x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A gym that's more a lifestyle choice

A new health club in DIFC that has the design sense of a top-end restaurant combined with the softened edges of a spa, U Energy is the sort of workout that comes with its own in-house DJ.

Gyms are, in my experience, inherently uncool places. They come in two variants. There's either the meathead sort; a bare floorboard dungeon of torturous-looking equipment with pictures of Arnie on the wall. Or there's the sterile type with blue mats, harsh lights, terrible music and parquet floors.

U Energy is an inversion of both. A new health club in DIFC that has the design sense of a top-end restaurant combined with the softened edges of a spa, U Energy is the sort of workout that comes with its own in-house DJ.

Walking into the club is a reminder of just how far from a traditional gym this is - from the smell, pleasantly fragranced by the stock of blended protein shakes that the team serve up from the bar, through to the Afghan fabrics and regional artwork adorning the walls. Given that U Energy has only been open a few months, it's fairly busy for an early Sunday morning. "We want people to feel that this is their club," says Nick Watson, who started U Energy with his wife Delphine after running a personal training centre in Jumeirah for nine years. They've recently been joined by the business developer director Alex Nazarian.

"Typically, people go to health clubs for two months, get bored because they haven't got a clue what to do when they're in there and so their workout time starts to dwindle. "We wanted to create a space that would teach people how to use all this stuff - like the kettlebells, Olympic lifting techniques - as well as making it somewhere that you feel relaxed enough to hang around in."

Downstairs features half of a UFC fighting cage, while the first and second floors contain sparkly new equipment. There are regular classes, including mixed martial arts, soundtracked by U Energy's DJ, and the running machines have web access. Sudden burning question while burning calories? Wikipedia is at the touch of a button.

Interestingly, U Energy has opted away from packing the space out with fixed resistance machines - the grinding sort of workout in which difficulty is gradually increased by moving a pin up down a stack of weights. Instead, as the personal trainer Kim explains, a more diverse and demanding workout can be achieved via simplified back-to-basics movement.

To illustrate, Kim leads me through several of the processes that a typical workout at U Energy would entail. Using one's own body weight to build core fitness, instead of crunching around the gym floor, there is lots of getting into position and holding prone poses that tweak about five different muscle areas.

A session with a personal trainer also doesn't mean you've got someone who stands alongside, steadily increasing the weight on a machine. Instead, each of the exercises we run through are interactive, more involved with the trainer and about bodily movement than pulleys and levers - hopping on and off boxes, for instance, and making use of equipment one sees around in other gyms but rarely gets used.

U Energy will be accompanied by U Fuel in January, a healthy eating and juice spot, while downstairs from the gym is a small massage space. There will eventually be six different "U Concept" spaces, all tipped towards a different element of the lifestyle that the team hopes to espouse.

Yes, a gym is still just a gym. But when the designs of Philippe Starck served as inspiration, it is worth taking note. U Energy may not look like a gym, and is all the better for it. "We had a couple come in the other day and asked for a table for two," says Watson. "I think that's all very positive."


Membership packages at U Energy start at Dh4,000 for three months, which includes induction to the facility, a body analysis session, classes as well as a complimentary personal training session, two treatment sessions and more. Call 04 422 8721 for info or visit www.uconcept6.com