What gyms in the UAE are doing to get you fit?

Running a modern gym is a balance between client experience, equipment and technology

The UAE population’s increasing awareness of fitness has had a knock-on effect, with gyms of various sizes and specialities mushrooming across the country. From boutique boxing gyms to cycling studios, calisthenics centres and sprawling warehouse-style chains, residents are spoilt for choice when it comes to picking their method and place for getting into shape.

Running a modern gym is a balance between client experience, equipment and technology

The UAE population’s increasing awareness of fitness has had a knock-on effect, with gyms of various sizes and specialities mushrooming across the country. From boutique boxing gyms to cycling studios, calisthenics centres and sprawling warehouse-style chains, residents are spoilt for choice when it comes to picking their method and place for getting into shape.

For Patrick Hegarty, who owns Vogue Fitness, there are three primary factors behind the rise in fitness interest over the past five years: The introduction of compulsory national service for Emirati men, initiatives propelled by the country’s leadership, and education.

“The [national service] has helped inspire Emiratis adopting fitness into their lifestyle earlier in life, and the discipline of the military has provided a lot of the Emirati population with a very positive attitude toward maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.”

– Patrick Hegarty, Director, Vogue Fitness

“The [national service] has helped inspire Emiratis adopting fitness into their lifestyle earlier in life, and the discipline of the military has provided a lot of the Emirati population with a very positive attitude toward maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.” The country’s leaders are also playing a part. “For example, Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Sports Council, at the Gov Games.” Hegarty also points to the growing culture of education and understanding of health and fitness in the UAE, where people are now able to make better choices to lead a higher quality of life.

“Healthy people cost much less to insure, and employers and insurers have finally realised that they can trim insurance costs by incentivising healthy lifestyles.”

– Naresh Moolchandani, COO of Fitness 360

Naresh Moolchandani, COO of Fitness 360, cites another initiative spearheaded by Shaikh Hamdan — last year’s 30×30 Dubai Fitness Challenge, which challenged UAE residents to get at least 30 minutes’ exercise for 30 consecutive days. He also cites health insurance costs as a driver for people aiming to get fitter. “Healthy people cost much less to insure, and employers and insurers have finally realised that they can trim insurance costs by incentivising healthy lifestyles.”

Additionally, advances in wearable consumer technology have made it easier for us to track the amount of effort we put out, its impact on our body and long-term data — all in real time.

Tech muscles in

“Data that was previously only available to professional athletes is now accessible to anyone via the click of a button on their wrist or in their hand.

– Loren Holland and Frank Afeaki, co-founders of GymNation

Loren Holland and Frank Afeaki, co-founders of GymNation, believe technology has fundamentally changed the way people exercise, with members at their two gyms, which operate 24/7, enjoying access to more data on their own bodies and physical activity than ever before. “Data that was previously only available to professional athletes is now accessible to anyone via the click of a button on their wrist or in their hand. We have just entered into a partnership with Fitbit and are witnessing the demand for wearable tech first-hand. This is a huge plus as now members will be able to see their progress in numbers and become more selective on gyms, workouts, classes or equipment.”Moolchandani says smartphones and wearable trackers have changed the way we exercise through three major factors: Personalisation, awareness and interaction. “The ability for people to see how many steps they are taking in a day, how many calories they burn, what their heart rate is, or what their blood pressure is, is making them much more in tune with how their body works and how they can improve their health. It’s one of the major reasons for human awareness and fitness in the 21st century.”

Hegarty, though, says data isn’t necessarily a game-changer. “People can fall into a trap of thinking the technology will help get them fit. While this might be temporarily true by providing short-term motivation, if you haven’t set this as a part of a broader and sustainable fitness lifestyle, the device will only end up sitting expensively on the shelf.

“Vogue Fitness has taken a simplistic and sustainable approach to wearable technology. Across all of our fitness centres, you only need a single app to book your class, view the schedule, see the workout and automatically get your biometric results after each class.”

Social stakes

Gyms in the UAE used to promote themselves via print ads, radio spots, word of mouth and referral schemes. Social media — and Instagram, in particular — have fundamentally changed the gym promo game. “When owning a health club, fitness studio, or personal training business, client attraction and retention becomes the highest priority,” explains Moolchandani. “There are hundreds of ways to do this, from referral campaigns to advertising. But social media is a particularly effective channel that has two huge advantages over traditional marketing: it’s cost-efficient and easy to measure.”

For Patrick Hegarty, who owns Vogue Fitness, there are three primary factors behind the rise in fitness interest over the past five years: The introduction of compulsory national service for Emirati men, initiatives propelled by the country’s leadership, and education.

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