Arena Fitness create CrossFit Champions

Kara Martin 17:13 06/04/2017
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  • Pumping iron: Call Arena now to sign up for their gym.

    Have you been following the Reebok CrossFit Games qualifiers? Competition is about to heat up even more when, from May 19 to June 4, the fittest of the fittest in each region compete for top spots on the leader board in the hopes of making it to the main stage in August.

    That’s when they will battle the world’s best in a range of gruelling, usually timed or repetition-based workouts, with disciplines such as tyre flips, rope climbs and Olympic Weightlifting; and the strongest, fastest, most agile man and woman on the planet will be crowned.

    It’s a lot to take in, and it’s no surprise to fitness enthusiasts anymore just how hectic it is to train for and compete in one of these things.

    CrossFit has, over the years, received much attention as the cause of serious injuries. For that reason we love the strictly “safety-first” approach behind new CrossFit ‘box’ Arena Fitness in Abu Dhabi, where CrossFit continues to grow.

    We met with owner Hisham Awad there to get a feel for the place and brand. “What differentiates us from other CrossFit gyms is our programming, which truly caters for everyone – 90 per cent of the people coming through our doors have either never even entered a gym before or are curious to try CrossFit for the first time,” he says.

    “It’s just regular people trying to achieve some fitness goals, whether it’s to lose weight, get fitter or recover from an injury. “The way we programme the sessions is for top athletes but with many built-in scaleable options that cater for the beginner and less fit all the way up to the advanced.

    “We offer both memberships and drop-in classes but we are strict with drop-ins in that the person must have done CrossFit before, obviously for safety reasons.

    “We really don’t want anyone to get injured during a workout here, we’re strict about teaching everyone to move correctly. CrossFit received such a bad name for that, and still does, and surprisingly a lot of gyms still don’t show you how to move correctly.

    “Here, we have a four-day programme specifically designed for that education. Every day focuses on different movements and exercises. The coaches will monitor you and if they see that you haven’t progressed, they will recommend you either arrange a PT session or do the programme again. “We want you to move right, avoid injuries, improve and continue with us for the long term.”

    Squad goals: Carsten Juul (l), Kathrine Rasmussen (c) and Jesse Barker (r).

    Squad goals: Carsten Juul (l), Kathrine Rasmussen (c) and Jesse Barker (r).

    Safety first, indeed, and style second. We can’t ignore how magnificent this bright, bold, industrial-looking 720 sqm space is.

    It is clearly built for serious sweaty activity, with gigantic custom-built fans to keep its hard-working CrossFitters cool (and showers onsite, of course), as well as springy rubber flooring (so as to take it easy on joints).

    A retractable wall closes off a section of the space for increasingly-popular ladies-only sessions, too. A gigantic customised rig stretches practically the length of the whole main floor. “It’s one of the largest rigs in the UAE and accommodates 18 people with over 50 pull-up stations attached to it,” says Awad.

    “We basically made sure to have enough equipment here to run a class of about 50 people at a time.” Arena Fitness’ three current coaches come from some impressive and interesting backgrounds.

    Jesse Barker moved over with Awad from another Abu Dhabi box (CrossFit One Peak) and does all the programming for this new facility.

    He is a CrossFit Level 2 Certificate holder, as well as an Australian Strength and Conditioning Coach Level 1 certificate holder, and continues to expand his expertise.

    Meanwhile, coach Carsten Juul spent a lot of time in the Middle East when he was in the army. Aside from being a military police officer and bodyguard, he trained other soldiers for their physical tests.

    It was an easy progression over to training the average Joe, for which he has many certifications. Lastly, fellow Danish coach Kathrine Rasmussen, a former police officer and gymnastics and cheerleading coach, is no stranger to the Games and has actually qualified to go to the CrossFit Regionals this May.

    Gym Information

    • WHAT: Arena Fitness Presents CrossFit Abu Dhabi
    • WHERE: Building C, Al Zeina, Abu Dhabi
    • COST: Membership plans start from Dh950 for one month. Sign up as a couple and you’ll receive a discount.
    • CONTACT & INFO: 02 552 9002,

    Together they have a combined 20+ years’ experience in the CrossFit world, says Awad. Arena Fitness is just over a month old so there is lots of room to expand their CrossFit offerings and moving forward they will introduce programmes for Mobility, Olympic Weightlifting, even Triathlon training, and more.

    “We have access to a great private beach here in Al Zeina so we hope to introduce a beach WOD too…anything to make sure clients enjoy their time and that we expand the community, and so far it’s been great to see people coming out from the Al Zeina and Al Raha communities, even bringing their kids in to see the place and make use of it,” says Awad.

    “We actually just did a Teen Camp – two hours every day – and it’s been well received. At the end of the day, the whole idea behind opening a fitness facility is to help and motivate people to move their bodies, whether it’s CrossFit, running or cycling. It’s going to give you a longer life. So that’s the most important mission for us here.”

    THE VERDICT: It’s time to start addressing CrossFit’s injury-prone reputation (after all, the fitness craze is only getting more popular), and we’re glad this gym is adamant about doing that. We’re excited to see them grow.