New fitness initiatives aim to get Egyptians exercising

Lamia Hassan, Monday 31 Mar 2014

A growing trend of fitness initiatives lead by young Egyptians on aim to change the lifestyle and mentality of the nation

Photo: Courtesy of Train For Aim

In December 2012, when a group called the Cairo Runners posted a note on Facebook advertising their first public run in Cairo, the idea of calling on people to pound the streets of the city at 7am on a Friday morning seemed crazy.

While the first run attracted 70 people, the group’s half marathon event, organised last month, saw 4,400 runners take part.

The popular group is just one of a wave of new local initiatives that are trying to push Egyptians towards a healthier lifestyle. Below, Ahram Online takes a look at a few of them.

Taking back the streets: Cairo Runners

The running group was founded by Egyptian Ibrahim Safwat, who attended a marathon in France and felt inspired to try to do the same thing in the streets of Cairo.

According to the group's communications manager Mohamed Seif, while the first run in Zamalek in December 2012 drew 70 people, the second, in Heliopolis this time, drew 120, and from there on numbers kept building.

What started as a group of people doing a weekend jog has morphed into a community of fitness fanatics who take to the capital's streets every weekend. Even weekly runs now draw thousands, including both professional and casual runners, says Seif.

“It was a very positive experience and it increased to reach 3,000 to 4,000 people running in the streets of Cairo every week,” he says.

“It's a paradigm shift; you are changing the culture and encouraging people to run every weekend at 7am, when the pollution and traffic is less; they have the chance to explore the city and get used to waking up early and exercising.”

Today, the group’s Facebook page has over 200,000 fans.

Seif says that course for each running season includes 16 runs followed by an annual half marathon. The first run of each season starts at 4 kilometres, and then works up to the 21 kilometres for the half marathon.

With Cairo Runners' third season about to start, Seif says they are expecting the numbers to grow with the new series of runs.

“Next half marathon, our target will be 7,000-8,000 runners, and if we are at the same pace, in two to three years we expect the annual event to have around 15,000 runners,” he says.

While the group worked with the interior ministry to secure the streets for February's half marathon, Seif says that in the future they might have to be affiliated with a government body or ministry to be able to take it to the next level.

“Maybe by then we will be able to close the streets of Cairo entirely for four to five hours, like in Boston, Lebanon and other countries.”

Seif says the groups aims to hold Cairo’s first complete, 42-kilometre marathon within the next three years.

Cairo Half Marathon (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

Eye on the prize: Train for Aim

When Ayman Hakky and Tino Waked started their project in 2012, they were just a group of athletic friends getting together to do a workout, but today their group Train for Aim has expanded to include a number of activities and fitness competitions across Cairo.

“When we started, our focus was mainly to train to join triathlons and it was sort of a practice group of friends in the Gezira sporting club, but today the team has expanded and we have a workout almost every day at different places. We had to get more coaches on board to be able to train all the people,” says Hakky.

Train for Aim offers those who join access to different workout programmes that include cycling, running, swimming and fitness under the eyes of a team of coaches, to help members achieve their fitness targets. The project offers specialised triathlon training as well as a nutritionist, and a from time-to-time hosts cycling tours to resort Ain Sokhna.

Hakky, a former water polo player, says the founders’ main focus was to make sure that people joining them always have a fitness aim or target in mind.

“At the beginning, many of the members were just aiming to train to be able to join the competitions, but today they don't just want to join and try to finish the race, they want to win medals,” says Hakky.

“For an amateur, joining the race is an achievement, but the next step is that he or she would want to finish the competition and win a medal."

The training seems to be effective; the Train for Aim team won 14 medals at the African and Arab Triathlon that took place in Sharm El-Sheikh last month.

Hakky says the numbers of members is increasing, and sees expansion as a natural next step.

“There is a group interested now in starting Train for Aim Alexandria and this is a positive sign,” he says.

“We want to spread and have more traffic, and there is a huge interest in the triathlon. What's good about it is that it's a sport you can start at any age.”

While TFA have to date been competing in triathlons organised by other groups, Hakky says that the group is planning their own event.

In the future, Hakky hopes to start their own academy where they can help all people reach their targets.

