Getting creative to help people find their groove in sport and exercise

Published 14 December 2022
Max Hopf’s working life is about as busy as it gets, with early starts, late finishes, and working all over the Manawatū with people of all ages. Staying fit helps him find a balance, and he’s keen to share the benefits of physical activity through his wide-ranging mahi.

Originally from Germany, Max (pictured above) came to New Zealand when he was 18. He set up his personal training business five years ago, and is based at Feilding gym The Rec Room, where he works with clients and leads group sessions.

As a kid in soccer-mad Germany, he became a gymgoer aged 14 so that he could get fitter and faster in his position as a goalie. That decision still influences how he works as a personal trainer today.

“I wanted, personally, to get into better shape and it really helped me. I kept at it because I had this fire in my belly [for my sport].

“I thought, if I can do this, other people can do it. Some people might take a little bit longer to find a sport or a type of physical activity that they can identify with, so it’s about trying to find that with them. And it’s about how you communicate the benefits of that activity, so that they feel like they are spending their time wisely [by staying active].”

Maxing out the hours in the day

Like many personal trainers, Max was doing most of his client sessions before or after work hours, which left him with a clear schedule in the middle of the day. Not one to sit around, he decided to launch an innovative school sport and fitness programme called Footsteps, which combines technology with PE sessions.

For the past few years he has been taking his programme to 40 schools across the Manawatū, with support from the Sport NZ Tū Manawa fund.

“I take about 20 to 30 kids at a time and basically I am their PE teacher for the hour,” Max says. “But I include technology – we use phones and iPads – to get them interested.

“There is such a lack of participation happening in schools in PE, but there is this love of technology amongst kids and it is such a big part of their adolescent lives. So why not showcase how much technology is used in professional sports, and link the two together?”

As well as researching, designing and delivering the programme himself, Max is also upskilling the schools that he works with so that they can take the same approach.

“I’m sharing with teachers what they can do with the resources they have available. You don’t need to buy $5,000 worth of equipment. Every school has iPads, so how can you repurpose those and include them in physical education, to make PE a little bit more exciting for kids?”

Education for the educator

When he’s not working on Footsteps, or at The Rec Room with his clients, Max is completing the Te Mahi Ako Level 5 Programme Management certificate.

After going through the pandemic, he felt motivated to keep upskilling and stay on top of current knowledge in his field, so that he was ready to handle whatever got thrown his way.

“Covid was a blessing and a curse, because of course it gave us all some downtime, which has been good for assessing and reviewing priorities.

“But it also created for me this sense of being unsure about the future; a sense of urgency to improve and develop. Because you never know – tomorrow could be the day when your industry is affected by something like Covid again, and you need to be set up.”

Max’s life is extremely busy, but he has great support from his “work family” at The Rec Room, as well as his partner Jorja and her family, and last but not least his dog Bentley, who he credits with making sure he gets out for a walk every day.

He is enjoying his Te Mahi Ako programme and says it’s empowering to be able to pick up new things and put them straight into practice.

“As a personal trainer, part of your job is to let a client know where they went wrong, but then get them to translate that into a new movement. I feel like that’s how the brain works best – when you get to apply the things that you’re learning right away.”


Media contact: Esther McLaren | | 021 195 5127

Skills Active Aotearoa Group is a not-for-profit organisation, 50% owned by Māori shareholders, supporting capability development in te ahumahi ā-rēhia: the active recreation, leisure, entertainment and events sectors.

Te Mahi Ako is part of the Skills Active group, and supports individuals to develop themselves through real-life learning within businesses, iwi and communities.