A new fitness programme in Dubai called Ginastica Natural features a complete bodyweight training method.
Fitness: All vigour, no violence
It all began fairly innocuously, aside from the somewhat ominous (though surprisingly comfortable) location - a full-sized fighting cage in an Al Quoz warehouse.
Barefoot, we - myself and three others - were led onto the soft mats of the octagon (the cage) and, from a sitting position, were taken through a series of stretches - many of which involved legs bent in front of or behind the body.
I had been invited along to the breathtaking Team Nogueira Dubai fight facility to try the new Ginastica Natural class that was launched during Ramadan by the martial arts specialists there.
The class, which uses body weight alone to increase strength, flexibility, coordination, balance and far more besides, is commanded by the Brazilian coach Flaviane Lamelas.
Lamelas is the primary student of Ginastica Natural's original creator, four-stripes Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Alvaro Romano. And for those who don't like fighting or contact sports, fear not: neither are involved in this practice.
Lamelas' list of former clients is impressive and includes high- profile actors and professional athletes, including the Brazilian football star Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima.
Today, though, Lamelas has me - and I'm certainly no athlete. Nor, as I'm sure they'd agree, are the other class participants. So our ever-smiling and patient instructor tailors the class accordingly.
From the start, the session is structured around a series of movements that will eventually, with practice and experience, flow into each other. For now though, Lamelas has us performing them movement-by-movement, in sets of 10 repetitions, and then combining three movements in a seamless mini-flow.
During the hour-long class we practise: kicking forward; hitting our outstretched hands from cage side-to-cage side with the insides of our feet; kicking from a sitting position on the ground; contracting our abdominals and keeping our core strong; rolling from one side to another; twisting, palms to the mat, so that we travel from face down to face up; and, to my thighs' horror, jumping from knees-at-ground to a low squat.
While nothing seemed unbearably high-intensity, and the hour flew by, I definitely felt every movement working my muscles.
"You are working muscles at angles you don't usually work, so you'll feel this tomorrow," smiled Lamelas, knowingly, as I attempted to move my now leaden legs around the cage during one of the walking laps designed to relieve tired muscles.
And then came what was, for me, the most challenging movement - what Lamelas referred to as "the worm" - something that involved moving across the cage in a dynamic, almost jumping push-up. With your palms and toes touching the mat, and elbows close to your sides, you push explosively with your arms and lift your hips - effectively hopping forward on all fours.
There are less intense versions of the movement, which Lamelas starts us on before those strong enough to progress are shown the next step.
I did my best but my triceps are almost non-existent. I'm not entirely convinced an ant could have fit between my body and the floor, but Lamelas was constantly encouraging and motivating.
Those with injuries or niggles were shown alternative movements or less intense versions of the positions. We laughed, we smiled, we encouraged each other.
"There is a 56-year-old man who comes here, who could not tie his shoe laces or lay on the ground when he first arrived," said Raphael Haubert, head coach at Team Nogueira Dubai and a Ginastica Natural practitioner.
"We have employed Ginastica Natural movements within his routine here and slowly we are rebuilding his body in such a way that he will be able to do these things."
An experienced athlete - Haubert is a two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion and third-degree black belt - the head coach swears by the positive enhancement Ginastica Natural has made to his health and that of the fighters he trains.
"I find it the only way to unlock my body," he said. "It improves my posture and I believe it should be considered an important aspect of everyone's training here. It's such a healthy approach."
The following evening, I watch on in awe as Lamelas puts an experienced jiu-jitsu player through his paces. This is Ginastica Natural at a higher intensity. The man's wall-walking and worm techniques are pretty flawless, thanks in large part to the strength and mobility that jiu-jitsu brings.
While the fact that the practice is new to the region means everyone is learning together, the art promises to provide this level of flawless flexibility to committed practitioners, along with muscle tone, weight loss and better mental and motor control as a result of the breathing techniques taught. I believe everything I read after my hour, during which time I felt my mobility, particularly in the hips, improve.
"Right now, this is new here," said Lamelas. "I believe that everyone can do it. There is an infinite number of combinations, but at this point we're going to be working on the basic things because people in the UAE are confused about what Ginastica Natural is: it's important to get the basics right before progressing.
"If you have an injury that you believe prevents you from being able to play a sport, come along to a class. We believe we can put you on the road to health and recovery - we accept the challenge."
For more information on class schedules, prices and coaches visit www.teamnogueiradubai.com or call 04 338 8967
Follow us @LifeNationalUAE
Follow us on Facebook for discussions, entertainment, reviews, wellness and news.