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Kazakhstan: A Rich Cultural History With Fit New Ideas

by Alexandra Williams, MA on Aug 16, 2010

World Beat

A landlocked Central Asian country, Kazakhstan is bordered by five countries, including Russia and China. The ninth-largest nation in the world, which makes it the size of Western Europe, Kazakhstan is nevertheless largely a land of mystery to many people. Independent from the former Soviet Union since 1991, Kazakhstan has two languages, Russian and Kazakh. But the language of fitness is also well established!

According to Nastya Kazinets, a group fitness instructor in a small women’s gym in Almaty (the former capital), “Group exercise is becoming more and more popular, as people get a boost from each other’s energy and have fun together, no matter how hard the workout is.” At this gym, “classic” aerobics, kickboxing, and Latin and belly dancing are the most popular, as they offer “personal contact” with the instructor.

At the Fitnation Sport & Fitness clubs in Astana (the current capital) and Almaty, deputy director Alena Romaikina is proud of the club’s 5-year presence in Kazakhstan. When it comes to popularity, Romaikina mentions yoga, Pilates and other mind-body formats. “This may be attributed to the absence of contraindications,” she believes, “and they are therefore often recommended by doctors.” Then, shifting all the way over to “power” programs, she mentions the high-energy and high-intensity classes. “Barbell, sculpt, Hot Iron (a program with The Body Bar® and folding bars), indoor cycling and kickboxing are very popular with people who have strong physical training. We attribute this to their desire to reach perfection [in terms of both] physical shape and health improvement.”

There are also gender differences, according to Romaikina. “Men mostly visit the gym and pool, and prefer the group boxing programs, while the women actively attend all group programs.” But both sexes like to exercise, with Fitnation attracting 42% men and 58% women as members.

With Kazakhstan facing the same issues as many other nations, both women believe education is the key to getting more people to engage in fitness. “People still don’t understand that being fit is not a sport, but a lifestyle,” remarks Kazinets. “They come in the middle of spring and try to lose 30 kilos by June. The government is trying to raise awareness about healthy choices with social ads and antismoking policies, so it is penetrating into people’s consciousness and the percentage of people visiting clubs is increasing constantly, with next year always better here than the one before.” Romaikina concurs and adds that the low standard of living and a lack of places for children to go for physical activity are also obstacles.

Looking to the trends, Kazinets sees a great future for group exercise and a moderate one for mind-body. Romaikina has similar predictions, yet with more emphasis on mind-body, “as it combines elements of various disciplines already popular among both men and women.” Because of the cost, she doesn’t see personal training taking off anytime soon, although with the “exit of the country from an economic crisis,” she remains quite optimistic. “The fitness industry in Kazakhstan will face rapid development (including the opening of new clubs) and an increase in the number of clients, along with the introduction of new programs and techniques. Fitness appeared in our country fairly recently and is seen as a fashionable trend and sign of prestige. Unfortunately, many people cannot yet afford it, but they do aspire to be beautiful, healthy and successful. Therefore, we will continue to develop and popularize fitness, despite the fact that even in large cities, only 2% of the population is regularly engaged in it.”

In a heartfelt way, Kazinets expresses her love for her country and the fitness world. “Kazakhstan is an Asian country, and people here appreciate human relationships a lot. We try to be friends with our clients. We celebrate holidays together with toasts and inspirational speeches. We really get to know our clients and try to help with everything we can. In return we get so much gratitude and loyalty that we can’t even wish for more.”

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 7, Issue 9

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About the Author

Alexandra Williams, MA

Alexandra Williams, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Alexandra Williams, MA, is a contributing editor for IDEA Fitness Journal.