Imagine a world where, in half the time it takes to watch an episode of Glee, you could fit in enough exercise to burn serious calories, build great core and muscle strength and sweat more than most do in a two-hour gym session. The ramblings of a crazy woman? For once, I'm happy to report, no. As of this week the 30-minute workout - called "30 Minutes to Fitness" - has arrived, all sweat-drenched and exhausting, at Safa Park, courtesy of the fitness experts at American Fitness Dubai.
I was, I admit, a bit of a non-believer before last week. But today I write this with aching legs and more than a hint of smugness at this discovery. I mean, really, it's just half an hour and yet one participant with a high-tech heart-rate monitor said she had burnt 400 calories in just one session, plus an extra 100 in the hour that followed as her body continued to enjoy the benefits. The class starts at 7.30pm sharp - so the typical Dubai tardiness is definitely out of the question - and it's intense.
"It's cross-training - 30 minutes with as little rest as possible," explains the brains behind the new class, Derrick Branford, co-owner of American Fitness Dubai. "It's all about effort level. The harder the body has to work, the more effect it has." Before he starts the timer, we stretch. The class on Thursday is smaller than usual, which makes it even more impossible than usual to skive. After a brief explanation of how the circuit will be formatted, the timer starts and the workout begins.
We begin with five minutes worth of sprints between two cones, following after each other to a soundtrack of Branford's encouraging words and my own rasping breath. "Sprints are the single most effective workout on the planet - bar none," says Branford. "No one in the know will deny that. Bone, muscle, central nervous system, hormones, nutrient partitioning - all improved, and it doesn't take long."
That over with, we quickly make our way to a set of cones he has laid out on the grass, for the callisthenics circuit. It begins with the only exercise I despise (but also respect) only slightly less than sprinting - Burpees. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the exercise is named after its inventor Royal H Burpee - an American psychologist from the 1930s who had participants execute a series of these exercises in quick succession in order to measure agility and co-ordination. They are challenging, but in exchange for a couple of minutes of your day, they condition the entire body, helping you develop strength, explosive power and anaerobic endurance.
After 10 of them, it was on to 20 squats and another couple of sprints before hitting the ground for 20 plyometric push-ups - where when you push up you do so vigorously enough so your hands leave the ground. After using a bench to make 20 leg raises on each side especially challenging, we then finish with another two sprints before starting the circuit again. The thing with this class is, from the outset you're on countdown, knowing that you're never far away from the finish line. Branford, with his sunny Californian disposition and unyielding enthusiasm is ever encouraging and vigilant that we employ the correct technique to prevent unnecessary injury. He also keeps us going with regular countdowns to the end.
Even though you don't get the breaks you may crave, everyone endures it because it's just 30 minutes. By the time we're done with the circuits and head to the ground for straight-legged sit-ups to finish, the perspiration is free-flowing and the face a nice shade of crimson. But it's over, we've worked it, and can now go home and enjoy the evening, knowing we've earned it. "It's easy to fit in, short and intense," says Neha Jamarni, a 26-year-old who works in shipping and logistics. "I have done the bootcamps with American Fitness Dubai, too. This is good because you come and get it over with, and you definitely get a good work out."
Since training with Branford and his colleagues, she has seen a marked improvement in both her core strength, fitness and body shape. "She has become much fitter, much stronger and her technique is so much better," says Branford. No class is ever the same twice in a row either - Branford mixes it up to ensure neither the body nor the mind becomes complacent. Muneeb Cheema, 27, has lost three kilos in as many weeks of training with Branford and his team.
Having committed himself to a new fitness regime after two years of relative inactivity, he breaks his fasting with something light and heads to the park to work up an appetite before dinner. "I really enjoy the class," he says. "It is tough, but it's over much quicker and helps raise the metabolism. I think anyone can come and try it because the exercises are designed for all levels of fitness."