Survival of the fittest: 14 fun ways to stay functionally fit in Dubai
Thriving not surviving…
January is traditionally the month where we gracefully pivot from ‘fitting this festive feat into our bellies’ to ‘fitness is our passion’. And whilst the gym-earned form of fitness might give you pretty muscles and treadmill technique, any athlete will tell you it’s functional fitness that’s important for real-world lasting wellness. The good news is that there are some really fun ways to get these sorts of gains, score big core strength, and focus on your functional physical fitness. All without having to resort to burpees. Mostly.
Stand-up paddle boarding
Where to try it: Ignite Water Sports, Riva Beach Club
Improving balance, flexing your core, reducing stress, giving your whole body a workout, becoming a master of tides – these are just a few of the purported benefits of answering the call of, ‘SUP? And with a vast expanse of glittering coastline and year-round sunshine, Dubai might be one of the best places on earth to go for a leisurely stand-up paddle board meander. If you’re game for giving it a go, the friendly water sports instructors at Ignite will gladly glide you through the basics with packages from Dhs75 for an hour.
Where to try it: Mountain Extreme, Al Quoz 3
Almost certainly occupying the top spot in desirable zombie apocalypse survival skills, climbing works an impressive number of muscle groups that don’t otherwise get a look in. See ‘finger tape’ on the apparatus checklist. Whilst there are multiple places across the UAE where anyone from beginner level up can spider monkey their way across craggy rock faces in situ, there are plenty more indoor walls in Dubai that will likely be much closer, and more convenient for regular scrambles. Places like Mountain Extreme, which offers unsupervised hour-long drop-in sessions on its 129 bouldering problems, 127 top rope routes and 14 auto belays for just Dhs125 (coaching sessions from Dhs250, memberships also available). Here you can learn to plot routes, summit overhangs, and make like Tom Cruise up a section of Burj Khalifa cladding.
Where to try it: FitRepublik, The Academies – Dubai Sports City
With the probable exclusion of ribbon twirling, the collective disciplines within the spinning sphere of gymnastics are amongst the very best for practical fitness. It trades in mastery of the body, grace under balance, strength, stamina, precise movements, and the entirely voluntary option of tight-fitting outfits. If you’re an adult and fancy giving it a go – there are some places in Dubai where absolutely no existing knowledge of pommel horses is expected. Places such as FitRepublik, which offers a drop-in class for all skill levels (priced at Dhs158 for non gym members).
Where to try it: Surf House Dubai, Umm Suqeim 2
If the sea is nature’s gym, then surfing is its HIIT class. Swimming against currents; pulling yourself up onto a board after a gnarly dismount; and just the power, pose, and corporeal control required to aim a slice of polyurethane foam in an even remotely favourable direction – add up to a physically demanding set of basic requirements. But don’t let that put you off, it really doesn’t take that long before you’re upright – and from then on, there’s a strong chance it will evolve into a lifelong obsession… and washboard abs. Surf House Dubai, as they name may imply, is one of the emirate’s most trusted custodians of the ocean – and their team of expert wave whisperers have an outstanding record in getting newbies on the barrel shredding train. Prices for private sessions are Dhs325, with discounts for groups and multi-lesson packages.
Where to try it: Bounce X, Festival City Mall
The self-proclaimed ‘world’s first freestyle terrain park’, Bounce X is a 5,000 sqm attraction that takes the best bits from existing Bounce parks in Dubai, and connects them with other exciting parkour elements. Designed by Australian free-running athlete Sam Carter, inside you can declare your own personal war on gravity – stretch, flex, leap and clamber across floating obstacles, slacklines, balance beams, circular trampolines, and sky-high stepping stones. While there are no structured coaching sessions, Bounce X is a great place for adults and children to practice independently, with one-hour packages from Dhs90.
Where to try it: Elixir Fitness, Two Seasons Hotel, Al Sufouh
The rampant padel PR machine has relegated squash to relative racket sport obscurity in recent years, but we’re confident it has enough in the tank to make a grand comeback. Aside from being insanely fun (it’s basically latch-key street tennis), you burn around 900 calories in an hour-long game. And it’s interval training, which is a proven, effective method for fat burn. Other benefits include improved hand-eye coordination; honing of agility, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness; and literally zero padel court selfies are required. There are scattered courts in hotels across Dubai, Fitness First also offers squash in some of its locations – but our pick is Elixir Fitness, where you can book courts at a rate of Dhs125 per hour.
