Meet the fit and the famous
With personal trainers becoming social media celebrities in their own right, it's a good time to jump onto the workout bandwagon
Last week, I decided to seek the help of a personal trainer as part of my New Year's resolution (yes, I know, it's a bit overdue). After an hour of crunches, lunges and lifts with personal training group Fit Squad Dxb, I was pretty much worn out. In fact, the reason I managed to make it through the hour was because my trainer kept encouraging me to push my limits. Which just goes to show that a personal trainer's job doesn't stop at knowing the right exercises and nutrition: it's also about understanding people.
However, we live in a digital world, and today, there's another tool through which personal trainers are judged - social media. Fitness bloggers may be dime a dozen, with most featuring healthy recipes or stunningly attractive pictures of themselves in workout gear, but personal trainers stand out from the rest, even on social media. These are seasoned, qualified professionals with years of experience in health and exercise and thousands of followers - making them influencers in their own right. Find out how they are using social media to inspire. you may just be motivated to hit the gym too.
Nine years ago, Omar Al-Duri had the urge to get out of his comfort zone. At that point, he had 10 years of experience as a personal trainer in the UK and a job he loved. But as he so aptly describes it, he wanted to 'take things up a notch'. So he made his way to Dubai to build his clientele from scratch and make a name for himself. And it would suffice to say he succeeded. Today, not only is he the co-founder of Platform 3 Fitness in Dubai Marina, he has won numerous awards and was even given the opportunity to become a physical trainer for the Ghana Football team in 2015.
"When I got here, there were plenty of trainers, but there was still a gap in the market. For example, every hotel had a gym, but there was no one supervising people within that gym. I wanted to create a space where people could get the professional help they needed," he explains. "Personal trainers today need to do much more than just teach a person the right exercises. It is essential to understand everything about the person. You have to know their nutrition, past injuries and work environment. The most important thing you can do for your client is listen - if you don't listen, you will never get results."
He may be a natural when it comes to training others but social media was something he had to learn. According to Omar, today, social media has become such an important tool in the fitness industry that 'if you aren't using it, you fall back'. Not only does it make brands more aware about personal trainers, but it helps people connect with trainers online. "You get a lot more enquiries because people are able to study your techniques and talk to you about their personal goals online. If they like your vibe, they are much more likely to want to train with you."
Omar definitely caught up with the social media game, primarily using Instagram and Snapchat to inspire other people to be their fittest selves. However, there is a downside to people looking up information online, and assuming they can do a workout, without any prior experience. According to Omar, using the online world to learn new exercises is perfectly okay if one has been training for years, but could do more harm than good for a beginner.
And, of course, there is the issue of blindly equating number of followers to a personal trainer's skill. "There are so many good trainers out there but there are also controversial trainers who just put up posts to get more attention. Often you find someone who just got about 100,000 followers in a short span of time, and becomes an influencer even though he or she doesn't have the right experience. You have to be careful about who you follow."
Variety is important: If you want your workouts to be sustainable, keep mixing your activities and routines. Set yourself different goals - for example, to take up swimming one week and dance class the week after.
Involve friends and family: Try to make the fitness atmosphere as contagious as possible. Look out for group activities that gets the entire family moving.
It's impossible not to have heard of Carly Neave, who has raked up a stunning 35.4K followers on Instagram by promoting her healthy lifestyle. However, Carly is much more than just a health enthusiast. Born in England to an athlete mum, who has even competed at the Commonwealth Games, Carly was surrounded by all things fitness from early on. When she came to Dubai three years ago, working in public relations opened her eyes to the importance of having an online presence. Which is why Carly decided to get her personal training qualifications at the same time she started her blog.
"The blog helped massively when it came to getting new clients," she says. "In fact, I think social media is one of the first things people look for when they are hiring a personal trainer these days. Having an Instagram account is like an online resume."
Carly advises those who are interested in getting fit to follow social media accounts that align with their type of training. For example, someone interested in yoga can follow yoga instructors, while there are other accounts to follow, if one is looking for body building or quick workout inspiration. "That being said, do your research and follow people with caution. Someone could be in amazing shape, although he or she is training badly and eating junk. Find those people who seem real and are actually trying to give advice in their captions - not just posting picture after picture of themselves in training gear while wishing everyone a happy Monday!"
