The name Ziggy Darwish has played a major role in shaping the Dubai fitness scene.
After serving six years as a Gunnery sailor in the Royal Australian Navy, Darwish started his fitness journey as a personal trainer in 2004 working out of the best gyms in Melbourne, back in his native Australia.
He was kept busy with a blue riband clientele, training the who’s who of Melbourne’s elite including police commissioners and judges.
But in 2006 he was approached by a fitness company wanting to introduce boot camps to Dubai. They needed someone with a military background – enter Ziggy.
Darwish was missing his time at sea, travelling the world, so he hopped on a plane to the UAE.
His first experience, like most visitors, was: “Wow!” But it wasn’t the bright lights, fancy restaurants, or clubs that caught his attention, it was the lack of fitness professionals and gyms. Back then Dubai basically had no fitness industry.
There was no Fitness First, no Crossfit, no M45 – just a few trainers doing their own thing.
“I wanted the UAE to get the best kick-start in fitness” recalls Darwish. “No gimmicks like you see now with magic pills and creams. The goal was to get people to train right, eat right and do it with the end goal of having a happy community being health conscious.
“My overall philosophy on health and fitness is keep it simple: find an activity you enjoy and eat right…90 per cent food, 10 per cent exercise.”
After just three weeks in Dubai, Ziggy and his partners got a call from the now defunct 7DAYS asking about his boot camps.
A week later he took the whole staff of 7DAYS for a bootcamp and after a massive write-up, the phones didn’t stop ringing for a year. Thousands of Dubai expats and locals joined up for Darwish’s four-week courses.
Dubai got its first taste of ‘Ziggy-style’ fitness and they loved it.
Darwish then moved on to a new company called Fitness 02, which has played a large part in shaping the fitness industry in the UAE.
From the first boot camps at Ski Dubai, the first international diabetes walkathon day, training multi-national corporations, kids fitness boot camps, football camps; Darwish and his team of ten trainers had the UAE covered in all areas of health and fitness.
But several years later, after running the fitness company, having a TV show, doing radio interviews and events, Darwish was burnt out.
“Running a company, dealing with trainers, staff, marketing, balancing the books, thinking three steps ahead of the competition took a massive toll on me,” he explains.
“I almost forgot how to love the craft and found myself focusing only on the ruthless side of business. And that was the beginning of the end of my fitness career – for a while at least.”
Ziggy took a few years off where he wrote a book on fitness, wrote and produced a feature film and continued to train a few clients while he watched the local fitness industry explode.
“Back when I started there was nothing, now you can do anything. You want to do MMA you have ten gyms to choose from, boot camps – hundreds, gyms – hundreds. Dubai has everything.”
Missing his boot camp days Ziggy decided to go back to where it all began – as a one-on-one personal trainer.
But Darwish found the clientele had changed considerably since he first started, with people looking for a much more holistic approach to fitness rather than a quick fix.
He also found a strong trend in Arabic women seeking fitness.
“Everyone has a different goal,” explains Darwish. “I have clients who are looking for weight loss, a client getting ready for a marathon, another to learn Muay Thai. I even train a little Irish lad who wants to be the next Conor McGregor!”
He says Dubai also has its own challenges to someone wanting to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
“Training in Dubai is a lot harder for a trainer as clients have too many options to go off the rails,” he says, “with travel, work, brunches etc. So I work out a program for the body, food and lifestyle.”
“I love to help people who want to get results, if you want to train I’m here for you. You want to achieve a goal like climbing Mt. Everest let’s do it…I’m ready to train people who want to change their lives or people who need a challenge to mix things up and keep life interesting.”
He also has found time to start up the Muay Thai Muppets with good friend and professional Muay Thai boxer Jason Woodham.