How the gym culture is taking hold among Saudi women


Saudi Gazette

RIYADH — Saudi society has changed dramatically in terms of lifestyle habits particularly over the past two years. Among the most conspicuous of these changes is the wide acceptance of women sports.

Many official and private organizations have been actively promoting sports among Saudi women, a step that is welcomed by a sizable majority in society not only as a way to open up more recreation avenues for females but also as a means to bring down the rate of lifestyle diseases affecting the population.

Saudi Gazette interviewed three women in the Saudi sports industry for their feedback on the groundbreaking changes taking place in the field.

Sumaia Ahmed is a marketing director at one of the reputable female gyms in Riyadh. She said at the initial stages following the establishment of gyms for women in the Kingdom, the monthly membership was very expensive and most women could not afford them.

"This was almost five years ago when the gyms were very few in number and they had only the basic equipment with no trainers," Ahmed said.

She said one of the reasons for the gyms being expensive probably was the limited number of people who went to the gyms at the time. "Moreover, even if we had members, they were not committed enough and would not continue till the end of their membership period,” she said.

Ahmed says those conditions have completely changed now, pushing the gyms to develop their facilities and services by offering a variety of equipment and scheduling different types of training programs, including the advanced ones.

"We cannot compare the conditions of the present gyms with the ones at that time. Now the women's sports industry has become highly competitive, with lots of gyms having plenty of equipment and different types of training, private lessons and enticing packages opening all over the country," Ahmed said.

"I remember that a few years ago, the monthly membership fee was almost SR1,900, which has now dropped to SR500 or lower because of the competition. The difference is huge. I am very optimistic of the changes taking place in this industry,” she added.

"One of our receptionists comes two hours ahead of her shift every day to train on the equipment before she starts work. This is a great example of how popular gyms have become among Saudi women, especially the young adults and teenagers,” she added.

Amal Mansoor is a Saudi trainer who followed her passion for sports in the US.

“It was impossible for me to have a sports education here in Riyadh. When I first told my family about what type of education I wanted to pursue, they all said I would be unemployed forever. Nobody would have believed then that the demand for Saudi female trainers would significantly increase as is the case now. When I came back almost a year later, I started to see a difference in societal thinking but it was not as open as at present. Saudi women now want to live a healthier lifestyle, build muscles and express themselves through sports,” Mansoor said.

“Saudi women have started to educate themselves more about what sports are good for them and what are not. I receive lots of questions from teenagers and young adults daily on the number of reps or the type of exercise that can help them achieve their objectives, whether to reduce fat, build muscles or maintain a good health,” she added.

Maha, a trainee at one of the gyms in Riyadh, says the gym has changed her life totally.

"My daily routine has been better organized after I started the gym. Before my life was simply going to work and hanging around with friends in restaurants. It became boring with time. However, the gym has brought balance to my life. I became more healthy and determined to live a better life. I am setting goals and I will reach them, insha Allah," says Maha.

She says the gym is playing a significant part in the lives of lots of women in the Kingdom now due to greater awareness and the lessons they have learned from the lazy lifestyles of previous generations, who were vulnerable to many diseases. "What has reinforced this the most is the government's efforts in establishing an authority to promote sports among women in particular,” she said.