“Our motto is 'true athletes', and we want people to train for a reason and qualify for competitions, and we want to help people who are representing Egypt abroad,” says Hakky. “We don't want to open the gym or just train amateurs, we want to reach the professional level.”

courtesy of Train For Aim

Fitness for all: My Fitness Scout

While many initiatives focus on group training, Sara Taha wanted to focus mainly on one-on-one or small group training sessions.

Taha’s initiative, My Fitness Scout, develops tailored workouts and nutrition programmes for her clients, with a special focus on new mothers and mothers-to-be. Taha thought that having a special pre-natal and post-natal programs are as important as having complete fitness and weight loss programs tailored for her other clients.

Taha prides themselves on developing close relationships with her clients.

“I call them over the weekend to check what they ate, I measure them and evaluate their performance, and now for them it's not just a class they attend but a programme that is designed just for them.”

Launched in December, Taha says her network is growing for both her general fitness programme, and the pre-natal programme for pregnant women. While her clients are mainly women, Taha says she works with a few men as well.

“You have here a big target market of people who don't like training in groups, so offering them a chance to work individually on their goals makes it easier for them,” says Taha.

“Also, when you train someone one-on-one, as compared to a group of 40 people, it makes you feel that you are really making a change.”

courtesy of GBI

Cycling for a cause: GBI Egypt

Last month, a group of 75 cyclists went on a nine-day tour from Petra in Jordan to Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt’s Sinai, as part of the Global Biking Initiative's Shine Tour.

The tour brought together cyclists from Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Switzerland as well as other countries. The tour was not just a race from point A to point B, but also aimed to raise awareness about cycling, promote tourism and raise funds for a cause.

Starting as early as 2008, Egypt's Global Biking Initiative team joined a bigger global movement of like-minded cyclists who are interested in exploring cities on their bikes, as well as supporting a greater cause.

According to Aiman El-Sayed, GBI Egypt champion, the Egypt team initially started among Vodafone employees, but soon started getting attention from other people outside the network who are interested in joining the community of cyclists.

In 2008, the team's first year, El-Sayed says the group that joined the GBI race in Europe cut their trip short as they were not trained well for the competition and couldn't make it. The following year 33 cyclists joined the race from Egypt, 32 of which made it to the end, except for one who had problems with his bike.

Today, El-Sayed says that Egypt and Germany are the two leading teams in the Global Biking Initiative, with Egypt's team now in charge of the Middle East and Africa and organising events in the region.

El-Sayed says that as a team of cyclists they are not only responsible for the race they are part of, but they are rather working on growing a community of Egyptians who depend on using their bikes on daily basis to run their errands and go to work. He says that every member of the team also has a charity target they have to raise to collect funds for the cause their team supports.

“In the past three years, we have been working on ‘A Door to Life’ project with Alashanek Ya Balady group, to offer small credit loans for Egyptians below the poverty line and then expect them to return it later to be used for new projects,” says ElSayed. “So far, we were able to raise 700,000 for this project and next July we will re-assess the project to see if we will continue for another year or start a new project.”

ElSayed says that they try as much as possible to have one big challenge in the region every year and one in Egypt, in an attempt to promote tourism, involve the local community and raise funds, as well as enjoying the cycling experience and sharing the beauty of the culture.

“Our target is work on increasing the number of participants in the Egypt tour to 400-500 people, as well as inviting younger people to join the locals tours,” says ElSayed. “So far, it's promising that we have now an increase in the number for female cyclists from 19% in previous tours to 27% in 2014.”

courtesy of GBI.

Customised training programmes: The Wellness Log

Nabil Rostom and Norshek Fawzy, the minds behind training initiative Boot Camp Egypt, have decided to take things to the next level with their fitness mission.  

“We realised that the previous programme serves the majority, but doesn't necessarily serve the goals of every single person in the most efficient way,” says Fawzy.

For that reason, they decided to launch the Wellness Log, which provides users with a customised eight-week training programme based on their goals, physical condition, and lifestyle, put together by a team of experts.

“We hired a team to put the log together and now we have on board a few certified trainers, physiotherapists, chiropractors, and a few nutritionists that are not just certified nutritionists, but are also doctors,” says Fawzy.

“Most of our team is based outside of Egypt, which allows us to work with a global team of experts that are really good at what they do.”

Photo by Lamia Hassan

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