Operation #FreeGym: Sampling the fitness options of Dubai

Dubai is a city of extremes. On a Friday, for instance, you can eat and drink your body weight in champagne, lobster, wagyu and oysters for the same price as hardcore agility races, sky diving, power boarding, wake boarding, horse riding, golf and scuba diving. In Dubai, you’d be pretty safe in saying there is something for almost everyone.

In the last few years the health and fitness industry has exploded and Dubai’s residents, pandering to the constant demands of their subconscious id, want and need to be part of the latest fitness fad.

Across the city you can sign up for international favourites including Flywheel, Pole Fit, Physique 57, Spartan Race and FlyBarre. There are enough circuit training groups and factories offering an hour of endless burpees, with a few other bits and bobs, in return for your money and your tears, and personal trainers whizz about the city offering costly one-on-one sessions, charging fees that would have your grandmother question your sanity.

Having spent the best part of 18 months on personal training, it’s time to move on, try something new, and well, save some cash. So in a bid to both save money and find the fitness option to suit me, operation #freegym has begun.

Operation #freegym

The idea is simple. If it’s free, or so ridiculously cheap it’s almost free, I’ll sign up, check it out and pen a quick, and hopefully sweaty post work out review. While I can see that there maybe some questionable ethics around taking advantage of free trials and memberships without necessarily wanting to sign up, well basically, sorry not sorry. They are also getting a free review… On this blog… Which has at least two readers a week… That aren’t me. I know, it’s basically win-win.

So armed with a pair of trusty Nikes, almost, too much Under Armour apparel, and without further adieu…

Circuit Factory

Affectionately referred to as “the cult” by a friend of mine, and it’s easy to see why. The god of this fitness army is Phil – an impressive specimen of a human with Pop Eye like calf muscles that are almost mesmerising. The first thing Phil teaches you on your first session is how to squat and lunge, no-one starts Circuit Factory without having these two skills taught, repeated and assessed.

Classes are available mornings and evenings daily, and every six weeks ‘The Challenge’ begins with members having their exercise and food judged across a four week stint. A good friend of mine did these back to back last year and lost bags of weight, but it wasn’t without a lot of hard work and dedication.

The mantra: Success is 80% food and 20% gym.

Be prepared for: Hard work, running, burpees.

Watch out for: These are timed circuits with fitness coaches shouting encouragement the whole way through, remember it’s quality and not quantity, so do it properly or you’ll injure yourself. Oh, and never forget your towel.

If you sign up: It’s 80AED per class or approx. 360AED per week for the mini or the four week challenge including unlimited classes, weigh-ins and a personal review of your food diary each week.

Circuit Factory Website


Spartan Race Training

Spartan Training Dubai
That’s Farah and I in the middle… smiling, I have no idea why we are smiling, it must have been the warm up.

We came across this on Facebook, the Spartan Race team are inviting anyone with nothing better to do on a Friday morning to join their weekly pre-race fitness sessions. This is essentially circuits with around 200 other people, a trainer and a drone, on the grass by Sky Dive Dubai. Friday training is running for four weeks.

The Spartan race is in 130 countries worldwide and is an agility obstacle race that provides entertainment for athletes and spectators alike, we were more than a little concerned upon registering that we’d signed up for the actual race, and not the training, as we were handed our “I am training for Spartan Race” T-shirts. We weren’t, thank god.

The mantra: Not sure, but at the end of training everyone makes an “aahhooooga!” type noise. It was baffling.

Be prepared for: Lots of enthusiastic people, uneven terrain and sore arms the next day.

Watch out for: Dog poo and getting your fingers stood on as you backwards crab crawl towards the fence, and your fellow competitors.

If you sign up: Starts 26th February 2016, you need a team of four people and fees are around 130AED to 150AED.

Spartan Arabia Website

A plus one at Fitness First, Knowledge Village

Fitness First Body Pump Dubai

It’s been a long, long, long time since I’ve set foot into a Fitness First, and to be honest I was more than a little impressed by the facilities at the Knowledge Village branch. Spread out over two levels this gym offers a pool, classes, weight room, cardio room and area for circuits with personal trainers milling around looking for business. There is even a smoothie bar who will create you sugar-rich fruit smoothies served directly into your protein shaker.

I joined a friend for a Body Pump class run by Ester on Friday morning. It’s a slightly different, and dare I say fitter crowd than those who frequent my building gym, and that’s certainly saying something! (If you want to see “fit” hang out at Torch Tower on a Sunday night…).

