Working out in the gym is how women are toning up – and networking at the same time, finds Kate Ginn
A Rumba Fit class has just finished at Balance Health & Fitness club and everyone is unwinding, with excited chatter coming from the ladies changing room.
While these women have no doubt enjoyed a good workout and chance to flex their muscles, the opportunity to stretch their social network is just as important.
More and more women are becoming switched on to the varied benefits of exercise. While they are getting those endorphins flowing around the body, they can link up with like-minded people for friendship and business possibilities.
Little wonder that gym use among women is rising in Muscat, with more ladies-only clubs opening and existing ones introducing specific facilities geared towards their female members.
“I’ve been in this industry for six years and have really noticed in the last two years the growing awareness and willingness of women to come forward and do something for themselves,” says Shabana Panwala, general manager at the Balance club in Qurum.
“Women like group activities where there are opportunities to sit and have a chat. We live in a fast world of Facebook and Twitter and it’s all about social networking, so being a member of a health club gives you a chance to do that in person.”
Attracting women members is clearly big business. While it has a mixed gym, Balance also has a ladies-only facility with cardio equipment, a separate fitness studio and steam room.
It also has a dedicated Kids Play Room, beautifully equipped with a television, toys and educational books for the little ones to stay amused while mum is exercising.
“The idea was to have somewhere where parents could leave their children while they were using the club,” says Shabana.
“Mums are finding it very beneficial. We have quite a few mums who bring along their children, with their maids or nannies, and use the room while they are exercising.
“We even have a camera installed in there so the mums have extra reassurance.”
In addition, the club has started running exercise classes for children timed to coincide with when their parents will be working out, offering anything from Zumba for Kids to cardio and street dancing.
“We want to encourage family usage,” says Shabana. “If children see their parents exercising right from childhood, they are more likely to do it themselves.”
Horizon Fitness, Oman’s largest health club, which has branches in Muscat, Sohar and Salalah, has separate ladies-only gyms in most of its clubs and offers weight-loss programmes.
One in Azaiba has a dedicated slimming centre for female members.
“Most of the ladies who come are looking to lose weight,” says a spokeswoman from the club.
“The classes are more social, where people can mix. These are popular with women too. We are getting a lot more interest from women recently.”
One new club to open its doors with a women-only environment is Fitness Athletics, which has set up recently near Muscat City Centre. It has specialist facilities geared towards women, along with aerobic classes.
“The ladies-only gym means women can exercise without feeling uncomfortable,” says the club.
Technogym, the Wellness Company, has just been chosen to provide gym equipment for two of Oman Sail’s schools, which will be used among others by the all-women crew from the Al Thuraya Bank Muscat boat.
The company also supplied Balance Health & Fitness club with Kinesis Stations – the latest workout machines and the first in Oman.
Balance is due to open another branch at The Wave, Muscat, early next year.
According to Shabana, the club’s female members often have different aims. “We have busy mums, working mums and those who perhaps have a very sedentary lifestyle, and want to tone up.
“Housewives tend to want to lose weight and we have post-natal women who come around six months after delivery.
“A lot of Omani women coming in welcome the opportunity to mix with different cultures.”
Exercise can be especially good for those women who might be suffering post-natal depression, she adds.
“Group activities are great for warding off ‘baby blues’ and exercising is good for improving self-confidence and a sense of self.
“Some women have gym equipment at home but it’s not the same as getting up and out. There is no motivation or social interaction.
“We provide a supportive environment with the right ambience, where women can go on their own journey without any pressure.
“It’s not always about weight loss, although we have a targeted weight-loss program if a woman wants to do that, but just getting fit and getting the endorphins moving and starting to feel more positive about yourself.”
In fact, once the exercise bug bites for women working out, the whole family can be recruited into trying it.
“Some of our ladies join and then get their husbands to come to fitness classes too.
“We had one member who brought along her husband and two teenage children. It can be something the whole family can do together.”