x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Luxury gyms in Dubai tone it up a notch

Limited membership, in-house DJs, the latest gizmos and a workout that will have you feeling fit and looking fab, it's time to enter the high-end heath studio. Here's a list of the most luxurious fitness facilities in the UAE.

Automatic lockers in the changing rooms of Engine Health + Fitness in Dubai. Courtesy: Engine Health + Fitness
Automatic lockers in the changing rooms of Engine Health + Fitness in Dubai. Courtesy: Engine Health + Fitness

While money can buy everything from watches to super yachts, one status symbol will always be a little more elusive: a perfectly toned physique.

There’s no getting around the fact that toned arms and firm abdominals require an investment of time as well as money, but happily a new crop of boutique gyms is promising to up the ante when it comes to your fitness regime. Mixing the best elements of personal training and franchise gyms, these fitness concepts maximise the efficiency of your workout in luxurious surroundings that will keep you coming back.

Indeed, “addictive” is the word that the owner Maryam Fattahi Salaam uses to describe Physique 57, the barre-based programme that she brought from New York to Dubai last summer. A petite figure in white jeans and silver heels, Salaam first tried Physique’s 57-minute, full-body workout while living in Manhattan. “I was hooked,” she enthuses. “I went straight home and told my husband: ‘This has to come to Dubai.’ I’d just had my first baby but I would get up early and go to the 6am class five or six times a week.”

Barre fitness is a growing global trend, offering ordinary women access to a dancer’s shape. Physique 57 classes are carefully choreographed to work every muscle group using small, precise movements set to upbeat music. It’s far from painless, but the instructors (all trained dancers), who walk the room correcting posture and cheering everyone on, manage to make it enjoyable.

“We have clients driving here from Abu Dhabi and Sharjah several times a week,” says Salaam of her loft studio in Jumeirah’s Citywalk development.

“Women are realising that they can bring their fitness level higher than they ever thought and have fun doing it.”

There’s certainly a social atmosphere to the luxurious locker room after a Physique 57 class, with members sharing fitness fashion tips (Stella McCartney for Adidas and the North American brand Lululemon are favourites) and taking advantage of the complimentary REN toiletries.

U Energy, a home-grown gym in the Dubai International Financial Centre, is even more trend-driven. With a resident DJ choosing the music, and a bar designed in wood, concrete and distressed leather, this might be a nightclub rather than a health club.

“We aim to get members fit and healthy within a stylish and sociable atmosphere,” says a spokesperson for the club.

U Energy uses a combination of machines, free weights and body-weight exercises to tone and hone. The classes include just six people, so that trainers can supervise participants closely, helping them to avoid injury and maximise the efficiency of their workouts. When they sign up, members are given a USB stick containing training, stretching and nutrition tips, along with music and other resources. And after training has finished, you can pick up your dry-cleaning (all part of the “home-from-home” service), enjoy a protein shake in the bar or have your aching muscles soothed in the massage studio.

Of course, not everyone wants to see and be seen. “We’ll draw the blinds if a client wants privacy,” says the Platform 3 Fitness founder, Omar Al Duri, who allows a maximum of six members into his gym at any one time. “We want it to be discreet and intimate, not intimidating like some gyms.”

Clients, who include a former WBC boxing champion and Ahmed Soultan, the Moroccan singer, choose Platform 3 for “me time”, says Al Duri, with each individual given a bespoke training programme that suits their preferences, whether they’re fans of climbing or CrossFit.

“I felt that the focus on one-on-one training was really missing from gyms in the UAE,” he explains. “Rather than running the same classes over and over, at Platform 3 you’ll get a personal trainer who will take a holistic approach to your fitness. There are hardly any machines here; instead, we use functional training. So your workout might use tyres, ropes, kettlebells, trampolines … anything to keep your body guessing.”

Although wealthy individuals sometimes contact Platform 3 asking for personal training at home, Al Duri politely declines, believing that his Dubai Marina facility – which offers a climbing wall and a boxing ring – is the best place to get results.

Boutique gyms can also offer a luxurious, spa-style experience that can’t be achieved at home, points out Pauline Braybrooke, the general manager of Engine Health + Fitness. A three-floor, 3,500-square-metre, glass-fronted space that opened on Jumeirah Beach Road in November, Engine offers a futuristic atmosphere and high-tech amenities. Its Technogym machines have touchscreen internet access, so that members can check in with work or social networking sites as they train, while music is supplied via a Bose sound system.

“We are raising the city’s fitness bar and setting a higher standard when it comes to members’ health club expectations,” says Braybrooke. “The professional member we are targeting looks not just for fitness facilities in his health club, but also for the aspect of wellness and pampering.” Accordingly, Engine offers eucalyptus steam rooms and eco-friendly cotton towels for post-workout relaxation.

Busy professionals are also the target market for Speedflex, a hyper-efficient training system that will get its first centre in the UAE this month at the Ocean View Hotel, Jumeirah Beach. Developed in America, Speedflex machines look much like ordinary fixed weights in a gym, with levers that can be pulled up and down in a series of squats, rows, pulldowns and so on. The difference is that instead of weights, they use a hydraulics system to maximise your exertion and minimise pain and injury.

At their induction, members are given a VO2 fitness test that establishes maximum heart rate. When they take a class, which runs in a circuit format, in 30-second intervals with a trainer supervising, they can see on a screen on the wall when they have reached their optimal heart-rate zone. “Users are able to burn more calories than they ever thought possible,” promises the company – up to 700 per 45-minute session for a woman and 1,000 for a man. And although it’s challenging at the time, unlike other methods of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) – the current buzzword in fitness circles – Speedflex’s cleverly engineered machines will leave you feeling little or no pain the next day.

With so much happening on the fitness scene, one might question whether Dubai really needs another gym. But according to Salaam, who is currently scouting for a second Physique 57 location, there is demand from a huge range of demographics for luxurious and effective fitness concepts. “We see women from all walks of life, from 22 to 72. Ladies who work come along in the evening, single girls, grandmothers – hot ones – and we’re also seeing a steady rise in the number of male clients. I think they come back because they feel empowered by the workout. They see their bodies change almost immediately, and they get a sense of accomplishment from getting through each class.”

Offering as they do the latest fitness trends, state-of-the-art equipment and luxurious amenities, these clubs aren’t cheap compared with franchise gyms – a single Physique 57 class is Dh125, while a month’s membership of U Energy sets you back Dh950 – but are cost-effective compared to personal training. And for a perfect body, possibly even a prolonged life, it seems a small price to pay.