The Business Bay fitness studio is currently scouting out a second location in DIFC
Bare Dubai: A class that burns 1,000 calories, where you can still eat cake
As I stumble out of the changing rooms, calloused and sore, with sweat still pouring off my forehead, I'm greeted by a sight I'm generally terrified of seeing post-workout: a hulking great chocolate cake.
It's Jade Palmer's birthday, and she's eagerly cutting off a hunk each for the harem of fellow trainers eagerly milling around. As a plate is thrust under my nose, I'm stumped. Is this a test? Isn't it some sort of wellness sacrilege to consume something even half this decadent in these hallowed halls? "It's about balance," someone says. "You've earned it."
And indeed, these two concepts are central to Bare's ethos. The gym that is not a gym - for they prefer not to call themselves such - is a place where you're encouraged to have your cake, and eat it too. The boutique studio has been pioneering the nightclub-esque workout since it opened a couple of years ago in Clover Bay Tower - way before Barry's Bootcamp arrived in DIFC.
While it began trying to offer "everything at once" (Les Mills classes and the works), the space has since evolved into a targeted centre for those wanting to focus on HIIT and weight training, general manager Tjaart Gray says. They now offer just three classes: their signature Black class, LAB (legs, abs and butt) and CrossFit. The former is said to burn 1,000 calories in a single session.
"Really?" I ask Gray. "Have you tested that?"
"Yes, we actually have," he replies.
Personally, I'd certainly hope so. Otherwise the complaining I'd done for days after the previous Thursday's Black session might have seemed overdone. Black is a timed 'competition' style class that is characterised by the (Tag Heuer sponsored) wall clock, a live DJ and flashing lights. After a warm-up that seemed like a HIIT workout in itself, we spent 20 minutes alternating exercises in a group of four, without a single break. The loud music and nighclub-like scene does initially detract from the pain - and thankfully the relative darkness makes it easier to collapse on the floor after a round of burpees with less people noticing.
The second half of the class was spent alternating sprints and planks with our groups - a process that became a hugely vocal affair and, dare I say it, almost fun. But just when you're whooping and high fiving and thinking you might have this thing worked out, be aware: no two classes are the same. In actual fact, the trainers pull them out of thin air before each session. There's cardio, there's weights, and a lot of elements are sourced from CrossFit, but generally the order of the workout isn't decided until just before it begins. It's a tailored approach that helps the body resist plateauing after three months or so.
The trainers themselves might be familiar faces from the Dubai fitness community. Hendrik Hoogenboezem and Amy Fox are well-known, and birthday girl Palmer is also a Nike master trainer. "There's a lot of rubbish in Dubai, which is why we can't just work with anyone," Gray says. "We get 20 CVs a week from personal trainers who haven't researched what we do; we don't even do personal training."
And the community feel - not just within his own team, but also of the members - is a crucial part of what makes Bare succeed. There's monthly brunches, regular post-workout doghnut eating sessions (if you were to consult their Instagram page, it might seem this is a daily routine) and a general feeling that everyone is friends. They've also managed to get some high class sponsors on board - Nike, RedBull, SmartWater and Tag Heuer.
"Anyone who wants to be part of the community can join us," Gray says. "We're not arrogant here, we don't have egos. We're not a traditional gym."
For a monthly fee of Dh800 you can attend as many times as you like, along with getting nutrition and lifestyle advice - and a coach at your beck and call via WhatsApp. That monthly rate hasn't changed since the studio opened. If you just want to attend one-off classes, it's Dh120.
With a members list that is almost full, the team is now out scouting for a second Dubai location in DIFC - and is currently fitting out its first international space, Bare Manila. "As soon as you join you meet with a coach for one hour - to say this is what you're trying to do and this is how we're going to help you," Gray says.
But what about the cake, I ask. Surely that's not part of the meal plan. "What we say is you can be 80 per cent good and 20 per cent bad. We don't want people to be calorie monkeys for the rest of their lives. The only thing that purely works is eat right, train hard and do what's right for your body."
I needed no further encouragement. Besides, Amy Fox had just put me through 500 reps (50 non-stop reps of 10 exercises - think burpees, wall balls, chin ups and box jumps to name but a few) of a harrowing CrossFit session and my hands were blistered.
You bet I ate the cake.