Just a few years ago, if you wanted to keep fit in Abu Dhabi, you had one of two options. Either join an ageing, backstreet muscle gym, where the ultra-macho ambience meant women – and a fair few men – would dare not tread. Or head to hotel health clubs where lengthy waiting lists and exorbitant costs deterred many from joining.
Flash forward and getting fit is easier than ever. For as well as small boutique gyms such as Beyond Health Club in Khalifa A, Fit Studio in Al Mamoura and Haddins in Zayed Sports City, larger international firms are moving in.
Fitness First has expanded in the city with three new premises at Dalma, Abu Dhabi and Marina malls, while the US chain Gold’s Gym has also made forays in the capital at Mazyad and Al Wahda malls.
These places are packed with the latest sports equipment, are women-friendly (often with separate, ladies-only facilities) and are also much cheaper than their hotel-based rivals, with some charging as little as Dh30 per day.
Ahmed Al Reqabi, an Emirati from Abu Dhabi, joined Fitness First at Dalma Mall last July.
“Some of these old gyms were just concerned about building muscle. They weren’t that bothered about helping you to keep fit,” says the 32-year-old government worker. “At the gym I used to go to, it was all about lifting heavy weights but there was no one there to teach you the right techniques. So people would end up getting injured. I used to join up, go for a couple of months and then stop because I was bored.”
Since signing up for Fitness First, Al Reqabi has lost 10 kilograms. “Not only is it cheaper to join, but the service you get is better, too. If you are doing something wrong, [the instructors] will come over and correct you.”
Ellen Rivera, a marketing executive who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 10 years, felt her fitness regime used to suffer because of the high membership charges.
“All the gyms were too expensive to join, so we used to go for walks or bike rides on the Corniche instead,” recalls the 36-year-old Filipino-American, who has joined Gold’s Gym in Al Wahda Mall. “But not in summer when it was too hot. The gyms are still quite expensive, but at least the costs are going down.”
Mark Botha, Fitness First’s operating and marketing manager for the Middle East, says plans are afoot to open more in coming months.
“I can’t reveal where yet because negotiations are still continuing, but Abu Dhabi is one of our focus markets and we do hope to open more clubs here in different parts of the city.”
The city, and indeed all of the UAE, is considered a relatively untapped fitness market, says Botha.
He cites recent statistics from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association that indicated that only two per cent of the population were members of a health club or gym. This compares to 11 per cent in the UK and 13 per cent in both the US and Australia.
“People in Abu Dhabi were crying out for an international brand of gyms like ours,” claims Botha. The options could soon expand for consumers, too, as Botha believes other global fitness companies are plotting their entry into the Middle East.
“I have heard rumblings that other big-name health clubs are eyeing up the UAE as somewhere to expand. It’s a growth market so they see it as an attractive proposition.”
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