UAE: Fitness industry becoming niche as residents choose gym alternatives

More people are preferring to pick specific workouts based on a number of factors rather than just getting into the gym and exercising



Image used for illustrative purposes only
Image used for illustrative purposes only
by

Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Sun 22 Jan 2023, 4:06 PM

A veteran golf player, M.S., thought it was time to hang up his clubs at the ripe age of 70 when started experiencing aches and losing strength. However, he ended up enrolling himself in a golf-specific programme with Richard Dunsby.

“Within six weeks he was pain-free and his swing had picked up,” said Richard, who runs his program at Optimal Fitness. “He went on to win a tournament at his club and got an all-expenses paid trip to Germany. He completely turned his life around. That was one of the most rewarding things to watch as a coach.”

Richard is one of the several fitness professionals who are targeting a niche market of clients in the UAE. From people in specific groups to providing exercises based on certain sports, the fitness industry in the UAE is increasingly becoming more niche market. More people are preferring to pick specific workouts based on a number of factors rather than just getting into the gym and exercising.

Another niche fitness regime is offered by Dubai-based trainer Georgie Ricks, founder of 'Its a PCOS Party', a bespoke coaching programme for women combating polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

“There are too many generic workouts and programs out there which are a copy and paste job,” she said. “It’s hard with the fitness world being so saturated to know who to trust and believe. Having a niche like PCOS helps women feel heard, seen and understood. They know that I can relate to what they are going through, and my regimes will be detailed and personalised to their goals and needs.”

Increasing demand

Ever since launching her programme earlier this month, Georgie says she has received unprecedented interest. “At first I started picking up a few clients,” she said. “Soon I was reaching my maximum capacity, actually having to start a wait list. It really confirmed to me just how big the problem is and how so many women are suffering alone.”

Richard Dunsby also said he has a packed calendar, seeing at least 30 golfers a day. “I knew that golf was huge in the UAE with over 14,000 active golfers in the country,” he said. “So when I moved here, I spotted that there was a niche market and I catered to it. I couldn’t be happier with my decision.”

According to other industry experts, the demand doesn’t just stop at fitness classes. Raj Pagarani, the founder of athleisure wear brand Iron Tribe says people are looking for niche products in fitness fashion too.

“Earlier people would just wear anything to the gym,” he said. “But not anymore. There are specific material only developed for gym wear. The shoppers want specific functionality in their clothes based on what kind of workout they are doing. Like, if they are doing CrossFit, they want the support. If they are weightlifting, they want to make sure the clothes don’t constrict movement.”

Experienced in spotting patterns

One of the biggest benefits of fitness professionals working in niche markets is that they are able to spot issues even before it happens because of their experience.

Sport physiotherapist Anil Daniel Prasad who works extensively with runners at Bedaya Polyclinic said he works extra hard to get his clients to do strength training because he knows how important it is.

“Runners are not big fans of strength and conditioning,” he said. “However, it is important for them to lift weights as running is an impactful activity. They need to equip their body for it. Also, strength workouts help reduce injuries.”

Similarly, Richard knows what areas to work on for a client based on their profile. “For example if it is a youngster, then I have to work on developing strength and stability to develop power,” he said.

“If the client is in the 40 to 60 age group, then most likely they spend a lot of time at the office desk which results in reduced mobility. So in this group, I mostly work with improving strength and balance and reducing chances of injury.”

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