Best personal trainers in Dubai

Dubai’s top personal trainers reveal how to turn the average body into a lean, mean, fat-burning machine

Amy Saunders

The Exercise Mixologist
Best for mums-to-be
Amy Saunders
The Exercise Mixologist
Best for mums-to-be
Jordan Branford
The Motivator

Best for fast results
Jordan Branford
The Motivator
Best for fast results
Rudi Botha
The Bodyguard
Best for beefing up
Rudi Botha
The Bodyguard
Best for beefing up
Ziggy Darwish
The Military Man
Best for combat lovers
Ziggy Darwish
The Military Man
Best for combat lovers
Jane Head
The Fountain of Youth
Best for cardio-phobes
Jane Head
The Fountain of Youth
Best for cardio-phobes
Tom Woolfe
The Brainy trainer
Best for life overhaul
Tom Woolfe
The Brainy trainer
Best for life overhaul
1/7

The season for padding around Safa Park is officially over (alas, the next few months will mainly have to be spent indoors), but that also means you’ll have more time on your hands. So resist that fourth cookie, put down the remote (do you really need to watch that re-run of Come Dine With Me again?) and give us 20.

Don’t know where to start? We’ve hunted down Dubai’s most passionate and qualified fitness aficionados to discover their tips on how to evacuate our carb-loaded bellies. Jokes aside, obesity and diabetes are rapidly becoming an epidemic in the UAE, and exercise is a sure-fire way to help. Why not start with a gentle walk? Before you know it, you’ll be crossing the finishing line of your first 10k run. Honest!

Name: Amy Saunders

Nationality: British
Age: 29

Credentials: Amy is a qualified gym instructor, personal trainer and pre- and post-natal exercise specialist. She also has nutrition and weight management qualifications, and a black belt in Muay Thai.

Her story: ‘I wasn’t interested in sports at school, but in my late teens I began running and became really keen.’

Top tip: ‘I do pre- and post-natal training and can say that exercising throughout pregnancy is an excellent idea: a lot happens with the stomach muscles during pregnancy, so keeping them in shape helps women maintain their posture and helps with the delivery.’

Training style: ‘I’m pretty hardcore with some people, but I like variety and progression. None of my training sessions are the same – I believe in always keeping the body guessing.’

Success story: ‘A client of mine came to me weighing 99kg and refused to run or do anything strenuous, but after three months we got her weight down. Ten months later she weighed 60kg and did a 21k run with me. It changed her life. She was dedicated, she put the work in. Trainers are there to give advice, but it’s the person that does the work.’

Time Out’s trial session: We start off with a two-minute session of skipping, and we’re already out of breath. Once we can talk again, Amy wraps our hands in boxing tape and shows us some basic punches. We punch then sprint a lap, come back, punch more, and sprint again, repeated 10 times. Next she teaches us kettlebell moves, which pound our legs. We finish off with ab exercises and stretches. By the end we feel we’ve had a total body workout – one of the best in ages – and the next day we wake with sore muscles.
Amy’s sessions cost Dhs250 per hour. www.urbanenergyfitness.com.


Name: Jordan Branford

Nationality: American
Age: 36

In Dubai: Two and a half years.

Credentials: Jordan is qualified in sport-specific plyometrics (he taught NBA players how to jump higher!), speed and agility, strength and conditioning, and mental performance.

His story: ‘I’m from Eugene, Oregon, aka Track Town USA, and as I grew older the passion for training evolved into my obsession, but it has always been in my blood.’

Top tip: ‘Have a plan, keep a journal, eat right and then eat better. Also, watch people on YouTube that are fitter than you: pick an exercise you thought you could never do, and try it until you can do it!’

Training style: ‘Motivational: I like to prove to people that nothing is impossible.’

Is Dubai fit? ‘Not compared to the west coast of the United States, but people here are really starting to realise the relationship between fitness and happiness, and a good percentage of those people are taking the necessary steps to achieve both.’

Success story: ‘I had a Greek client called Mark who came to me with a goal to lose 13kg in a month – to go from 103kg to 90kg. He was already pretty fit, but he did 27 consecutive days of one-on-one training with me and on his final weigh-in on the 28th day, he was 89.6kg. He is a true Spartan.’ Fitness can be intimidating... ‘Use that fear as fuel, and attack that first day of exercise like you’re going to war.’

