Two Dubai gyms for whole-body health
Scandinavian Health and Performance (SHP) is rather unusual for a gym. Its founder, Ian Houghton, is a doctor of naprapathy, a form of chiropractic, who also has licences and certifications in strength and conditioning and an impressive CV that includes work as a physiotherapist for the Chelsea football team.
His wife Inger, who also works at the gym, is a nutritionist. Together, they focus on personal training with a twist. They focus on safety and body analysis, giving each client a thorough physical assessment before training commences. Physical weakness, old injuries and range of motion are all taken into consideration.
About half the clients are rehabilitating but many others are triathletes or endurance athletes looking to build strength into their training. "It's about movement patterns with them and the quality of how they move," Houghton says.
Another member of the team, Keith Littlewood, specialises in functional medicine, assessing hormonal imbalances, stress issues, posture and pain management.
"Being able to incorporate the service that's needed at that moment is good for people," Houghton says. "The fact they don't have to find a therapist, doctor or nutritionist helps. It's proven to be a good mix so far."
Some clients come for as little as three sessions on technique, simply learning how to exercise safely.
While many trainers target individual muscles, SHP focuses on whole-body strength and major muscle groups unless specific areas of weakness are identified.
The team will hold workshops for trainers this year on areas such as assessing and treating lower back or shoulder pain, and on nutrition and stress. "Education is a big part of it," says Houghton. "It's just to help improve the kind of knowledge that's out there, which can be inconsistent."
Another gym offering more than just group classes and personal training is Smart Fitness in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. Its team consists of nutritionists, a postnatal specialist, a rehabilitation and sports massage specialist and exercise physiologists.
The manager, Mark Robinson, won a soccer scholarship to study his bachelor's in human performance and exercise science in Alabama, then earned a master's in exercise physiology at the UK's top sports research centre, Loughborough University.
"We want to give our members a little bit more support than just when they buy their membership," he says.
The technology that the gym uses to assess members is the same as that used in the London Olympics, an advanced way of analysing the body's makeup using 36 measurements to identify areas of weakness from muscle imbalance to nutritional deficiencies to where a person is likely to carry weight.
Smart Fitness staff will work with general practitioners to treat conditions such as diabetes, address injuries or provide postnatal care. The gym's specialist, Alison Ramsay, is a registered nurse and midwife who also holds a master's in public health and health promotion.
Robinson, originally from Newcastle in England, says he wants the gym to have a community feel that is inviting for people who might be intimidated by gyms. This will be done with team events and fitness challenges.
"We'll be doing socials every month and organising events where we have guest speakers come and do educational workshops, like the Wellness Brothers," Robinson says, referring to the locally based nutritionists Sean and Ryan Penny. "We want to support and educate as well as train."
Grant Goes, the founder of www.fitnesslink.ae, a website to help the public navigate the UAE's complicated fitness market, says the gyms are welcome additions, both made up of qualified professionals in a country where the qualifications of industry professionals are still not regulated.
"Having a specialised professional with a higher level of education allows a client to have more confidence, trust and assurance that the trainer will get results," Goes says.
Massage is an important part of rehabilitation during training. But finding a massage therapist who understands sport and the body's physiology is another matter.
For a long time, I settled on a spa masseuse who knew how to get the knots out. Then I met Richard Humberstone at Smart Fitness. By simply massaging the muscle groups he suspected could be behind my knee pain, he released a lot of the pressure. He could also identify areas I needed to build up to protect my knees in the future.
He also identified imbalances in my upper body. For example, the higher use of my right side meant an underdeveloped left trapezius. No massage therapist at any spa will ever be able to tell you that.
Many sports massage physiotherapists just want to keep you coming back and will sign you up for 10 expensive sessions at a time, often with little progress. But in just three sessions with Humberstone, I've learnt and progressed more than I have with any other therapist in the UAE. Being educated to go away and train safely by myself is empowering.
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