x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The fitness test: WOD a way to spend a summer evening?

The Fitness Test takes to a Dubai park for a hot summer evening's workout.

The WOD Squad are put through their paces in Dubai's Safa Park by American Fitness trainers.
The WOD Squad are put through their paces in Dubai's Safa Park by American Fitness trainers.

While most sane UAE residents are sheltering indoors, in the comfort of air conditioning, there are still a fair few defying the almost suffocating heat and humidity to get themselves into peak condition for the cooler months ahead. Last Monday evening, I joined the WOD Squad, a group of around 15 such men and women, who entered Safa Park in Dubai at 7pm, as the sun fell and the humidity rose, to be put through their paces by Rudi Botha and Derrick Branford, of American Fitness Dubai.

WOD stands for Workout of the Day, or "workout of destruction", as one participant joked, and the 60-minute class follows the principles of CrossFit training, an approach to fitness that is growing rapidly in popularity. "The concept is to keep changing the parameters of the workout, whether it be volume or intensity, utilising as many different exercises as possible," Branford explains. "The reasoning behind this is we are able to control the adaptation process in our favour? because the body will only improve strength, endurance, nutrient partitioning and balance if it has a reason to, and the reason here is that we keep it guessing."

The class begins with a series of stretches designed to loosen up the body - it seems wrong to label it a warm-up given the temperature - before Branford runs through the first 10-minute set. A menacing-looking row of kettlebells, most of which weigh 7.5kg, lie on the grass in front of us. We will begin, he explains, by swinging the kettlebell from between our legs up to chest height in front of us, using a squat and hip movement as leverage and lower back protection. After 20 of these, we perform the same number of burpees, each with a push-up, before finishing the set with a sprint around the field.

On the next set, we will increase the repetitions with the kettlebell by five, decrease the burpees by five, and then sprint again. The aim, he tells us, is to complete 35 kettlebell swings and the accompanying exercises in the set, within 10 minutes. I have chicken-strength legs, I hate sprinting, and by the end of the first repetition my lower limbs feel like lead weights, but the WOD Squad are mentally tough and the coaches are so friendly and encouraging that I feel almost obliged to keep going. To my surprise I manage to get through three full sets before the 10 minutes are up and I can collapse in a heap on the floor. We get a few minutes to recover before the next set of exercises.

Next up, a second group of exercises involving kettlebell squats, stomach crunches and push-ups, increasing the repetitions by five, from 15, during each set until we hit the 10-minute mark. After another welcome break, we are split into two groups - one of which remains on the kettlebells while the other - which includes me - heads over to a row of cones from which we will sprint to another row, before walking back to recover. We will do this for two minutes while those using the kettlebells will perform as many shoulder lifts as they can on one arm, before switching after a minute to the other.

Another 10 minutes later, we are done, and after a series of cool-down stretches I am exhausted but ecstatic to have found a class that manages to push everyone to the limit of his or her own ability. Every session is different, some focusing more on strength and less on volume, to tax the muscular system, and others focusing on muscular recovery through cardiovascular work. Jossette Naiken, a 32-year-old investment banker, took her first WOD Squad class three weeks ago and is hooked. Having searched online for a CrossFit-style class in Dubai, she says she was "delighted" to find that the guys at American Fitness Dubai were starting up the outdoor sessions. Not even the temperature is putting her off.

"The hardest thing is probably the heat, but you burn more calories," she says. "I've done other boot camps at the beach, but I didn't feel it pushed me the way this class does. "I think the biggest benefit is that the guys are great. They're really good and inspiring." Andrew Laing, a 37-year-old South African who works in logistics, is equally enthusiastic and says the fat has melted away from his "love handles" in the few sessions he has attended. Despite aching muscles, he is looking forward to the next class.

"You will never train as hard as these guys train you," he says. "It breaks you. The best things in life are not easy to obtain. Getting in shape is not easy but this is probably one of the fastest ways of doing so." For more information visit www.americanfitness.me, call 050 198 0663 / 056 103 5581 or e-mail info@americanfitness.me.