazilian Steak Fix in China
Brazil: Birth and Dying
Imaginary Voyages to Brazil
Brazil: Probably the Best Country in the World to Live In
Great Brazilian Inventions: The Kilo Restaurant
Brazil: Things you wanted to know… and will never know!
Brazil: Expensive, Trendy, and Extremely Beautiful
Brazil: Not Really British Enough
Package Holidays to Brazil are Back On Track
Brazil: Reverse Culture Shock
Brazil: The Legal System
Brazil: Saying Goodbye to a Bilingual Kid
How to get Brazilian Citizenship
Getting Work in Brazil
Acquiring and Running a Small Business in Brazil
Brazil: To Free Or Not To Free
Brazil: Trail Biking in Chapada Diamantinha
Brazil: So Near, but So Far Apart
How to Get Into University in Brazil
The Pleasure of Driving a Car in Brazil
Brazil: The Bairro of Flamengo in Ro de Janeiro
Brazil: The Information Technology Law
Managing a Brazilian bank account
Brazil’s Middle Class Ruled By Political Apathy

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