Lahore-born Shahbaz Haider was a fitness freak since his formative years. Shahbaz, who graduated from the Punjab College of Commerce (PCC), Lahore, in 2004, took up fitness training the following year at a local health studio to keep his passion going.
However, fitness training in Pakistan over 17 years ago was hardly a profession, as awareness was low about keeping yourself in shape.
Shahbaz had little option but to look for a viable career — he worked as a quality assurance supervisor for Warid Telecom while working as a fitness trainer as a part-time gig.
Little did he realise that his side hustle would become his livelihood when he visited Dubai for the first time in July 2010. He quickly figured during that short trip that there is a booming yet untapped market for fitness in the Middle East’s most vibrant and cosmopolitan city.
A sedentary lifestyle coupled with indulge in high-calorie food is a potent combination to become obese for a section of Dubai residents in no time. Armed with a four-week certification course from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Shahbaz found a job at a fitness centre in Dubai.
He made a job switch in March 2012 and stayed on course for the next three-and-a-half years while honing his skills and acquiring a driving licence before taking the plunge to become a personal fitness trainer.
“The moment was opportune. The country had introduced REPS UAE — The Register of Exercise Professionals. I was the 23rd member of REPS UAE and now the strength runs into thousands,” Shahbaz said.
“Membership of REPS UAE can provide more than just a badge to enhance an instructor’s professional image. It differentiates a qualified and committed instructor from someone with little or no training. Being a member of REPS means that fitness professionals will hold recognised and approved qualifications and be committed to ongoing professional development,” he added.
In 2013, there used to be around three-four schools in Dubai that offered functional training courses. Shahbaz did a raft of functional training certificate courses from MeFitPro that cost him around Dh20,000.
Soon, he had certificates for TRX suspension training, ViPR, which bridges the gap between movement and strength training, Kettlebell (boxer size) and trigger point massage that made him a champion personal fitness trainer as he branched out on his own in November 2016.
“Fitness has become an organised sector. It’s largely incentive driven. If you can make a name for yourself in this market, it’s easy to sustain,” he said. Shahbaz was one of the Pakistani expatriates who dreamt of becoming a personal fitness trainer in a competitive market where Filipinos and Europeans largely rule the roost.
“Personal training module (PTM) is a rigorous procedure. Usually, a client signs up for 20 sessions in a month for Dh5,000, which works out to Dh250 per session. A trainer is as good as the result he can deliver. The goal is never to make a client lose 20kg in a month but gradually shed 3-4kg over the next five-six months,” he said.
He struck a big chord with his clients because of his performance and the word-of-mouth publicity did him a world of good.
“There was a time when I’d work from 6am to 11pm six days a week. I did 228 sessions, each an-hour long, in a month. But that was exhausting as I gave my 100 per cent while training the clients. Now, I have reduced the workload to only six sessions a day to conserve energy,” said Shahbaz, whose clients are largely Emiratis, South Asians and Arabs from the wider region.
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a paradigm shift in the personal fitness training regimen. An increasing number of people have become conscious of personal fitness and laying greater emphasis on nutrition supplements.
“I had to struggle for around six months at the height of the pandemic in 2020. But it’s been business as usual since then,” he said. Shahbaz wants to take his PTM beyond Dubai and is toying with the idea of going digital for a larger global audience.
“It’d be both convenient and cost-effective. I’d like to see myself heading in that direction within a year even though many personal fitness trainers are conducting boot camps in Dubai,” he added.
His ambitions are in sync with the global trend for PTM aspirants.
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