When it comes to fitness and wellbeing, women in Saudi Arabia have, until recently, been somewhat restricted.
But since the ban on female-only gyms being licenced has lifted, Grazia is pleased to report that plenty of plans are in motion to assist women in working up a sweat.
One of the brands pioneering change in the Kingdom is internationally-renowned club Fitness First, so we got together with Lama Sibai, Head of Operations for UAE and KSA ladies-only venues, to discuss the upcoming projects and learn more about women’s reactions to working out in public.
“Lifting the ban has massively lifted Saudi’s spirit,” Lama starts. “Fitness First has run male-only clubs for seven years in the country and now we have opened two ladies-only clubs in Riyadh – with a third opening this year. Our goal is to open 30 clubs across Saudi in five years.”
But first off, we want to know Lama’s history in the wellness industry. “I was brought up in Jordan and later moved to America because I wanted a career in fitness, and ten years ago the Arab world wasn’t equipped to give me qualifications in personal training and nutrition. When Fitness First started growing in Dubai I applied to join because I wanted to move back,” she explains, before adding, “To be a female personal trainer was not something Arab families were proud of, it was a difficult time – but now there has been a massive change towards fitness in the Middle East and I’m proud to be part of the development.”
Today, Fitness First’s two female-only gyms are bright, open-planned and polished. Men can't see what’s happening inside, and there’s even a private VIP lounge featuring plush sofas, a sound system and a disco ball, which women can hire for their birthday parties. Very cool.
“Ladies didn’t have high expectations – in fact, they had no expectations, because they had nothing to compare our gym to - but we wanted to give them the wow factor,” Lama says. “The gyms women were attending before were pokey, hidden and contained sparse, lightly weighted gym equipment. They were also designed by men who mainly painted them pink, as if women only like that colour.”
So, what are the most popular classes in Saudi? “Belly dancing, Zumba, boxing and the RPM spin class,” Lama replies. “And in the main gym, you will see ladies lifting heavy weights. The Saudi ladies are strong and have been training for years, but now they can do it in the open.”
Lama adds, “We take going to the gym for granted. Saudi women feel privileged to be attending and there is a real energy in the club. They are glamorous, fashionable and always smiling. We could learn a lot from them."
We second that.