Dubai's Reform Athletica: one studio, two workouts: can you keep up?

Reform Athletica, Jumeirah’s latest fitness studio, is bursting with good ideas, but its classes are not for the faint-hearted

“I need an easy day of exercise after a hard cardio session yesterday; I’ll give a Method class a go.” This was my internal monologue as I booked in for Reform Athletica’s Pilates-inspired low-­impact class.

I’d done the high-intensity TRX Athletica session the week before, figuring it would be the hardest. However, as I settle in for the first exercise on the Megaformer – a machine of systems and pulleys that’s a step up from your typical Pilates Reformer – it becomes clear that low impact does not translate as low effort.

It was about the time the fictional narrator of my life would have said, in a booming tone: "It was not an easy day of exercise."

Reform Athletica is Jumeirah’s newest, and perhaps simplest, fitness studio, having opened on May 15. It offers just two types of classes, Reform Method using the Megaformer, and TRX Athletica, which uses only TRX suspension trainers.

The studio itself is light and airy, and almost Scandinavian in its reliance on light and wooden hues. The luxury aspect comes through in its marble-like staircase, top-of-the-range Megaformer machines (imported from Lagree Fitness in Los Angeles, and said to cost upwards of US$10,000 [Dh37,000] each) and showers stocked with Malin & Goetz products. Inspired by the fitness scenes of New York, London and Los Angeles, the studio caps its classes at 12 people, promising its customers a tailored,training experience.

And on a balmy Monday at 7.30am, that's exactly what we get. Although initially apprehensive at the sight of head trainer Roberto leading us into the studio (memories of this burly half-­Chilean, half-Brit martial arts expert energetically leading us through last week's TRX class are still fresh in mind), it becomes clear that each trainer is multitalented. Over 40 minutes, Roberto calmly and expertly walks the three of us in the class through each of the strength and conditioning exercises on the Megaformer, and is quick to help modify exercises as needed.

Unlike in other Pilates-­inspired classes, the music is high tempo – which probably should have been a warning of what was to come. About 10 minutes into the class, I'm spent. The remaining 30 minutes give me legs of jelly for the remainder of the day.

A week earlier, the TRX class had been just as challenging, but in a different way. The cardio-based class was a mix of high-tempo HIIT exercises (think mountain climbers, pull-ups and planks all using the TRX, punctuated with cardio) in short, sharp bursts. And for a class that solely revolves around using one piece of equipment, the exercises were surprisingly diverse.


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Founder Dina ElShurafa, originally a lawyer with a Palestinian-Saudi background, had been working in London at a law firm for eight years when the idea for Reform Athletica was born. “Dubai to me has always been an extension of London, both in terms of work and lifestyle. Having previously lived in the UAE, Dubai to me represented the perfect mix of West meets East,” she says. “It is a city in which you can enjoy a fast-paced life one day and a totally relaxed one the next.”

Reform is working with homegrown brands such as Spill the Bean for its cold-brew coffee and Koldpress juice, and does not supply single-­use, plastic drink bottles for its water coolers – offering branded S'well bottles instead. Its sweat bags are biodegradable, and the studio's walls are adorned with art by the likes of Mandy Barker, whose work raises awareness about ocean plastic pollution.

“Every partnership and collaboration at Reform Athletica was carefully chosen based on the collaborators’ drive, ethos and equal commitment to the environment,” ElShurafa says. “We wanted to play a part in raising awareness of the dangers of plastic pollution, the effects of harmful waste and the importance of recycling.”

The studio plans to organise quarterly talks and discussion forums, participate in local events and continue to collaborate with like-minded brands in order to “make a real difference in the community”.

Reform was the culmination of a three-year “working holiday” for ElShurafa, who visited classes in London, New York, Hong Kong and Los Angeles to take “the best of each studio”, and bring it to Dubai. But she didn’t just stop at taking aspects of classes – she took a trainer, too. Julio is from London, and ElShurafa trained with him for three years. “He is the reason I fell in love with the concept. His workouts are not only challenging, but so addictive that you keep coming back for more,” she says.

Professional Egyptian runner Manal Rostrom, one of the Middle East’s most prominent sportswomen and the face of the Nike hijab, is also part of the team, as are Pilates-trained Louise Whiles and Sarah Zakzouk, who is the author of the fitness blog Sports and the City.

While it’s still very early days, expansion is already on ElShurafa’s mind. When I ask her what’s next, though, she’s careful not to give too much away. “We are still in our third week of operation, so the focus is on building our client base and establishing those connections with the community.

“We have a lot in store and have very exciting plans, but all in good time,” she adds. “Maybe we start looking for a second site after Ramadan? Who knows?”

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