The fitness scene in the UAE is large — and like many aspects of all things to do with wellness in the region, it’s growing.
In 2016, the industry was estimated to be worth US$380 million (Dh1.3 billion), according to the research firm Statista. In the autumn of 2017, the Dubai Fitness Challenge rolled out massive wellness events. And so far in 2018, numerous new gyms have popped up all around Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
If the UAE’s obsession — a decidedly virtuous one — with living healthy has inspired you to get in shape, great. And if you want to do it by hiring one of the many personal trainers floating around, fantastic. But before you shell out Dh300 for an hour of sweaty suffering, here’s what you need to know.
Ask for the necessary paperwork
The UAE requires personal trainers to have a Register of Exercise Professionals (REP) certificate. The program was launched in 2013 and fully implemented in 2015. But there are still some “cowboy” personal trainers who operate without the proper paperwork. That’s why it’s critical to ask a potential personal trainer for his or her REP certificate.
“I witness some quite frightening instances when I go to certain gyms and residences to train my clients,” Leon Knight, a freelance personal trainer, told The National. “There are a lot of unqualified and inexperienced people posing as professionals for their own gain and to the detriment of consumers.”
The REP is basically an independent body that makes sure fitness pros meet the government’s agreed-upon standards for personal trainers.
“When hiring a personal trainer, it’s essential that they hold the industry recognized qualification,” says Cara Standley, managing director of Empiric, a fitness education provider in the UAE. Empiric is one of several such education providers, among others like MeFitPro.
Ask about other certificates, too
Andrew Wilson, owner and developer of UAEpersonaltrainers.com, stresses how important qualifications are — and he’s not just talking about the REP certificate.
“In any profession, experience gained over a period of time can’t be discounted,” Wilson said. “However, qualifications provide ‘proof’ rather than the claim ‘I can do that’ to a potential client.” It also means the trainer is constantly updating their knowledge, expanding the info they have on hand to help.”
The commitment to education is also a commitment to their clients, he said.
“The industry is constantly evolving and it’s so important to keep up with what’s going on,” agreed Claire Falconer, a long-time Dubai personal trainer.
“There are so many amazing courses out there and it’s really valuable — not just for the PT but for their clients. It’s about learning from the best.”
For Kayleigh Dawson, director of fitness and health at JA Resorts, personal trainers need even more.
“They should also have relevant sports degrees. The best one is sports science, as you then know the trainer has studied all aspects of sports,” Dawson says.
“You have every right to turn around and ask your trainer what qualifications they’re holding.”
Think of the process of finding a personal trainer like you would an interview for a job applicant, suggests Wilson. “You’re the one doing the hiring!”
“Some PTs may look great on paper but you might just not click with them,” she says. “It’s important you feel comfortable.”
The bottom line is, make sure you speak to more than just one personal trainer, and do your research.
Get ready for the cost
“The Dubai market is higher in terms of pricing than the UK,” admits Dawson. In England, it’s around £20-£50 an hour. Here, you’ll spend at least Dh200 (£40).
Dubai is also slightly more expensive than Abu Dhabi, notes Wilson. “But compared to most major cities, it’s similar on a per-hour rate.”
Booking group classes, such as working out with a friend or two, or packaged deals — for example, 10 sessions or more — are good ways of getting the price down.
Of course, if you want one of the city’s high-end PTs to travel with you, answer messages at all hours and be available 24/7, the cost skyrockets. Few of us need or even want this much engagement with our gym trainer, but you’ll be surprised at the demand for this level of service in the UAE.
Look beyond the physical
Falconer, the Dubai personal trainer, stresses that it’s crucial to find a PT who actually listens.
“They need to understand your goals, your weaknesses, strengths, any mental barriers, where you’ve come from and where you’re headed,” she says.
“To be a good trainer, I think it’s so important to care — to really, really care.”
There is definitely a massive mental side to fitness, too. “A good trainer addresses this, and guides the client as an individual,” says Falconer. “No two clients are the same at all, so their programming shouldn’t be the same.”
Nuno Costa Fernandes, a long-time fitness instructor and general manager at Alserkal Avenue’s soon-to-be-open studio, Crank Dubai, agrees.
“A PT is more than just a coach. It’s someone who should deliver a good workout, but also adjust the workout to your mood. It’s like making a killer session into a bit more of a fun one if you’ve had a bad day.”
Be prepared to work
There’s the classic phrase that hits home because it’s so true: if it were easy, everyone would do it. Exercise requires consistent work, and work can be hard.
This matters when finding that right personal trainer. Be wary of any trainer that promises you fast results, says Dawson.
“Yes, they’ll be able to take you on a transformation. But you need to make sure you’re doing it safely. This requires time and hard work.” If someone tells you they’ll have you looking like this celebrity or dropping that amount of weight within a certain time, be cautious. “What will they have you doing to get to that weight? Is this a short-term fix? Is it sustainable?”
A good regime will involve an initial plan, notes Wilson. “To start with, you’ll be relying on their professional advice, especially if you’re new to fitness.” Of course, you can change things as you go along if a particular move isn’t working for you. But at the beginning and throughout, the personal trainer should be the pro.
Consider personal trainer gyms
Whether you want a more luxurious PT offering or don’t really feel like working out at your home gym, there’s another choice in the UAE: booking into one of the region’s many personal trainer gyms.
This includes facilities like Embody Fitness in Jumeirah and The Gym in Business Bay. Both have clients sign up to PT packages so that every workout is a tailored one. For instance, Embody Fitness has a capacity of 200 members. Every membership comes with training, meal plans, workouts and monitoring.
Embody founder James Miller explained the structure to Arabian Business this way: “Most people do not enjoy going to the gym but do it out of necessity. One of our company mottos is: The hour of a day that a client comes to Embody should be the best hour of that client’s day.”
Ask these questions
All this can be a bit overwhelming, and difficult to keep in mind when meeting that new personal trainer. Dawson suggests simplifying it into seven questions:
Do they hold a level 3 PT qualification?
Do they have a sports degree?
What kind of personality do they have?
How long have they been in the industry?
What made you consider them?
How much are they charging?
What have they promised you and do you feel it is attainable?
“I think my main advice is just to be aware of who you are choosing. Don’t pick a trainer because it’s convenient or a friend told you to.”
Handy online resources
AminoApp.com: This mobile app lets you book a personal trainer whenever you need. A single one-on-one session costs Dh350, but add in a friend and it’s just Dh450.
MyFitape.com: With trainers in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, this website offers a variety of different personal trainers, plans and packages, all separated into various categories.
UAEpersonaltrainers.com: This website allows you to read client reviews on various personal trainers throughout the region, then book if desired.
FittPass.com: Based on the idea that you only pay when you train, this website allows you to pay for one-off sessions at various gyms around the UAE. There’s a personal trainer category too, and prices can be very affordable.