In the world of social media, what you see isn't often what you get, but Carly is adamant that all her pictures are untouched and real. "I may use filters, but otherwise make sure my pictures are as genuine as they get. I hope that's what people see when they come to my profile."
Routine is key: When you get out of routine, you are more likely to get hungry or tired and take up a bad habit. But if you have a good routine that includes about 20-30 minutes of exercise a day, that's very healthy. It creates a good cycle because when you train better you eat better, and vice versa.
Picture by Juidin Bernarrd
Location: Train-SF, Al Quoz
Ten years ago, Jes Body, who hails from New Zealand, was, in her own words 'extremely unhealthy'. She used to train too much and eat too less, and the result was that she became underweight, and developed hormonal issues. Which is when she decided she wanted to 'get as fit as possible'.
Today, Jes is a leading fitness trainer in the UAE, offering both group coaching and one-on-one sessions, with her choice of training place being Train SF in Al Quoz. But instead of focusing on social media and using it to create a name for herself, Jes decided to do something pretty unheard of - start a community of like-minded women who aimed to train and stay fit together. And Peach Series by Jes Body was born.
"I train both men and women, but I used to get contacted by women all the time. Sometimes they would want advice and sometimes they just wanted to talk. So, I got to thinking about how great it would be to have a safe space just for women who want to be healthy and fit and the community just developed on its own," explains Jes. "Today, it's amazing because many of the women work out together and support each other. The company you keep really does affect your fitness level and there is a great amount of interaction in the community."
The community is mostly made up of her former clients, although anyone and everyone is allowed to join. There are workout classes as well as other perks to joining - from holistic workshops to free information on their blog to sessions by other female trainers on specific skills like headstands.
"I think social media has given everyone a creative space for expressionism and the ability to pass on information instantly," says Jes, who promotes the group's workout sessions on Instagram Stories as well as through their website and other social media channels. "Loads of people from all over the world tap into them because they want to learn new workout techniques. I want to be accessible for women of all ages and races and create a space where women can be real and overcome their fears without worrying about making mistakes or not looking perfect."
Her message to all her followers is that people are more powerful when they come together. It's hard to argue with a logic like that.
If you're ever thinking about it, just start: There is no perfect moment to start. Be a student and take time out to learn properly. You have to let go of that expectation of being perfect. Sleep like a bus: Sleep is so important for your health and hormones and it is one of the most underrated parts of your workout!
Lastly, have fun with it: If it's longevity you're looking for, you have to enjoy what you are doing, so find a workout routine you want to stick to.
UAE resident Nabeel Merchant is a master of many traits. The 27-year-old fitness trainer started with break dancing when he was younger, got a coaching certificate in Parkour later and is currently a 'transformation specialist' with Fit Inc. He's also known for dabbling in a variety of different exercise routines, from calisthenics to street workouts. So, it's no surprise that a number of clients come to him for more fun exercises - not just regular training.
"Most people who want to lose weight are not looking for usual workouts - they want routines that are also fun," he explains. "I employ a lot of gymnastics and specialise in bodyweight training - where you don't use any equipment. It's about a lot of jumps and stretches that improve your strength."
When Nabeel first made his social media account a few years ago, he began much like everyone else - detailing what he was eating or doing. But when he started putting up videos of his workouts on Instagram, his number of followers quickly grew. Soon, he had people enquiring about different workouts and personal training sessions.
"Photos can mean anything and can be faked. But when you make videos, people understand what is going on and ask more questions," he says. "So, I usually post videos that are educational and mention what I'm doing in the captions as well as the benefits of the exercise."
With his experience in creating content for his social media channels, Nabeel even branched out to create The Rolling Prodigy, an Instagram page that features photos taken by him. With over 4,000 followers and a hobby of constant content creation, Nabeel, undoubtedly knows what works online.
"It's better to find a niche," he advises. "If you post random pictures, that doesn't work in the long run. People follow others for very specific reasons. For example, if a yoga instructor starts posting pictures lifting weights she might actually lose followers. It's okay to be interested in different types of workouts, but you need a larger focus."
Focus less on working out and more on healthy eating: I think the food you eat is more important than how much you train.