Where to try it: Circuit Factory, multiple locations
Pros: one of the best ways to incinerate calories, and put a wicked spread of functional muscle groups through the ringer. Cons: you might sweat through your eyeballs and dry wretch over a bin. And look, we may have reached the extent of our burpee free-zone here – but we promise it’s totally worth it. Circuit Factory operates its fun, high-intensity, mixed-circuit classes across three locations – The Factory in Al Quoz 3, GEMS Metropole in Al Waha, and the Innovation Hub in Internet City. Session focuses are mixed up throughout the week to keep your grind fresh, and there’s a companion aspect of enhanced nutrition too, ensuring that even when you’re not in the factory, you’re still racking up the right kind of swole goals. More? There’s currently a buy-one-get-one deal on monthly memberships at Dhs895.
Where to try it: Pole Fit, Marina Sail Tower, Dubai Marina
Very little is known about the origins of pole fitness as a wellness pursuit. Almost nothing in fact. Perhaps it originally came from Poland. We’ll never know. But out of these mysterious beginnings, a cult fitness format was born. In addition to allowing you to artfully navigate in 3-dimensional space along the Y axis of a pole (which could be handy in any number of real-world scenarios), it’s an exercise that famously builds upper and lower body strength, tones abdominal muscles, reduces stress, and is one of the few sports where it’s perfectly acceptable to engage in with eight-inch heels. Here in Dubai, Pole Fit is one of the oldest and most fondly followed hubs of pole fitness, offering options for intermediate and advanced practitioners to take their pole skills aerial with ‘silk and hoop’ work. Pay as you go, single drop in classes are priced at Dhs135.
Where to try it: Spartans Boxing Club, Arjan
Like the warrior tribe from which the name derives, Spartans demands that you leave your ego at the door. It’s more than a gym, it’s a community that stretches far beyond the UAE – employing expert coaches to train, sculpt and forge fighters from its members. It’s open to experienced hands, as well as day one novices, offers classes for adults, kids, for fitness and technique and it runs one of the UAE’s best respected white-collar fight nights. If you’re serious about boxing, looking to meet like-minded souls, or just curious about how far you can push yourself, this is the gym for you (singles sessions from Dhs75). For this, dear friends, IS SPAAAARTANS.
Ask the trainer: Alex Cox
The Platform Studios – boxing, HIIT, cycle coach
Q1. What are your top three exercises that people can do at home without equipment?
No equipment means no excuse, right? Classics are classics for a reason so I wouldn’t look beyond the following;
The Push up
Now hear me out. I know not everyone has the ability to lift themself successively off the floor over and over again so there are ways to build up this all-time beast of an exercise. Try starting from your hands and knees or simply getting into the push up position and tapping one shoulder after the other. After every 10 taps lower yourself to the floor and start again when you’re ready.
Right up there with deadlifting for most muscles recruited but this comes with the added benefit that you don’t need any equipment. Build muscle, burn calories, improves posture, mobility, balance, flexibility you name it. For an added kick make every 10th Squat a Squat Jump!
Alternating Toe Touches
Fancy laying down for a bit after all those squats? Well, flat on your back with your arms and legs extended is exactly where you start and finish. What I love about this is that there are steady and manageable progressions and regressions to suit any ability. Bring your straight leg towards you and go meet it with the opposite hand.
Q2. What are the best outdoor workouts for free functional fitness gains?
I’m not here to push the virtues of running. You probably already know that minute for minute it’s the best burn you’re going to get, but it is definitely not for everyone and if its impact on your joints that you’re concerned about, consider Hiking. Walking at any pace up hills is fantastic for you, swimming is one of the best exercises out there for total functionality and most buildings and residential communities have their own pools, add to that public beaches and you’re spoilt for choice. Whilst on the subject of beaches many have cycle tracks these days as well as running tracks and cycling offers a much lower impact option for your fitness goals. You’ve probably also seen workout stations, at semi-regular intervals, lining the running tracks, many parks have these too and if you’re looking for something a little higher end but still outdoor head down to SkyDive Dubai where there is a gym that is absolutely free to the public.
Q3. What classes would you recommend at Platform Studios for people looking to improve their overall functional fitness
At The Platform Studios our MO is “The Joy of Exercise” so that’s my top tip. Find the JOY!
Our business is built around providing variety and what is right for one person is simply not for someone else. We have an extensive range of Mind & Body classes taught by world class trainers. If you’re looking to condition your core or legs take a Barre or Booty Burn class, if you’re looking to increase flexibility look at Yoga or Reformer, but to increase your overall fitness and for a healthy heart I’d suggest our Rhythm or Power cycle classes and our signature HIIT & Boxing classes.