When Halim Shehadeh and his family moved into their 7,000-square-foot villa on Palm Jumeirah in Dubai three years ago, it came with almost everything they ever wanted.
The premium location and private beach were ideal, but there was one important element missing. “It didn’t come with a gym,” says Shehadeh, who had just embarked on a new health journey.
'Time is precious'
So the chief executive of law firm Cedar White Bradley got his architect to turn the villa’s 400-square-foot sea-facing balcony into a luxurious private gym. “There is a stage in your life when certain things are most precious, and for me right now, it’s time,” Shehadeh says. “I’ve always worked hard and I was burning out. So I got into this fitness regime.
“Also, my children are growing up and I hardly ever got to see them. When I leave in the morning, they’re still asleep and by the time I’m home, they’ve gone to bed. So I only get to see them on the weekend. When you have a gym at home, you save time, especially if you’re living in a villa,” he adds. “A gym outside would take at least 45 minutes of my time just going there and getting back. And that’s precious to me.”
Family time is also the reason Ashish Panjabi decided to turn one of the six bedrooms in his villa in Dubai’s The Meadows into a gym. “I had to quit the gym for a year because I wanted to make sure I dropped my daughters to school each morning, and I just didn’t have the time,” says the father of two and chief operating officer of Jacky’s Retail.
“Also, the challenge was most gyms open at 6am. So I realised if I had a gym at home, I could start earlier, get a full workout, take a shower, have my breakfast and still manage the school drop-off. My private gym has helped me physically and mentally, but also to have that time with my family.”
Shehadeh and Panjabi are, according to fitness brands, part of a growing tribe of UAE residents who are building their own health-focused havens at home – a trend that’s directly linked to the effects of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
“In the first half of 2020, we registered a 50 per cent increase in our home fitness business,” says Nerio Alessandri, founder and president of Technogym.
AKI Fitness, the exclusive distributor of Life Fitness equipment in the UAE, has also seen a 50 per cent increase in business in the past few months, says Hayley Cottan, the company’s head of commercial and business development.
“The Covid-19 outbreak has made exercisers more conscious of the importance of wellness, and health is now a higher priority in people’s minds. This has influenced individuals to create a space within their home, dedicated to meeting their workout routines and fitness needs,” she says.
Brands are responding accordingly. Technogym recently launched the Technogym Live App, which streams exercise classes and can help users of Technogym’s Personal Line of products maximise their workouts.
“It allows you to choose your personalised training experience, from trainer-led sessions, athletic training routines, outdoor virtual training to entertainment options, based on your specific goal,” says Alessandri.
Demand for digital fitness tools has spiked as a result of the pandemic, as more people have taken charge of their exercise routines. “There has been an accelerated growth in virtual fitness, where we are seeing approximately 70 per cent higher engagement in on-demand or virtual classes, either streamed from local gyms, trainers or digital platforms available through products and apps,” says Cottan.
“There will be further enhancements to the Life Fitness On Demand feature, adding additional workouts that are produced from the studio in New York, to provide users with an engaging workout experience through the consoles on cardio equipment,” she says.
Halim Shehadeh's Dh200,000 gym
While the cost of building a private gym can vary, the options are almost unlimited for those who can afford it. For his home gym, Shehadeh worked exclusively with Technogym, at the suggestion of his architect.
“I already had a few stand-alone pieces of equipment and I loved their products. You can incorporate them into the decor of the house without it being an eyesore,” he says. “They also work with you from beginning to end, from choosing which ones you need depending on your fitness goals, to how it fits into the space you have.”
Shehadeh spent about Dh200,000 ($54,458) on the five pieces of equipment in his gym, plus the racks and dumb-bells. The most expensive item, a Technogym cross trainer, currently retails for Dh63,950.
Raghav Arora's 645-square-foot workout space
Technogym also helped build Raghav Arora’s private gym in the 60,000-square-foot, eight-bedroom Emirates Hills villa he lives in with his family. “We had an initial meeting at our office with the drawings, and then they came for a site visit and all it took was two or three meetings.
“We specified the equipment we needed and it was a very simple process. Once the gym was built, they set it up in a day,” says Arora, an architect and the director of the family-run DRA Group of Companies, which includes contracting, architecture, logistics and property businesses.
Having a gym was always part of the masterplan, says Arora, who adds that he and his entire family have always led an active lifestyle. “There are six adults who use the gym almost every day – my parents, my brother, sister-in-law and me and my wife.
“So we wanted a gym that would cater to everybody. It had to be a balanced gym. We needed the weights for me and my brother. Cardio for everyone and cable systems for my parents so they don’t get injured while doing free weights.”
The 645-square-foot space cost them Dh300,000, which doesn’t include the property’s steam and sauna rooms, or its spa and massage room.
But private gyms don’t all have to cost a premium. For government adviser Samer Constantini, 44, and his wife, Zeina Hassan, who converted the “under-utilised majlis” in their Al Barsha home into a gym, it was all about having a bit of knowledge and looking for a good bargain.
A Dh40,000 'budget' option
“The fact that we bought a lot of the stuff during the Dubai Shopping Festival helped a lot,” says Constantini. “For example, the Inspire FT2 Functional Trainer was retailing at Dh25,000 on one website, but we ended up snatching it for Dh12,000 as a special DSF deal.
“But while we were looking for bargains, I was adamant on buying items of good quality, performance and safety features. So, most of the items I was looking at were graded as ‘semi-commercial’, meaning they are designed for heavy use, but not necessarily at the same price tag of commercial-grade gym equipment.”
The gym at Constantini’s home cost the couple a little more than Dh40,000, including fit-out works and a 65-inch smart television and Bose sound systems. It’s an investment that has been well worth it, especially in the past few months, he says.
“I have a saying that the gym has the answers to all your problems,” says the father of two. “With the uncertainty and mental stress that the lockdown caused everyone, having a personal gym in the safety of our own home was a privilege that I will always be grateful for.”