x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Working out with just the girls - the UAE's women-only gyms

Women-only fitness options are improving in Dubai with the opening of two new centres.

Women "can just be themselves here, and this is reflected in what they put in to their workout," says Sandra Koeder, the co-founder of Motion Fitness in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National

Women wanting to stay fit in the UAE used to have to bring personal trainers to their home or opt for such places as the Sharjah or Dubai ladies clubs. Now they can go to the likes of Fitness First and Fitness 360, which offer both mixed-gender and ladies-only facilities and classes.

Last month, Motion Fitness and Fitness 360 opened women's facilities in Umm Suqeim, an area that already has several women's gyms within a few kilometres, showing the growing demand for women-only training facilities in the city.

Sandra Koeder, the co-founder of Motion Fitness and a trained fitness instructor, says women want to be able to work out without the discomfort of being in a mixed-gender environment. While in her native Europe mixed classes are common, single-sex classes and gyms are growing in popularity. She says many women in the UAE have negative experiences.

"The women don't need to worry about what positions their bodies are in in the kind of exercise we're doing in yoga or Pilates, or come with a full face of make-up on or perfume," she says. "They can just be themselves here, and this is reflected in what they put in to their workout - and, in turn, what they get out of it. They don't worry about getting sweaty because they don't feel there are men looking [at them]."

Jad Chouman, the brand director for Adidas in the Middle East and North Africa region, says: "Over the past few years there has been a surge in ladies-only workout classes, boot camps and companies that are dedicated to women's fitness all over the UAE. Awareness of the importance of keeping fit and healthy is on the rise and government initiatives, sports groups and health clubs now have campaigns and services to target the female audience."

There has been a rise in demand for women's training apparel in the past two years, he says, adding that having women-only facilities is a large factor for this new market.

"Gyms and health clubs can be very daunting for women as men tend to dominate, so it's important for women to feel at ease, to get the best out of their workout. Women-only gym facilities are also important in the Arab world due to cultural sensitivities and it's only in the past few years that the demand for this has increased." He says group exercise transforms a workout from a chore into a social occasion, with women responding better to this dynamic.

Rama Al Jayyousi, the co-founder of Exhale Studio in Dubai, agrees: "On an emotional level, working out with women brings together a sense of solidarity and mind balance, equally relevant to expatriates as much as it is to Arabs."

Exhale, which has two studios in the city, was one of the first facilities to offer women-only training in the emirate, starting five years ago with the objective of increasing women's awareness of fitness, with classes from yoga and Pilates to dance fitness and toning.

Most clients are expatriates. "When it comes to exercise, they prefer women-only fitness because it allows them to be less self-conscious and be able to let their guard down in a more relaxed environment."

In the UAE and abroad, some classes, even within a mixed gym, require the women-only environment with a female instructor. One such class is pole fitness, which has just opened at the Capella Club in Dubai Marina. It has mixed classes for other forms of dance and martial arts.

Pole fitness, a fusion of dance and fitness, is popular because it combines strength training with toning and improves posture and flexibility, breaking away from the traditionally female-orientated yoga and Pilates classes.

The teacher Vlada Zhizhchenko explains: "Some women in the UAE prefer to attend women-only classes for cultural or religious reasons, too, without the worry of immodesty."

The trend shows no signs of slowing down, either in the city or the wider region. Fitness First has 28 centres in the UAE, seven of which are ladies-only. Mark Botha, the group operations and marketing manager, says: "Our first club will be opening in Kuwait later this year and again there is huge demand for ladies-only facilities. Aside from KSA, which is strictly male-only clubs, most of our new clubs opening in the Middle East will have ladies-only facilities, as the demand is very high and we are catering for the growing needs of the market."

At peak times, a range of nationalities can be found in the women-only facilities. "It's not just important for Muslim women, as a lot of ladies prefer to exercise only with other women. We see this from the popularity of ladies-only clubs within our clubs in other countries."

For more information on Motion Fitness Centre visit www.motionfitnesscenter.com or call 04 328 2538. For more on pole fit classes at Capella Club in Dubai Marina, call 0567952210