Dubai, UAE: The emirate’s health and fitness industry has been booming in recent years, with international chains and famous brands setting up high-tech gyms across Dubai.
But one man can lay claim to being a pioneer, sweating it out in a dusty old warehouse in Al Quoz.
Emirati Abdulaziz Al Tayer set up one of Dubai’s first homegrown gyms in 2009.
Since then, 24 Fitness, with its back-to-basics approach, has helped to train internationally known athletes and has become a haven for aspiring bodybuilders and fitness fans from across the UAE.
An avid bodybuilder and fitness enthusiast, the 36-year-old opened the gym with his younger brother Humaid – who has represented the UAE in bodybuilding contests – after spending six years studying in the US.
“I really got into my training, but when I came home there was nothing here. The gyms were so small and the ceilings were low. They were not well equipped and were badly ventilated. There just wasn’t anything like I had become used to in Los Angeles with the big warehouse spaces,” said Mr Al Tayer.
The project was not easy. It took a year to secure approval from the municipality to convert three warehouses into a 15,000-square-foot gym. The municipality had never dealt with such a request.
“We didn’t open to make money, we opened because we love this. We just wanted to offer people a nice space to train, a friendly place,” said Mr Al Tayer.
“We just wanted to make sure that our family and friends came, but then their friends and families also came and it just spread by word of mouth. We never spent a dirham on advertising because we have never needed to. There’s a saying, ‘If you run after the money, the money will run away from you’.”
Although he has a full-time real estate business, Mr Al Tayer is in the gym six hours a day, which he says has helped to inspire people, many of whom are Emiratis, who visit the gym daily.
“Being local and seeing other locals here does encourage them to come,” he said, adding that many Emiratis who came to the gym had been physically inactive. “Once you change your lifestyle, you never go back. It’s very rewarding.
“I would really love to see more changes, starting in schools. There’s no physical education culture, no facilities, there is only a priority on academics. Knowledge and physical health are of equal importance. A healthy mind comes from a healthy body. The kids, the parents, they don’t know how to eat well.”
Mr Al Tayer said a focus on fitness would help to tackle the well-documented health problems of UAE residents.
“The diabetes here is the worst in the world. The families give money to children to dine out because they don’t have the time to look after them,” he said.
“The children buy McDonald’s and suck lollipops all day and eat ice cream.”
© The NationalMay 2015