My Fitness And Personal Trainer Journey Began as a Hobby
Before arriving to Kuwait my fitness experience was limited to leading a small boutique studio back in Belarus. (Kuwait is a country in Western Asian, in between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Belarus is a European Country). Fitness was not my main occupation. I mainly regarded it as a funny hobby. It stemmed from a desire to keep my fitness knowledge up to date with the latest innovations in the dancing and functional training world. But little did I know, I would embark on a fitness and personal trainer journey in Kuwait.
However, coming to Kuwait in 2006 and thinking about my development here, the first thing which come in my mind was joining a fitness and group exercise occupation.
The first club I’ve joined here was a mix Spa Resort club located in a beautiful and impressive seaside. It was new and well equipped by “Life Fitness”, with an amazing studio by the ocean. As most of Kuwait’s clubs at that time, the role of a trainer focused on personal training and 2 fitness classes for club members. A background in physical education and sports science was more than enough to get this job, since Kuwait has no official fitness qualification system (such as the REPS in UAE). Furthermore, at the time fitness and gym programs were really limited while demand for fitness professionals was really high.
The Demographic of Gym Members in Kuwait
Gym members were mainly families and expatriates. And it was a lovely experience to teach people basic group exercises or help them reach their personal targets.
My greatest achievement was helping a 15 year old after his tummy tuck surgery:He lost around 50 kg in 3 months and came to me in a “coat” of his own skin, which was hardly believable. In another few months, with a daily 2 hours of muscle training, we managed to bring him to lovely, athletic 6 pack shape.
He was luckily young, when one’s body is extremely supportive and committed to hard training, such as the one I was giving him. Later I would learn how harmful “quick fat loss” surgeries truly are. And it’s unfortunately highly popular here in Kuwait and rarely followed with a proper fitness plan. This is why I believe most people who get tummy tucks are ill-equipped for fitness, especially after more surgeries, which dramatically effects their muscle mass and overall body metabolism.
My personal life fortunately upgraded in 2009 with a new born son; this prompted me to change gyms. I wanted a part time job closer to home and have more time to enjoy my husband and children.
I ended up finding an amazing luxury Wellness and Fitness 2 floor facility. It was equipped with a latest edition of Technogym treadmills, kinesthetic machines, chip assessment technology, 2 beautiful studios, a swimming pool, steam room, sauna, cryosauna, massage rooms and salon. This was a fitness dream facility with everything you can imagine a gym having! Back in Europe we used to count our equipment investments carefully and only think about what was necessary in a gym.
But in Kuwait it was a different story: if you choose between a cheap, economy and luxury membership, you were still guaranteed a LUXURY style facility. This gym was aimed to impress and make your life super comfortable starting from the day you arrive.
How Culture Effects The Gym Business
It was my first experience in a “ladies only” gym and it was totally different with what I knew before; ladies in Kuwait are quite limited by traditions and family restrictions in their daily life. The real reason most women join a gym is to release stress, communicate, and express themselves. Therefore, the majority of local customers stayed at the gym for hours, taking more than 2-3 classes back to back, eating in-between, drinking coffee, and socializing with each other. Consequently, the demand for a personal trainer is a bit different: clients want you to be connected and emotionally involved.
Once you’re favored as a trainer, you will be regarded as a family member.
That emotional impact makes it hard to manage a gym when it comes to vacations and personal trainer replacements. Members usually want a personal trainer, not a “class”. And any changes in the group exercise class schedules can be taken aggressively, followed by plenty of complains if a manager is not smart enough to collaborate with regular customers beforehand.
Arabic Fitness Management is Still Developing
The approach, standards, and requirements strongly vary from club to club and from manager to manager. In Kuwait, management in gyms is usually conducted with heavy authority and disregards compromise or collaboration with staff. I’ve witnessed a meeting between staff trade union and the general manager of a gym. The staff demanded some relaxation in their work routine, and the manager politely listened. At the end of the meeting the general manager said, “I’ll see what I can do for you”. The next day the ENTIRE staff was fired and taken to the airport with one way tickets. Consequently, you mustn’t challenge management if you want financial security on your the end. The Labor Law in Kuwait is clear, but implementation is really slow and could take an ages.
With all that being said, I looked for an international fitness company with strong standards and respectable ways of working. In 2012 Fitness First was planning an expansion in Kuwait and I was one of the first to apply there. To my surprise this would further my fitness and personal trainer journey in Kuwait. The opportunity would also teach me what to look for when it comes to expanding the business of a gym.
The Feeling of Being a Pioneer is Something You Can’t Compare With Anything Else.
A new team, self-confident management, years of successful brand experience, huge and aggressive marketing campaigns can make you feeling strong and significant.
Fitness First was the second largest international brand in Kuwait after Curves. And this was a really great opportunity for the fitness giant to become a leader. The penetration was still around 4%, but local fitness clubs have a tendency of opening as mushrooms at that time. This really was a “time is your money” situation.
In the next four years, from only one club Fitness First, a chain of 6 Fitness First gyms opened up in Kuwait. The most successful business was “ladies only clubs” in local Kuwait areas. Gyms and expats areas were not so successful, as people in expatriate areas were looking for economy and functional facilities.
What I learned About Company Expansion in Kuwait
Male targeted gyms have much stronger competition here in Kuwait as local brands are already really well developed and their offers are normally attractive. Also Kuwait natives love to exercise in groups and clubs without studios. Thus new gyms have less of a chance to get regular customers on board. Also there is a nuance regarding national usage of chain gyms since familial traditions disallow ladies to leave their houses without their husband’s permission. Therefore, even having a Platinum membership at a gym, which allows for gym privileges at any branch, is unnecessary.
Women prefer to stay within one facility, preferably located in their area. Also, although Kuwait now has great road logistics across the country, most people would rather stay within their demographic area.
All of the conditions above makes choosing an area for a new gym facility quite challenging: one has to think about the nearby competitors, cultural aspects, social dynamics, and potential future development of a chosen location.
My Kuwait Fitness Journey is Still on
And I know that this region is still open for future fitness population education.
Kuwaits ranks 42,8 in the obesity index, making it the highest in Middle East.
In other words, there’s an SOS signal for all of us-fitness professionals here. Also the most important thing I’ve learned from my fitness and personal trainer journey in Kuwait is this: there is no other country in the world where your customer will have an amazing level of gratitude and commitment as experienced here in Kuwait.