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Millennials desert Dubai super gyms in ‘Dodgeball’ rerun

Small independent fitness clubs are springing up in Dubai to challenge more established chains. (Reuters)

DUBAI: Millennials living in Dubai are turning their rippled backs on big gym chains in search of a more sociable workout closer to home.
It has led to a surge in smaller studios offering spin, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and boot-camp sessions.
The trend threatens the dominance of large fitness chains, which have expanded rapidly across the UAE over the last decade.
It is a narrative that could have been plucked from the 2004 comedy movie “Dodgeball,” which casts the Average Joe protagonists against Globo Gym.
Alison Ramsay, a director of Smart Fitness, based in the Jumeirah Lake Towers district of Dubai, says gyms are no longer about flexing your biceps in the mirror.
Jumeirah Lake Towers is home to more than a dozen small independent gyms specializing in everything from Pilates to pole-dancing.
“We describe ourselves as (a) boutique gym. It’s very personal and social, not posey,” she said. “More people are coming to gyms to look for a social experience and to meet like-minded people. They don’t want to join a big corporate gym and do the same boring workout.”
Set up five years ago, Smart Fitness is one of the older independent fitness clubs in the area, which is home to thousands of expatriates, many of whom can be seen in the early mornings and evenings exercising outdoors.
Millennial tenants seeking to live, work and play in the same location are driving demand for smaller clubs, says property broker Core Savills.
“This has led to a spike in inquiry levels for retail within office buildings,” the broker said. “Boutique workout studios, conveniently located within commercial buildings, usually offer innovative and intense workout classes in a structured 45-minute format.”
Smaller gyms are also able to generate better returns, paying even higher rents because of their more limited space requirements.
Core Savills says bigger gyms may only be profitable paying rents of up to 100 dirhams ($27) per square foot, compared to a boutique brand paying up to 300 dirhams per square foot but for a much smaller space.
That is good news for commercial landlords of empty units typically located on the ground floor of residential tower blocks dotted around the city.
The UAE retail sector is expected to come under further pressure over the next two years with the addition of 900,000 square meters of space, according to data from estate agency Knight Frank.
Fitness First, the world’s largest privately owned health club group, is the market leader in the UAE with 33 clubs nationwide, most of them in Dubai. The group was not immediately available for comment.

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