Time Out’s trial session: Three 30-second squats into our beach session with Jordan and our whole body screams; the skyline goes blurry. But Jordan is built like an NBA player, so we don’t protest when he asks for 40 sit-ups and the plank. He works on intense training with short rests, a system that pushes your body to the max, but he’s encouraging: after every exercise we get a congratulating pat on the back. Next up is resistance training: basically trying to run away while Jordan pulls us back with rubber cords. At the end of the session we crumple to the floor, exhausted; we feel like we’ve had five workouts in one.
Ten one-hour sessions with Jordan cost Dhs2,500. www.americanfitness.me.


Name: Rudi Botha

Nationality: South African
Age: 31

In Dubai: Five years.

Credentials: Rudi is trained in kettlebells, sports massage, strength and conditioning and swim coaching.

His story: ‘I was a surf lifesaver in South Africa, went on to play rugby for Twickenham in the UK and then became a bodyguard to VIPs and clients under death threat.’

Top tip: ‘Set some goals and write them down. Once it’s on paper, it’s a reality. Put it up on the fridge, at your desk, next to your bed – create some friendly competition with yourself.’

Training style: ‘I don’t believe in machine work because it lends too much support [eek!]. I focus on CrossFit training – circuits using squats, kettlebells, free weights and Olympic bars. These cover strength, agility, speed and power. I’m more of a coach/mentor – I think the bootcamp style is seeing its last legs.’

How do we start? ‘Just begin with a gentle stretching routine to get your flexibility up to par, then add a cardio routine, every day challenging yourself just a little bit more.’

Time Out’s trial session: Working out with Rudi is a wake-up call. Squatting with weights and kettlebells is painful, although kickboxing against the big man is fun. We then combine it as a circuit, which (we’re ashamed to say) we can’t complete. Rudi, however, is lovely and tells us we’ve done well – he’s lying, but it’s appreciated. The workout is tough, but if we stick with it, we may end up as fit as him.
Ten one-hour sessions with Rudi cost Dhs2,500. www.americanfitness.me.


Name: Ziggy Darwish

Nationality: Australian
Age: 32

In Dubai: Three and a half years.

Credentials: Ziggy is a certified master personal trainer and a qualified Royal Australian Navy fitness instructor.

His story: ‘I won an Australian amateur Muay Thai title at 16 and joined the Navy at 19: I trained people in self defence, small arms weapons and keeping fit. I’m a reservist now.’

Top tip: ‘As Nike says, just do it. Go and do something you find fun – but don’t commit to something you’re not going to stick at.’

Training style: My style is off the cuff: it’s a mixture of sports science and military, but with a lot of fun. Each session is different: I work different muscles and energy systems.’

Is Dubai fit? ‘No, we’re about 10 years behind in the fitness industry. We have the equipment, but not the standard of trainers, and there aren’t enough initiatives such as YMCAs and fitness websites.’

An amusing anecdote: ‘Once, a celeb I was training [he won’t name names] decided to close his eyes and meditate while running on the treadmill. He fell off and went through the wall behind him. Luckily, he was OK.’

Time Out’s trial session: ‘I won’t kill you unless you want me to,’ Ziggy explains before our session (phew). We start with a refreshing run along the beach, then hit the gym for a circuit of the equipment. The first round is manageable, but just as our confidence grows he switches things up a gear, telling us to hold each move mid-way through a rep. Muscles burning, we move to the mats for caveman-throwing (tossing a medicine ball backwards over our head) and some fun Muay Thai moves. It’s surprisingly enjoyable and we work hard, but thankfully aren’t pushed too far past our limits, which encourages us to go back for more.
Ten one-hour sessions with Ziggy cost Dhs4,000; clients get 24-hour access for nutritional or motivational chats. 050 955 6129, www.fitness02.com.


Name: Jane Head

Nationality: British
Age: 56

In Dubai: Six and a half years.

Credentials: Jane is a certified advanced personal trainer, core conditioning specialist and a certified fitness nutritional coach.

Her story: ‘I ran restaurants for most of my life, then when I was living in Ibiza a friend of mine asked how I trained and asked to come along. Before I knew it, I had 60 clients!’

