If you’re into intense workouts that make you feel like you’re about to pass out, the name URSUS will surely ring a bell. Known as one of the most hardcore gyms in Hong Kong, URSUS is also the only gym that combines strength and conditioning, Muay Thai/boxing, Strongman, Olympic Weightlifting—and their signature class “Bear Camp” is one of the most challenging classes in town.
On the heels of the opening of their second gym in Fortress Hill (their first being in Sai Ying Pun), owners of URSUS Santina Philips (aka BAM) and Gary Manwaring tell us how URSUS came to be, what time they wake up and how it feels to own two gyms in Hong Kong.
What were you doing before URSUS?
Bam: I came to Hong Kong straight out of university where I studied Russian and Politics, but sports and exercise had always been my passion. In Hong Kong I decided to start down a new path—I studied and took courses and gained experience working in different gyms but I always had the dream of owning one myself. Gary and I met and started working together—we just clicked and I knew from there that we’d make a good partnership!
Where did the name come from?
Gary: The first classes that we hosted on Lamma Island were called “Bear Camp”, so we thought URSUS, the Latin name for bear, would be a good name for our gym.
Where did the idea of combining Muay Thai/boxing, Strongman and Olympic Weightlifting come from?
Bam: Gary used to own a Muay Thai/boxing gym in Thailand for years and he moved to HK to continue to coach fighters. In our early days doing Bear Camp we would focus mostly on functional training—flipping tires, dragging heavy sleds, loading atlas stones etc.
We knew that the market was pretty saturated for gyms in HK and we truly wanted to find a niche, we didn’t know another gym that did Strongman, let alone offering it with a combination of boxing, strength and conditioning, HIIT, Olympic weightlifting and mobility—so we created URSUS and made it happen!
What does your typical day at URSUS look like?
Bam: I get to the gym (either the one in Sai Ying Pun or the one in Fortress Hill) at 5:30am. Classes are on at 6am-8am, then I usually have some PT clients. Afterward, I train myself as the morning is my favourite time of day to do so. I will then hang out, do my admin/managerial tasks, refuel and then teach the rest of my classes on my schedule and do some more PTs. The best thing about my job is that I get to be around people I like all day, both colleagues and clients—it’s a very sociable and happy place to be day in day out!
How does URSUS create a fitness community?
Bam: I like to believe that at URSUS we have created a place for people to come and enjoy training, where they work hard but also make friends and have fun. I personally love it when I see the regulars becoming friends and socialising outside the gym—myself included. Most of my closest friends were made at URSUS.
We often incorporate partner or team workouts into our classes, these are usually very challenging and the buzz in the gym when the clients work together and encourage each other to push it is amazing!
Over the years, URSUS has hosted countless competitions and fight nights as we also believe a bit of friendly competition is great for training motivation and sense of achievement. We love to collaborate with other gyms and invite outsiders to sign up to our contests.
Finally, the coaches at URSUS are all super close, we train together a lot and I think that really helps people to bond.
Biggest learnings so far running two studios in Hong Kong?
Gary: It’s tough at the top! Hong Kong is a fast-paced city, so you need to stay on top, work hard, work fast to move forward. I have a great team of trainers and a great business partner, without this, it would be impossible. I’m grateful to have great people around me to make building URSUS easier.
Any advice for someone considering to own a gym?
Bam: 1. Find a good partner! Gary and I are lucky that we get along so well, he’s like my big brother.
2. Be patient and back yourself, sometimes things get hard but you have to be tough and stick it out.
3. Be a morning person! If you’re not, you are screwed.
(Gary: If you like to wake up at 4:45am and get home at 9pm seven days a week, go for it!)
4. Surround yourself with a good team, owning and managing a business means you need a good support system.
What’s next for URSUS?
Bam: I’ve tried to step away from thinking too far into the future, 5-year plans and that sort of thing. For now, I’m focusing on building my brand, enjoying life and training hard. We shall have to see what happens for URSUS…
Gary: I was taught by my father that in life, whatever you do you start at the bottom step of a ladder. Four years into URSUS I’m a quarter of the way up that ladder, and I expect to reach the top in the next five years.
For more info, visit www.ursusfitness.com