How Vogue Fitness grew to become of the top CrossFit gyms in the UAE?

When Vogue Fitness / CrossFit Yas opened in 2014, it was home to a small community of fitness-­minded people in an area still very much undeveloped beyond Abu Dhabi’s Formula One track. Now, the company has expanded from two small units in Yas Marina to almost 10 locations in Abu Dhabi, including Cleveland Clinic, Al Muneera and Al Ghadeer, with a new outlet opening at Marina Mall by April. Last year saw the opening of the first Dubai offshoot in JLT, while this year, the company will branch out to its third emirate, opening at Grove Village in Ras Al Khaimah in July.

Bonding through fitness

As numerous gyms and fitness ­facilities across the country close down because of tough market conditions, Vogue Fitness – launched by two Abu Dhabi residents in their 30s, who left their jobs in construction and threw their life savings into the project – is flourishing. The facility offers a range of classes from CrossFit to spinning and swimming, although CrossFit remains its speciality.

“Competition is [still] thriving in the UAE, so it’s survival of the fittest,” says co-owner Billy Graham. “People have a lot of choices.” Fellow co-owner Patrick Hegarty says that the expansion has been organic. “We didn’t plan to open so much in a short time; these opportunities just presented themselves. And one of the best things about this is the coming together of the expat and local community.”

Sixty per cent of Vogue Fitness’s clients are Emirati. “When I worked in construction, I knew one Emirati whom I would speak to for specific work purposes. Here, I know hundreds, maybe even thousands, and we spend weekends together, we are friends,” Hegarty says.

“In the gym, everyone is in their workout clothes and that’s a great leveller. Nobody is as aware of where people are from; they just come together,” he adds.

‘They are helping and teaching us all the time’

Emirati engineer Khalid Al Naqbi is one of such member. He says the community has done much more than offer a place to train. “I had been given a very bleak prognosis by my doctor before I came here two-and-a-half years ago,” he says. “I was grossly overweight, with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and my doctor warned me the situation was chronic. I had to make serious changes to my life, or face the consequences.”

Al Naqbi has since lost 18 kilograms – he now weighs 100kg – and has a hugely different body composition, of which he is now proud.

“We don’t understand that just going to the gym regularly is not enough,” he says. “It comes down to what we’re eating, and I didn’t have that knowledge. I didn’t even know what carbs or proteins were. I grew up in a [cycle] of bad eating. Coming to Vogue Fitness meant I was surrounded by a community where I was learning, not just getting fitter.”

He says that the support provided, both in and out of the gym, with social events and a sense of family, keep him coming back, even though he has a gym within his Al Reef compound. “The coaches and management treat you as a friend and a customer,” he says. “You see what they’re snacking on, how they’re training, what they’re eating and drinking. We interact, and they are helping and teaching us all the time.”

Catering to women and kids

Catering for local needs has been key, and three of the six units in Yas Marina are dedicated ladies-only facilities. “There’s a big community [of women] there now, many of them come with their whole families and their kids do classes with us, too,” says Sabine Monks, one of the company’s competitive athletes and coaches. “In Abu Dhabi, you just have to have this. Many come for the social aspect, and even do more than one class and stay to socialise after.”

Having competitive athletes among the team, Al Naqbi says, is “inspiring” for all. Jamie Greene, one of the world’s top CrossFit athletes, is among the coaches, while Monks was part of the team that reached the podium at the CrossFit Games in 2016, coming third – the first UAE team to reach such a high level at an international event.

She notes that being in an environment where staff can be supported as athletes makes a huge difference to the working conditions. “We get competition leave, which doesn’t come out of our annual leave because we’re representing the company, and just being around the other athletes makes it a really good environment to stay focused,” she says.

The good news for current and aspiring members is that prices have stayed the same since Vogue Fitness opened, other than the addition of VAT, as Graham and ­Hegarty stay resolved to keeping things affordable, and to respect and reward loyalty.