Top tip: ‘This is one for women: if you’re only going to do one exercise, focus on triceps to avoid bingo wings – your arms are hard to hide. Try overhead tricep extensions.’

Training style: ‘I can help you drop a dress size in less than eight weeks – you’ll drop inches in the first week. It’s a different style of exercise. I don’t do cardio; you can do that in your own time. I do a lot of isometric exercise that uses muscles against themselves – I can raise the heart rate with very small movements. I’ve made rugby players cry!’

Cardinal rule: ‘Hold your tummy in and educate your stomach muscles. Every time you’re sitting in the car at the traffic lights, pull your tummy in, naval to spine; ladies, add the pelvic floor muscles in there too.’

Is Dubai fit? ‘No – Dubai has the second highest rate of diabetes in the world, maybe because people don’t have time to train and there’s a lot of junk food around.’

Time Out’s trial session: From the minute you spot Jane’s impressive villa it’s clear her isometric technique works – or keeps her clients coming back. Next door is her gym, filled with terrifying-looking machines. After a brief chat about our fitness, she begins to work out our muscles, telling us to ‘put our brain into each’. We work hard, but don’t sweat – and would be happy to do it twice a week if it meant we achieved Jane’s figure.
One-to-one sessions cost Dhs600 per hour; she also offers group classes with a maximum of four people for Dhs150 each per hour. stoliboli@hotmail.com.


Name: Tom Woolfe

Nationality: British
Age: 30

In Dubai: Five years.

Credentials: Tom has ISSA certification in personal training, professional sports psychology, Bosu and TRX certifications and a diploma in performance mentorship.

His story:
‘I played rugby for Harlequins in the UK from 1998 to 2001, but injury curtailed that when I detached the retina in my right eye [he got punched during a game]. I then worked as a management consultant for five years, but I always wanted to work for myself, and fitness is something I’m deeply passionate about, so starting my own fitness company was a natural evolvement.’

Top tip: ‘It’s all about quality and intensity. If you’re looking to train but can’t afford the time or the cost of a personal trainer, spend 20 minutes doing high-intensity work three or four times a week. What are you cooking for dinner tonight? Pasta? Use the 10 minutes it takes for the pasta to boil and do 30 sit-ups, 30 press-ups and 30 prison squats.’

Training style: ‘I feel privileged to do what I do; we provide the framework around which people can achieve their goals. I work with dynamic, functional compound movements that are more effective than static machine work. It’s about building a body for life.’

Success story: ‘We had a client who had just got divorced and came to my company about 20kg overweight. After six months of working with us she shed 17kg and found a new chap: now she’s married and expecting a baby. We saw a transformation, and not just a physical one – her confidence was taken to a whole new level, and she did that all herself. We just opened a few doors.’

Time Out
’s trial session: Our hour with Tom (who’s just as happy to talk about the stock market as he is muscle tone) starts with intervals on the treadmill, moves to dynamic stretches and then crescendos with a series of compound movements including lunges, bunny hops (you swing your legs over a bench with your arms planted down) and box jumps. We do three sets of each, combined with other moves, and all at a very fast pace. About halfway through the bunny hops our legs give up, but Tom guides us through a few deep breaths and voila, our body takes us further than we expect it to (if Tom wasn’t watching, we would have given up). The hour is hard work, but we can’t wait for round two – we walk out empowered and energised.
Sessions with Tom cost Dhs300 per hour. www.ptxdubai.com.


Homework

Pump some iron without working out your bank balance: exercise from home.

‘Just like people who work from home, you need to set up a part of the house and a time of day for a workout. This is non-negotiable. Then use your own body as your tool – body-weight exercise will challenge you just as much as any chrome-infested gym.’
Rudi Botha

‘Use a jump rope – start with a one-minute skip, then do push-ups, squats and lunges. Build up from there.’
Amy Saunders

‘If you have enough room to lie down and stand up, you have all you need for a full-body workout. The killer move is the burpee (squat, kick back into a push-up, go back into a squat and then jump up).’
Tom Woolfe

Bodyweight Workout

Explore YouTube for bodyweight workouts. We like these moves… Search terms: Advanced Exercise Video.

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It's free to take part and no experience is needed

There will be fireworks at La Mer, plus discounts across the city

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