Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 February 2020

Punch your way to fitness with the newest boutique gym in Abu Dhabi

A new boutique gym in the capital offers boxing-based workouts where you can potentially burn 1,000 calories a session

A 45-minute session at Punch can burn 1,000 calories Pawan Singh /  The National
A 45-minute session at Punch can burn 1,000 calories Pawan Singh /  The National

Punch is the boutique gym Abu Dhabi has been waiting for. The boxing studio offers many of the elements that helped revolutionise the stationary cycling world, such as classes done in darkness with spotlights, curated playlists and a decidedly nightclub vibe, but with individual boxing ­stations.

Although the pumping, DJ-like atmosphere inside this new Zayed Sports City studio and its sleek design – shiny, ­teardrop-shaped bags, a black-and-white colour palette and neon signs – may seem more reminiscent of Dubai, the concept was born in the capital.

The owners are husband-and-wife duo Lama Helweh, a 30-year-old from the UAE, and Bashar Al Eid, a 34-year-old from Jordan, and Jawdat ­Bilbeisi, 36, also from Jordan. Al Eid and Bilbeisi met while ­working in the oil and gas ­industry and, with their wives, bonded over a shared love of all things sports and adventure-­related, including ­wakeboarding, scuba diving, mountain climbing and trekking.

They also love boxing, but yearned for ­something ­different, ­thinking, as Al Eid puts it: “Instead of ­always having a traditional boxing gym, let’s make it much more fun. Let’s make it less technical, simplify it, add elements to it, which would make it different every time you come.” Other boxing-style workouts available locally come in the form of Les Mills’s Body Combat classes, or are ­partner- and sparring-based, like those offered at Punch’s neighbour, Haddins.

However, while punching the air, Body ­Combat-style may be a good workout, it isn’t all that satisfying. And when it comes to sparring, it’s best if each side is somewhat matched physically and by fitness level. “I faced that problem before, when I wanted to do boxing,” says the petite Helweh. “It was almost always men-only and I didn’t really care, but I thought: ‘I hope there is someone my size so I don’t injure myself.’”

Dramatic differences ­create other issues, too – such as intimidation on the part of a beginner and frustration in the more experienced partner at not getting a proper workout. With individual stations, that variable is taken out of the equation, hence one of the mottos on Punch T-shirts: Fight No One.

Each person gets the satisfaction – and physical challenge – of feeling their gloves repeatedly connect with the bag. The design also eliminates a problem inherent with the longer, heavier version traditionally used in boxing gyms. “The problem with heavyweight bags is they sag after a while,” Al Eid explains. “And when they sag, they become really hard and solid. So when you punch them, it’s really painful.”

Punch’s bags, which come from the United States, are 85 kilograms, made from durable vinyl and filled with water, won’t have that problem. “Basically when you are punching it, and punching really hard, it’s like through flesh,” says Al Eid. “It’s really soft on the hands, so you can go for hours.”

There are three types of classes at the venue: ladies-only Punch HII; and Punch HIIT, which last 45 minutes, and feature 12 rounds of punching, interspersed with a variety of moves involving a weight plate. There’s also Punchard, which is primarily geared towards boxing moves. At the opening last weekend, an evening Punch HIIT session featured an assortment of weighted exercises, including squats combined with overhead presses, mixed in with boxing combinations.

Several of the rounds alternated between punching and simple body-weight moves in the form of planks, burpees, sit-ups and push-ups. The instructors were inspiring and commanding, the music was great and the 45 minutes flew by, resulting in the desired sweaty, chest-­heaving exertion. It would have been great if the bags also allowed for kick-boxing training, but at their height, it’s only possible to knee them should the instructors call for it.

The owners say going all-out could burn 1,000 calories per session and that with the proper nutrition, three or four classes a week will lead to big physical changes. Although for years Abu Dhabi’s fitness scene lagged behind Dubai’s, the capital has matured in recent times. The owners of Punch, who have plans to expand the brand to Dubai and throughout the ­region, firmly believe the capital is ready for a more catered to and focused experience. “People are much more aware about what they eat and what to do,” says Al Eid.

And while this spot promises a fun, sweaty session, the founders are also confident that when done consistently, the workout will speak for itself. “They will come back every time,” says Al Eid. “Because at the end of the day, it’s about results.”


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