Dubai: Twenty five people moving in a circle, doing some jumping jacks. Why are they here?
“I’m here to start the weekend right!” says a young girl in the group.
“I’m here because I put on weight on Christmas,” another shouted to the rest of the group.
This is just the warm-up of a two-hour free fitness session that residents from across the city have come for, at Dubai Internet City’s amphitheatre park.
As they jog around and do some dynamic stretching for warm ups, the energy and excitement is palpable. The trainers have their boombox in place and are ready to make the attendees burn serious calories. Urban Tribe Dubai is a free outdoor fitness group that encourages people to get fitter – both physically and mentally.
As the group takes a quick break after the intense warm up sessions, Jeremy Thomas, one of the trainers shouts out: “Speak to somebody you don’t know.”
Every Saturday, the free fitness class takes the attendees through high-intensity interval training (HIIT), animal flow exercises, core muscle exercise, yoga and specialised breathing exercises.
Thomas, who owns a software business in the UAE and UK, has always been involved in sports and training. He is a certified outdoor group exercise coach, and has certifications as a fitness and spin instructor, and trainer in boxing for exercise, Kettle bell and Swiss ball, among others.
“Health and fitness is something that should be taught in school, because I think a lot of nations have a very shortsighted approach to health. So, they will ask for money for their health service or their insurance premium will get bigger if healthcare is private. I am from the UK, where there is a National Health Services (NHS) and they invest money in doctors. What they need to be doing is investing money into health and nutrition education, too, so that people never even reach the healthcare system. That is really one of my beliefs, I guess, about how a nation should look after its people. I do actually find that in the UAE there is such a great emphasis on health and fitness, for example we have the 30x30 initiative in November, where we have a lot of state-sponsored activities. What that does is that it actually keeps them out of the healthcare system, which is perfect. Also, it means that people’s happiness levels, productivity levels and mental acuity is increased, such that they can produce more output with less hours, which then connects to self-improvement. When self-improvement books say that you can do everything working just four hours a day … well you can, if you can be 75 per cent more productive every hour. All of these things are intertwined. But you can’t even reach peak performance in any part of life without having a good foundation in health and nutrition,” he said.
When self-improvement books say that you can do everything working just four hours a day … well you can, if you can be 75 per cent more productive every hour. All of these things are intertwined. But you can’t even reach peak performance in any part of life without having a good foundation in health and nutrition.
Onwards and upwards
He advised anyone looking to focus on their health and fitness to be more aware of their diet, making sure they have the right balance between all the macros – short for macronutrients, the nutrients that your body needs in large amounts like carbohydrates, proteins and fats – and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, based on their individual body type and requirements. What is also important is to focus on fitness through a holistic perspective. Thomas advised people to focus on three core elements – cardiovascular fitness, strength training, joint mobility and stability and mental wellness.
“This is why if you look at the breakup of the exercises that we do at Urban Tribe Dubai, we do cardiovascular exercises, strength training and mobility – that is why the warm up is so specific as we are working a lot of the joints in there with the animal moves – and then we go onto yoga in the end. So, we are really encompassing these pillars of strength in one single session, which is somewhat unusual and that is why it takes two hours,” he said.
Over the years, Thomas has enjoyed not just inspiring people to attend the classes, but also see some of them turn into coaches.
“Seeing their growth has brought me a lot of satisfaction. It is about inspiring others – the participants on their health and fitness journey but also inspiring other people to become leaders. Sometimes we break the participants into groups and we have little leaders within the groups so this allows people to flourish as well,” he added.
Happy and healthy
Daniela Nistor, a Romanian mindfulness, meditation and yoga teacher, is one of the other trainers, who helps the group cool down after the high intensity workouts pump the heart rate up.
“We blend the exercises in a holistic way. Fitness is not only about working your muscles, we are working everything, so, obviously, it is good for endorphin release to have a really good workout and socialise with people, which is why in between sessions we are asking the attendees to say ‘hi’ to each other to get to know each other. You never know when some opportunity emerges from the people that you see,” she said.
“Obviously we love Saturday mornings, that’s why we say your vibe attracts your tribe. For us it is about bringing as many people as we can to work out, ‘happy and healthy’ is my motto,” she added.
We love Saturday mornings, that’s why we say your vibe attracts your tribe. For us it is about bringing as many people as we can to work out, ‘happy and healthy’ is my motto.
One of the other trainers, UK national David Prak, focuses on animal flow and muscle training for the group and started off in 2020 as one of the participants.
“I am a maths teacher and in college I trained to be a football coach. I have always been involved in sports ever since I was young. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I delved into calisthenics (body weight training) and animal movements, not using any weights and building muscle endurance. I joined Urban Tribe three years ago as a participant and I loved it. I loved the ethos and I loved the idea of training outdoors because I like Nature. I went consistently with my friends and enjoyed it a lot and then they asked me if I wanted to do a session because I did all the exercises in the correct form and a few months later I was one of the trainers here. I try to incorporate my own training into what we do here because I love animal flow, flexibility and mobility,” he said.
I want everyone to enjoy training for free, to be honest. You don’t always have to pay for an expensive membership, you can literally train anywhere and I think the only difference between training in a gym and not training in a gym is the community.
As a teacher by profession, Prak said that he naturally feels inclined to share what he learns about health and fitness.
“My main drive in fitness is longevity and to be able to live and move for a longer time. One of my biggest fears is to be old and not able to move. I want everyone to enjoy training for free, to be honest. You don’t always have to pay for an expensive membership, you can literally train anywhere and I think the only difference between training in a gym and not training in a gym is the community. People go to the gym sometimes so that they can be around people who motivate them. Here, as you see people working out, you can probably tell the difference between working out at home alone in comparison to working outdoors in a group. Sometimes we have 10 people, sometimes we have 84 … it is just really nice to see them coming out,” he said.