S. African reveals story behind passion for working out

Writer: Kang Wei  |  Editor: Zhang Chanwen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2023-05-29

For over two decades, Josh Phillips has been working out for two to three hours a day, mostly at a gym, to stay fit and healthy. When people ask him how he manages to keep up such a routine for so long, he simply says: "That's what I'm used to."

"Not only my body is adapted to that, my mind too," the South African explained.

Josh Phillips poses for a photo on his way to working out in a gym in Futian District.

Phillips has been "doing sports" since he was about 6 years old and represented South Africa in swimming. By the age of 10, he was already training two to four hours a day, with his mom waking up at 4:30 a.m. every day to take him to the pool before school. At 16, he started incorporating weight and strength training into his regimen "to supplement swimming."

The rigorous athletic training obviously did have some negative effects, making him feel like he'd missed out on his teenage years. So, when the time came for him to think about going to university in Australia or the U.S. and apply for a scholarship as a student-athlete, he told his parents: "I'm done. I can't do this anymore." His parents were nice enough to say, "OK. It's up to you."

"Sometimes, I'm grateful that my parents let me decide. Other times, I think, 'you shouldn't have let me decide. I was only 18. You should push me. You should make me do it,'" Phillips said with a smile. 

After he stopped swimming when he was 18, Phillips said he didn't get into the swimming pool for about five or six years. "I didn't even want to be anywhere near a swimming pool," he said.

Phillips works out in the gym.

However, he stuck to his habit of training in the gym, and he is content with the fact that he is training for "no reward, no glory and no competitions."

The South African admitted that there are days when he wakes up and doesn't want to train, but "I just go, because I don't let that feeling overcome me and take away what I know would be a great feeling later.

"Whatever sport you pick up, I guarantee you are not going to always like it and you are not going to always want to do it. There has to be some kind of pain or sacrifice upfront. When you finish doing it that day, you'll feel good," he added.

Phillips majored in finance in college. He got a job offer from a Shenzhen language training institution during his sophomore year, and he grabbed the opportunity without hesitation.

He said, "Things would be so predictable if I stayed in South Africa. I didn't want that kind of life. I wanted to walk through some darkness in life, never knowing what was coming next, and everything guided me toward China.”

Phillips shares his healthy diet.

Phillips finished his college degree while teaching English in Shenzhen.

In 2011, he opened a gym in Futian District with two of his friends. Having the vision to make the gym a huge nationwide franchise, they implemented a standardized approach from the gym's design to the training of coaches and salespeople. After one of the original investors left for Shanghai, they brought in a "local guy" to help take the business to the next level.

This decision proved to be fateful, as Phillips claimed that the local guy got his friend to sign documents that "no reasonable person would agree to" and gave the court the wrong address so that his friend "never knew there was a court case." The dispute accumulated interest at a rate of approximately 4% per month in three years' time until his friend was going to travel. 

Phillips in action in a gym.

Instead of pursuing a lengthy legal battle, Phillips and his friend opted to resolve the issue by paying about 500,000 yuan (US$74,500) within 15 months to the guy who "stole the money" from them.

"That's a very real life lesson, but it is also a gift. I have been given a challenge that I otherwise wouldn't have chosen. I became a stronger person thanks to this incident," Phillips said.

Phillips is currently working as a language management representative and consultant for a Hong Kong agency. His main responsibility is to evaluate teachers from around the world, which exposes him to a diverse range of teaching styles. "It feels great knowing that I want to do education and teaching. It is something that I am happy doing until I am 70 or 80."