The Zoo Fitness Studio Athletic Recovery gym in Azaiba has among its clients an athlete from Oman’s national track and field team, a sexagenarian two-term member of the State Council and the HR head of a bank who had been nursing a frozen shoulder for many years. Now she’s boxing. “And it’s getting better,” she’d have us believe.
Located two buildings on the left after The Sultan Center signal as you drive down 18th November Street from Al Khuwayr, The Zoo Fitness Studio Athletic Recovery gym was started last November by two sisters who work in the oil and gas sector. Fatma al Siyabi has been gyming for over ten years, and her sister Warda Bahashwan started three years ago. “We have been to gyms, and the services are good. But we thought we want to elevate the services,” Fatma said, trying not to offend anyone.
Keen to stay lean and healthy, and make sure her BMI is on target, Fatma has always enjoyed working out. “I don’t have a lot of fat in my body; I’m not into body building.” Staying fit allows her to be active – run half marathons and climb mountains. She was atop Mount Kilimanjaro two years ago. A full marathon is next on her bucket list.
When she went to gyms for training sessions or just use the equipment, she missed being asked about her goal. “What do you want to do? How can I help you reach your target? Some places do ask these questions, but it’s more like a checklist. Gyms don’t focus on clients’ goals,” Fatma revealed how it all began.
“That’s when we said, let’s start a gym. Let’s do personal training. Something that is really personal, because personal training is supposed to be personal after all,” Fatma said. The gym currently has 35 clients for personal training as opposed to six regular members who come to use the facility. “Besides, when we retire, I want to make sure there is some place for us to workout!”
But for a gym to tick all these boxes, it would have to be a place where people felt like it is family, having a personal touch. Fatma believes the sisters’ presence in the gym reflects their attitude and lets their clients know that it isn’t just a business for them.
“It’s a passion. It’s a place we truly believe in. And when it’s something you truly believe in, you’ll bring the best to it. Being here, we can make quick decisions. We don’t have to wait for someone else to tell us what is wrong with the gym. And that’s the difference, because we are there.”
Other than body mass, there is another aspect of her life associated to ‘lean’. Fatma is a lean coach at PDO where she’s involved in continuous improvement, working on the basic premise that every process can be improved for some tangible, or intangible, benefit depending on what part of the operation you want to enhance and the problems you have in it. “You need to start with the base line and work towards your target.”
Fatma adopts a similar calculated and calibrated approach and strategy in her gym. When clients join the gym, they are asked to lay bare their goals, besides their parameters and measurements recorded with BMI and a fitness test, followed by systematic data and root cause analysis. Realistic targets are set and clients issued a fitness logbook. At the bottom of each page of the logbook is a line that reads: Bring out the be(a)st in you.
“In the health industry,” Fatma warns, “no one should say, ‘Come in for a month and you’ll see a lot of changes.’ We are very open and tell our clients that you will see changes, but in three months.
“A gym can help you only 30 per cent. The rest 70 per cent depends on your food. So if you think you can eat as much as you want and come to us in the gym for results, that’s not going to happen. We are very frank about that.”
Also, in keeping with Fatma’s methodical approach to all that she does in her profession and for pleasure, she didn’t open the gym on a lark. She enrolled and completed a programme run by the US-based International Fitness Professionals Association during the COVID-19 lockdown and is awaiting certification.
“IFPA teaches you everything you need to know about the human anatomy – the muscles and fibres – how to become a personal trainer, the relationship with clients, how to understand people’s personalities… I didn’t just get into the business. It wasn’t a leap of faith.”
Spread over 380sqm, the gym also offers studio classes for spinning, dance and circuit training, but there’s more to why its clients opt for it – its three professionally accredited coaches. Its head coach, who prefers to go by the name Omar, has a wall full of certificates. He’s trained in physiotherapy and boxing, too. The crew includes a studio manager who is a former Tunisian national athlete certified to train in aerobics.
Insherah Bawazir, who has moved on from a frozen shoulder to boxing since joining the gym, said the reason she chose Zoo Fitness over other bigger and better known facilities is its emphasis on recovery.
“The owners are hands-on and respond to customer feedback. My sessions are customised to meet my individual needs and goals. The workouts are not repetitive and you come out feeling better every time,” Insherah said.
When national team athlete Aliya al Mughairi was looking for a personal trainer or coach to help boost her fitness so she could improve her performance, she couldn’t find one suitable for her training until she came across Zoo Fitness.
“I found it perfect because the coaches are very flexible. They help you reach your goals, and also adjust workouts to focus on what you want to personally improve on,” Aliya said. “I think one of the best advantages is that not only is Zoo Fitness a gym for training, but it is also for athletic recovery.”
Fatma must naturally be delighted with the rave reviews for the ‘athletic recovery’ aspect of the gym. Asked the significance of ‘zoo’ in its name, she explained that a zoo is a place for all; different kinds of animals. “The concept is all about diversity. Different sizes, different shapes, strengths, weakness… we want this to be a place for everybody.” It doesn’t target just one kind of person or body type.