Over the last year life as we know it has changed. The UAE, like many other countries, more or less shut down in efforts to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was a blow for many industries, including health and fitness, as gyms, boutique centers and yoga studios closed their doors and home workouts became the norm.
At the time, some viewed the damage as irreparable. However it seems that the sector has, or is in the process, of bouncing back, with fitness facilities opening, as well as innovative new workouts coming to the fore.
It has become very clear that fitness is about more than just exercise, it’s a lifestyle, bringing together communities of like-minded individuals in a social hub. And those in the industry would argue that the continuing makes the focus on health and wellness more important now than ever.
Luxe new gym Raise Fitness & Wellness, for example, is on track to open in April in Dubai’s Jumeirah Islands. The gym is designed in neutral colour tones with a non-intimidating fitness area. With a wellness bar serving healthy snacks and juices, it is much more than just a gym.
“With Raise, we are excited to be providing new fitness and wellness experiences in line with people’s evolving needs and aspirations,” says Christophe Hobeika, Commercial Director of the Living Division at Sunset Hospitality Group. “Covid-19 has strengthened the desire to stay fit and healthy and we have completely redesigned Raise Jumeirah Islands keeping in mind current health and safety measures.”
The Els Club is another indicator of the new thinking. The popular golf club in Dubai Sports City has expanded, with a fancy new clubhouse boasting a state-of the art gym, yoga and spin studio and outdoor area. Additionally, there are two pools and a restaurant, with memberships open to both golfers and non-golfers.
Abbie Macey, a personal trainer and fitness operations manager for The Clubhouse, said it’s important for people to get in-person instruction , even if they fully took to home workouts during the first lockdown and are continuing them now.
“Training from home may be convenient, but there is also an element of safety and full understanding missing for those who do not have much experience of working out,” she explains. “This demographic greatly benefits from the one-to-one services of a personal trainer, who not only educates and guides, but ensures injury prevention and beneficial programming for their clients.”
Another new facility is the Barre Effect studio in Jumeirah, which offers tough fitness movement classes inspired by ballet, yoga and pilates.
“Relocating from NYC just over seven years ago, it has been so rewarding to see the evolution of boutique fitness in Dubai, particularly for women,” says founder Nora Hameidani.
Aside from the brand new fitness centres, a number of established fitness brands are expanding and opening facilities in new locations. Cult fitness movement F45 has just opened a venue in Jumeirah, with a second one to follow soon in Springs Souk.
“F45 have done an amazing job to keep members safe,” says Sian Abraham, an F45 devotee. “They sanitize everything and keep their F45 members contained in a safe space with their own equipment. Although F45 users are usually used to moving around different stations, they’ve done such a good job to keep the atmosphere and the F45 community together.”
Gym Nation is showing no signs of slowing down either, having just opened its sixth branch in Mirdiff, next door to Arabian Centre.
“Since reopening our existing gyms following the 2020 lockdown and the opening of the new gyms between then and now, we’ve seen a massive rush from UAE residents eager to get back into fitness and attendance and membership are now well above pre-Covid levels,” explains Loren Holland, CEO.
However, a number of popular gyms and yoga studios did not survive the economic hit from Covid-19 in 2020. They include the spin studio Flywheel, Indian fitness chain Cure.fit and Crossfit Goldbox in Al Quoz. Tribefit also had to close, relaying the bad news on Facebook: “Unfortunately, we find ourselves in very difficult times due to the unexpected and extraordinary circumstances posed by Covid-19, the global pandemic.”
Over in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, Strike is a brand new fitness facility that is seeing some serious success. Located next to Abu Dhabi’s most popular public beach, Al Bahar on the Corniche, visitors can benefit from circuit training, boxing, calisthenics, yoga and much more.
Owner Mustafa Adnan opened the new fitness venue post-lockdown.
“In the last quarter of 2020 we noticed that people were stepping away from traditional studios and gyms and going outdoors for reasons of hygiene and the Covid-19 restrictions,” he said. “We started with one class outdoors every weekend, ending up today with up to 100 group classes per week. We plan to grow Strike indoors and outdoors in the future.”
The outdoor venue OCR Park at Al Hudayriat Island joins another new Abu Dhabi indoor gym, Desert Shield Fitness, in offering a workout based on the popular obstacle course trend as well as conventional workouts. The facility at Abu Dhabi ports is the first obstacle course racing gym in the UAE and it’s not just for those who are training for a Spartan Race or Desert Warrior Challenge. The use of foundational bodyweight movements and periodized training offer a serious workout.
One thing the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted is the need for people to stay fit and healthy, says Emirati resident Abdulla Alblooshi, who started Desert Shield as a community group back in 2016.
“It has taught us that now is the time to invest in your health and wellness, as well as the people around you and the community overall,” he adds. “It’s not about me or you, it’s about us. And that’s why we opened.”