The Future Of Fitness In The GCC (2020 Holds All The Answers) 2020 accelerated the adoption of new fitness technologies and training models. We realized -some of us for the first time, some of us once again- how important fitness is for our health and everyday life.

By Abdallah Al-Askari

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If you want to predict the future, start by looking back at the past- and that's the principle I am using to understand what's next for the fitness sector.

Uncertainty and unavailability: those are the two key words that dominated the year 2020. Our fitness hopes could have been easily crushed (and they often were) due to gym closures. Our priority turned towards our livelihoods that were at risk, while our health came in second place.

Yet, for many of us, health quickly returned to the driver's seat, mostly thanks to the large-scale tech disruption that hit the fitness sector, which sparked a major (r)evolution in fitness offerings around the globe. Our needs changed, and the fitness sector adapted to them- and quite swiftly too, I must say.

2020 accelerated the adoption of new fitness technologies and training models. We realized -some of us for the first time, some of us once again- how important fitness is for our health and everyday life.

We can fairly say now that the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled the greatest growth in the fitness sector to date. The rise of the digital era in the industry became significant for it to stay alive. Prior to the pandemic, we have seen attempts at digitizing the industry through wearables and fitness apps, which had a minor effect on how people approached their training and daily movement. This area only skyrocketed in 2020.

The worldwide lockdowns prompted masses to opt for tech alternatives from the comfort and safety of home. We can say that tech-driven fitness is one of the key positive takeaways from 2020. With Peloton and Tonal taking over home/digital workouts, the industry has made a major shift in digitization and technology- indeed, with Tonal, you have a personal trainer at your convenience of your home, taking you step by step through your daily workout routine.

With the onset of the pandemic in Kuwait, home and backyard workouts began booming through social media accounts. Everyone from fitness enthusiasts to social media influencers was working out online and broadcasting their training. Healthy eating became "the trend."

Subconsciously, the pandemic triggered the raise of awareness about the importance of exercise and wellness among those who wouldn't have necessarily given much thought to moving prior to the pandemic. In a country like Kuwait, where obesity rates are very high, I view such a development as beyond positive.

Countless households around the world made major investments in exercise equipment for home use. The pandemic brought the spinning class into our living rooms. The US allegedly witnessed a double-digit increase in at-home exercising, and the same was happening in Kuwait.

Fitness facilities rented out equipment to their clients. and, at the same time, sales of home gym equipment were at an all-time high. Many suppliers claim that their revenue from home equipment during the pandemic made up for any kind of loss on the commercial side.

I strongly believe that home exercising and on-demand virtual workouts have become an integral part of the contemporary fitness landscape, and these trends are here to stay even after the pandemic ceases. Technology is set to continue defining both online and offline fitness.

Traditional gyms and studios will need to embrace technology, including digital training methods, to keep up with the demands of their clients. While personal care and service are the top priority in the industry, there is always that conscious client who will not participate in a group setting as of yet. This is where the digital options come into play.

When it comes to the gyms I established and manage in Kuwait -C Club, Riaya Physiotherapy Center, Bidaya Sports Academy and Albidea Club- we have linked our facilities to virtual platforms enabling clients, members, and guests to jump into our group sessions on a daily basis. The choice between personal and virtual is an option that we also provide for our personal training sessions.

Tech-driven fitness solutions and products can help us -the gym managers and trainers- to track and improve member performance. Technology can greatly help in providing secure and safe access and experience, including check-in terminals upon entry, facial recognition-tracked attendance, and touchless payments.

Another area where technology plays the lead role are wearables. Nowadays everyone from kids to grandparents uses wearables to monitor their steps, heart rates, and other vital activity trackers. The collected data can provide great insights into one's fitness and overall health.

For decades, doctors have preached the importance of exercise to avoid and battle diseases. The pandemic has only reassured the statement. In 2020, exercising became widely perceived as a kind of medicine. A tool to alleviate the effects of stress that has been coming at us from different directions as well as physical isolation, which are associated with a higher risk of chronic diseases and mental illnesses.

The lockdowns taught us how important exercise is for our physical, mental. and spiritual well-being. In fact, the gap between physical and mental health is soon about to disappear as people learn of the many health benefits of exercising. More people are now interested in pilates, yoga, breathing workouts, meditation, mindfulness, and other training focused on improving mental health. There has been a greater interest in classes that require less equipment but employ one's own body weight.

In 2021 and beyond, many facilities will keep on offering both on-premise and virtual/live-streamed training to meet clients' preferences. Virtual training will remain as an option for clients, even after COVID-19 is long gone; an option to offer convenience and a timely resource. The great news is that it's not only clients who like the online workouts– so do the coaches who deliver them. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is among the favorites: it's flexible, relatively short, and highly effective when it comes to weight loss and muscle building. It doesn't necessarily require equipment, and it can be done literally anywhere.

I believe that personal training –no matter if really personal or through a screen– will remain the ace for the fitness industry. But it will all depend on how much and how fast personal trainers adapt and evolve their training to meet their clients' demands and needs. Leveraging the latest tech will be the main differentiator. The gyms and fitness clubs that do so will lead the game.

During evening hours in Kuwait, we continue seeing people heading out towards the seaside, walkways, and neighborhoods for light to moderate exercise. This demographic group is categorized as non-gym goers. After a certain time of seeing the results of weight loss or increase of stamina, many non-gym goers choose to go ahead with a long-term gym membership to make their habits part of their daily routine.

Fitness technology has helped boost awareness for many generations, young and old, gym goers and non-goers. This revolution of awareness has also increased gym memberships, home equipment purchases, healthy and diet food prescriptions, supplement and vitamin sales, which in turn gave rise to a healthy and fit lifestyle for a growing percentage of the population.

Whether walking, attending a virtual group session, playing your favorite sport, or spinning in your living room, movement is what matters! Being healthy and active is what we want people to do- and, most importantly, enjoy themselves while doing it.

Related: Disruptive Change: How Entrepreneurship Is Shaking Up The UAE's Fitness Sector

Abdallah Al-Askari

Founder and Managing Partner of C Club, Riaya Physiotherapy Center, Bidaya Sports Academy, and Albidea Club

Abdullah Al-Askari is a health and life enthusiast and an entrepreneur dedicated to creating innovative, industry-leading fitness facilities in private and commercial spaces. He has been involved with Kuwait's fitness industry since 2000, and has, throughout the years, he established Clubfit Gym Co., Evolve Supplements Co., Life Beam for Gym Establishment and Management, and 70/30 meal delivery service.

Al-Askari is also the founder and Managing Partner of a number of health and wellness facilities, including C Club, Riaya Physiotherapy Center, Bidaya Sports Academy, and Albidea Club. He received his bachelor's degree from Virginia Commonwealth University (business marketing), master's degree from Cruyff Institute of Sports in Barcelona (sports management) and is currently pursuing a doctorate in sport business from Paris School of Business.

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