Thursday, June 13, 2024

What It’s Like to Be Asian in Fitness Today

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THEY ARE MARTIAL artists. They are numbers-crunchers. And they are always Jeremy Lin and Bruce Lee. Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in fitness and sport know these stereotypes, and teeter between embracing them and shattering them.

To be Asian-American in fitness also remains rare: One 2022 study found that Asian-Americans are one of the least physically active racial groups in the nation, and that they have a high prevalence for metabolic syndrome (a cocktail of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and other issues that skyrocket your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke). Strength and muscle are not inherently associated with being Asian, says Bart Kwan, a powerlifter and fitness entrepreneur. “Asians were thought of as small and weak,” says Kwan, who is of Chinese/Taiwanese descent. “I remember when I first came into the industry, everyone accused me of steroids because no one saw Asians my size before.”

But these trends are shifting, because, very quietly, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are battling to find their footing in both fitness and sport. Twelve years ago, there was Linsanity, opening the eyes of NBA fans, scouts, and players alike to the potential of Asian athletes. On top of that, there’s been an influx of Pacific Islander talent in the NFL, including Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and all-world Lions offensive tackle Penei Sewell. Abroad, Korea’s Son Heung-Min has emerged as a soccer star for the Tottenham Hotspurs. And then there’s Shohei Ohtani, MLB’s biggest star, and the rare Asian athlete who is the face of his sport.

All of this serves as backdrop for a new generation of AAPI fitness influencers who are emerging on TikTok and Instagram – and finding unique ways to challenge and redefine the limits of Asian fitness and athleticism. This collection of profiles celebrates all that success, and it provides a roadmap for any Asian who dares to enter the world of fitness or sport.

There is Kwan, who’s grown himself into a mega-sized fitness brand, driving a fitness apparel company and a podcast while experiencing powerlifting and bodybuilding success. There is Hawaiian influencer Keoni Hudoba, who’s blocked out all noise and focused on creating “my own space” in fitness. There’s age-defying former pianist Xiaoning Smith, who, at 49, posts inspiring workouts and has taken a leadership role at rising boxing studio Mayweather Fit.

The Asian-American and Pacific Islander stereotypes may never disappear. But they will hold remarkable people back in fitness and sports no longer.

the phenom jeremy lin
the pattern breaker keoni hudoba
the actor rhys athayde
the up and comers claudette sariya and eric sung
the entrepreneur xiaoning smith
the og fitfluencer bart kwan

FROM TOP TO BOTTOM: Jim McIsaac, Getty Images; Adam Houston Photography; Matty Rhee; Dio Cholulo; Malike Sidibe; Herby Joseph; Courtesy Kwan; Leanne Mattern, MH Illustration

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