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WEDNESDAY, 16 APR 2014
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Beirut’s diverse gym scene offers something for everyone
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BEIRUT: Some are serious body builders and others health-conscious treadmill thumpers. There are those in training for sports, those in quest of flawless beach bodies and those desperately trying to drop a few pounds.

Some come in lieu of psychotherapy, finding catharsis in pounding out frustrations; while others don the cutest sportswear they can find, sip protein shakes and bat their eyelashes at handsome instructors. Early risers jog before going to the office; parents stretch while their kids take swimming lessons; and post-work girls gossip out their day at Pilates classes.

Gym users are diverse, so it falls to reason that choosing a gym is a subjective business. Beirut’s offerings cover the whole spectrum – in term of facilities, atmosphere and price – but The Daily Star has sought out the best establishments to suit all demands.

Lovers of luxury

Whether you like to swim a few laps then lounge by the pool or put in a serious cardio workout, the bright and spacious Spa Phoenicia at the Phoenicia Hotel has everything: indoor and outdoor pools, the latest cardio and strength machines and equipment, personal trainers, studio and aquatic classes, a sauna, a steam room, a Jacuzzi, a juice bar, access to a wide range of spa treatments, and a place to dump your kids while you enjoy it all.

But, as is likely well expected, “everything” comes at a price.

Ultimate membership, which gives access to all the gym’s facilities and a 20 percent discount on a la carte spa treatments, comes at an annual rate of $5,000 per individual. Less expensive memberships are available, but the gold ($3,200), silver ($2,800) and off-peak ($1,800) packages exclude access to the outdoor pool, which is set in a luscious courtyard surrounded by sun loungers and is surely one of Spa Phoenicia’s summertime boons. A pool membership ($1,800) does grant use of the outdoor site, but doesn’t offer access to the fitness room and studio classes the other memberships include.

All memberships do however include valet parking, a complimentary refreshment bar and locker services. Also, a couple rate on some packages enables considerable savings.

The purpose of a gym is to work up a sweat, but it’s hard to imagine anyone ever being reduced to a perspiring puddle amid the cool luxury of the PUREGRAY Health Club and Spa at Downtown’s Le Gray Hotel.

Descend to the cool white minimalist decor of the reception area, work out on Technogym machines in a roomy, wood-floored gym, then relax by either entering the tranquility of the cedar wood-lined spa area with its chill-out lounge or ascending to this boutique hotel’s rooftop pool.

While the stylish pool is designed to create the illusion that one could swim right off the edge of the building, it certainly wasn’t built with serious aquatic exercise in mind. If you’re looking for aqua aerobics or to burn kilos swimming lengths this isn’t the place for you. Rather, PUREGRAY is probably best suited to professional singles or couples who want a child-free, drama-free club to get in some quiet exercise and relaxation either before or after the stress of the daily office grind.

Membership (both annual and monthly) includes unlimited access to all facilities, but packages come with different quantities of personal training sessions, guest invitations, complimentary spa treatments and other perks. Annual rates range from $1,650 (off-peak) to $2,700. The monthly rate is $300.

The all-rounders

To make the most of a gym membership, you ideally want an affordable and well-equipped establishment right by your house. In this respect residents of Verdun are lucky. Genesis, located in the Heliopolis Building, is all of these things, in addition to being well-lit, extremely clean and boasting competent and helpful staff.

A reasonably sized, attractive pool makes aquatic exercise tempting, while a huge fitness room with multiples of each machine means you’re unlikely to stand in line waiting to exercise. Moreover, if you bring headphones, you can watch (and hear) your personal cable TV as you exercise. Trainers are on hand to assist with machine operation and strength and weight training. The gym also has two squash courts, one of which double as a basketball court.

Genesis also has a packed schedule of classes (from yoga to cycling and zumba) taught in big, clean studios with impact absorbing flooring.

Genesis has developed a selection of affordable membership plans, designed to enable clients to select what best suits them. Annual membership upfront costs $1,270, monthly is $185, and a three-month membership is $430; however, open-ended deals priced at $130 (full access) $90 (11 a.m. – 5 p.m.) $80 (6:30-9 a.m.; 9-11 p.m.) and $70 (weekends) are available too. All memberships include full access to facilities and classes.

