As investment in corporate real estate and construction climbs in Egypt in 2009, so will the number of on-site gyms and spas, according to Tamer Farag of Cairo, chief executive officer of Global Sports Co., including Gold’s Gym in Zayed City. “We believe that we are seeing the official start of a boom in health and fitness that will affect all the Middle East. There is a lot of opportunity in Egypt right now, especially for international chains.”
Farag expects the fitness boom to be driven by the corporate sector more than by government intervention, with different groups being motivated by different reasons. “The younger generation of men mostly wants to exercise to look good, while middle-aged workers want to relieve work stress and combat the effects of being seated at computers all day long. Women and older adults are looking to socialize and combat disease. With Cairo being so crowded and polluted (air, water and noise), people are starting to recognize that exercise is medicine and can prevent many diseases,” he says.
Even though ancient tombs and temple walls are decorated with illustrations lauding Egypt’s sports involvement as far back as 5000 BC, Farag notes that only 10% of the current population of 82 million see the real value of sports and exercise, while the balance see fitness as a luxury. For those who do exercise, yoga, cardio machines, free weights, kickboxing and personal training are the most popular activities. For the past 10 years, the split-sets weight training system was popular with personal training clients, but because people have become so busy lately, circuit or interval training that incorporates cardiovascular and strength training has become the preferred method.
Some trends that have yet to gain ground in Egypt are Pilates, TRX Suspension Training®, Gliding™, body weight and functional training. There are also gender differences in people’s beliefs about fitness, with the majority of men preferring strength training and women preferring aerobics. For both religious and cultural reasons, there are women- and men-only classes offered throughout Egypt and the wider region. Some fitness centers that are open to both genders provide small gyms inside the women’s locker areas in addition to women-only classes. Most personal trainers are male, and both male and female clients work with them—partly because there are more male trainers, but also because of cultural perceptions. Female trainers almost always work with women. Even so, perceptions are changing, and many corporate facilities now offer mixed-gender classes along with their men- and women-only classes.
Cairo is somewhat different from the rest of the country, given that most of the health and fitness organizations are located there. Cardio machines and aerobic exercise are the more common activities, whereas in lower and upper Egypt free-weight and machine-based strength training are expected to remain the most popular forms of exercise for the next few years.