There is also a fun addition for those who love a bit of friendly competition with MyZone. This is a heart rate based rating system which is displayed alongside other members on big screens and converts your hard work into points, and what do points mean? No idea but something good, hopefully.

The mantra: Quitting lasts forever (huh?!)

Be prepared for: People who know what they are doing, I’ve done Body Pump before but this class is fast. Have all your weights ready to go and keep up!

Watch out for: People with distractingly sculpted bodies and minimal clothing.

If you sign up: A 12 month membership with Fitness First Knowledge Village, is around 4,600AED for the year, with a 10 months for the price of 6 promotion currently on offer.

Fitness First Website

SUP Gurls Paddleboarding by Ignite Surface at Riva, The Palm

Nestled between two fronds on the Dubai Palm is Riva Beach Club, who alongside Ignite Surface are currently offering SUP Gurl Paddleboarding classes at 10am Friday mornings. The idea is to enjoy a full core pre brunch work out, while soaking up your daily dose of vitamin D, as you spend an hour paddle-boarding mixed with exercises. If the current is a little too strong on the day (it was), then you can do many of the exercises on the beach (we did).

A couple of things hindered the perfect review experience – firstly, we got lost. Honesty policy – on the straight line that is the palm we managed to get lost and arrived about 10 minutes late. This helps explain the photo above where I’m miles from everyone, frantically paddling towards my fellow classmates – one of whom I mistook for the instructor and proceed to apologise profusely and go into more than enough detail of our car parking woes. Secondly, the current decided to become a little bitch, so much of the session was spent more or less stationary while paddling furiously against it.

The mantra: The best way to stay cool and fit this summer

Be prepared for: Falling off and getting wet (the water is super cold in February) and finding muscles you didn’t know existed.

Watch out for: Strong currents… oh, and women with insane bodies in teeny tiny bikinis making it look easy.

If you sign up: SUP Gurls Class is a rather hefty 125AED an hour and is 100% best enjoyed without a current.

OP Integrated Lifestyle Centre

It’s taken me a while to check this one out, almost entirely because the name makes it sound like a centre for OAPs, and yet despite this quirk, I still keep forgetting its name.

This small but perfectly formed gym-club-centre lives on the 29th floor of a business tower in JLT (Silver Tower, to be exact). I don’t think I’ve ever had a warmer welcome from a nicer bunch of people. Alex met me at reception and talked me through the key elements of the trial including an introduction to the MyZone heart monitor, which I was promptly asked to adorn in order to measure my progress throughout the session. Alex’s enthusiasm was infectious and her weight loss and fitness transformation, since joining OP four months ago, was quite simply inspiring. Believe me, she showed me the photos and everything.

As I mentioned, the training area is relatively small, but not too small, and is well-stocked with familiar and not so familiar looking gym equipment. Alex took me into the gym area and introduced me to Jack. OK so Jack works out. A lot. I’d challenge someone to find even a gram of body fat on him, so either he’s going to an entirely different gym himself, or the OP Integrated Lifestyle Centre actually produces results.

Anyway, Jack gets me to do a couple of things so he can check my hips and shoulders are OK, not sure what he was checking for entirely, but I passed whatever I was meant to and he handed me over to Hayley. Hayley is going to be my instructor for the evening along with one other lady, there are five people in the room and two of them are PTs. They weren’t messing around when they decided to describe what they do as “semi private personal training”.

The thing I love about this place is that with MyZone, it’s very connected, digitally speaking, which hugely appeals to both my competitive nature and my er.. digitalness. It’s also super social with the high achievers being named and famed on the walls alongside announcements of OP’s next social night. During the training, TV screens countdown every second of your workout and rest, while simultaneously showing your score, heart rate, % effort etc. It was a lot to take in, especially when you throw in the plastic ivy hanging off the giant plastic tree which decorates the room and adds to the fun quirkiness of the whole experience.

The mantra: A playground for adults that enhances brain performance, fitness & overall vitality.

Be prepared for: Super bright decor, hard work, winning prizes for achievements, enthusiastic personal trainers with insane bodies, and walking away a little bit in love with it all.

Watch out for: The trainers – don’t think poor form, slacking and not giving 100% will go unnoticed.

If you sign up (I did): There are a few different packages depending on the time of day you want to go, but on average a block of eight sessions works out at about 130AED per session.

OP Integrated Lifestyle Centre on Facebook



More to come….


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Raiph says:

    I feel you’re leaving out a very key subsector here. Disappointing this wasn’t the gym related post I expected 😉


  2. Some pretty great options out there!

    Feel free to check out my online personal training, free informational articles/videos, and so much more at http://bit.ly/2cKuSzq

    Liked by 1 person

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