Not entirely dissimilar from Genesis, but without a swimming pool, is Fitness Zone at the Crown Plaza in Hamra. Fitness Zone offers a huge range of classes, some 230 per month, all from the exercise guru Les Mills. Its workout area has over 60 cardio machines and at least two of each strength machine. Instructors are always present to offer assistance if needed.

But what sets Fitness Zone apart from other gyms is that it’s at ground level, enabling members to workout in natural light, which removes the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a sweat-drenched dungeon and makes exercising far more appealing. This gym also boasts saunas, a cycling studio, an outdoor lounge area, free Wi-Fi and a DVD library.

Membership prices range from $100 to $175 per month. Fitness Zone also has a branch in Hazmieh, which has a swimming pool and squash and tennis courts.

Smaller, darker and much more worn-looking is INSHAPE, accessed through a door to the left of the entrance of the Radisson Blu, Downtown.

However, this gym is popular among people looking for quiet, music-free workouts in a relaxed atmosphere. It also has a small pool, although its Roman bath-style decor is altogether incongruous with the rest of the underground space. Mixed martial arts, zumba and dance classes are also offered.

Daily entrance to the gym costs LL18,000, while monthly membership ranges from LL135,000 to LL165,000. Members get a 20 percent discount at food and drink outlets at the Radisson.

Ready to work it

Some of the city’s gyms attract a slightly more serious (read: more muscular) clientele.

Atlantis behind Byblos Bank on Bliss St. stretches below ground into the bowels of the earth. Amid its red and black interior, tough-looking student types lift weights and workout. A range of Les Mills classes among others are offered, and there is decent sized pool, although it’s housed in a warehouse-like concrete box.

Membership costs $95 per month plus an initial $35 joining fee. Atlantis also offers free Wi-Fi.

If you’re keen to mix your workout sessions with some mixed martial arts, then the best and most serious gym in this respect is Phocus Gym on Sioufi St. in Ashrafieh.

Comprising a fitness space and just one studio, this gym is small and the equipment may not be as new as in some larger, trendier locations, but both the instructors and clientele here are serious about what they do.

Elie Bitar, head judge of the Lebanese Wushu Federation and head instructor of King of Sanda and China-na is a professional MMA trainer and teaches the gym’s classes, while Sensei Bachir Hojeij, Black Belt second DAN and a member of the National Takemusu Aikido technical committee, teaches the Aikido classes.

Street fight, zumba and oriental dance are also offered.

Membership packages include gym membership, a body composition analyzer, a personal trainer and a diet plan.

Just around the corner from Phocus Gym is another small, no-frills but popular facility. Body Garage (next to Chase restaurant on Sassine) has a studio on the ground floor and a fitness area on an upper level. Anticipate queues for equipment at peak times, but word on the street is that its classes and instructors are excellent.

Spinning, Thai kick boxing, body toning, zumba and other classes are on offer, and for those with does-my-bum-look-big-in-this angst a “steel butt” class runs Wednesdays.

Body Garage is also great value, with full monthly membership, covering both classes and the gym, priced at $95.

An alternative experience

Set on the first floor of a traditional Lebanese home with wrought iron balcony railings and brightly blooming window boxes, from the exterior Exhale looks nothing like a gym. On the interior this Bliss St. establishment is slightly more gym-like but with 4-meter high ceilings and traditional doors and windows it retains a homey feel.

Exhale specializes in Bikram (hot) yoga and spinning, claiming to be the only certified center in Lebanon for the latter. It also offers ballet for kids and customized personal training sessions on strength and cardio equipment in its small gym for adults. The focus is on individual fitness and physical well-being, rather than on weight loss or body building.

This is definitely not the place to go if you want to punch in the hours on the treadmill; make an appointment here if you’re after a more personalized and thoughtful training session.

A bundle of five classes at Exhale costs $70, while a trial personal training session is offered for free if you sign up for a bundle of sessions.

The best value

It’s a simple neighborhood gym, but offers by far the best value The Daily Star has come upon.

In Shape in Geitawi is approximately 300 square meters and packed with what might not be the newest, but are certainly well maintained machines and weights. Membership is just LL50,000, with a LL5,000 joining fee the first month. A variety of classes are offered in a small studio at an additional charge.

 
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