Five minutes with.. GymNation founders Loren Holland and Frank Afeaki

GymNation’s co-founders explain why they think affordable exercise is the future after opening their first facility in Al Quoz



Where did the idea for GymNation come from?

Loren: “Identifying a gap in this market for affordable gyms was the spark for this concept. After a lot of research, I was convinced of the immense potential of affordable fitness and decided that I wanted to start a frill-free and budget-friendly gym. It was around this time that I met Frank who coincidentally was thinking along the same lines and also came from a similar low-cost health and fitness background.

“We are the first in the UAE to enter the affordable gym segment focused on low-frills and high-quality memberships.

“As a company, we hope to bring about a positive shift in the local fitness industry by reducing the barriers to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

Frank: “We both have an in-depth knowledge of this business and a strong personal network in the health and fitness industry. How often have you heard that cardiovascular diseases are the top killer in the UAE? They cause about 30 per cent of all deaths in the country. The risk of cardiovascular diseases arises due to unhealthy lifestyles, as well as the high prevalence of diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and smoking in the UAE.

“Healthcare has a leading spot in the UAE National Agenda for 2021, we, therefore, felt that it was the right time to enter the market to launch our own fitness brand. Launching GymNation has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made, and we are fortunate to have amassed a loyal following.”

 How do you plan to compete with the larger international gym chains?

Loren: “We did a lot of in-house research and our results are similar to a recent Deutsche Bank report, Dubai is too expensive when it comes to gym memberships costs with an average of $119,20. Dubai has several well-established gym chains, but we believe our value-based concept can disrupt the market and be a force for good in the same way the budget airline and hotel operators have changed their industries. We give customers what they want the most out of a gym and cut out the expensive frills, allowing us to offer memberships at 50 per cent lower than the international chains.”

Frank: “Moreover, we offer the best gym equipment in Dubai (more than 500 pieces of Matrix equipment) and grant our members unlimited access to more than 200 classes a month. We also offer affordable personal coaching by top trainers in Dubai including Jason Woodham (Muay Thai Muppets) and Joe Ackary (BOXiQ). Additionally, we recently launched our branded boot camp concept GO2MAX, with sessions starting at  Dhs50, which makes us by far the most affordable programme in Dubai.

“We are passionate about our business venture and will stay focused to remain the most complete, balanced and affordable gym.”

What can be done to encourage people in the UAE to exercise more?

Frank: “The UAE government has been playing a vital role in launching and popularising health activations such as the 30-day Dubai Fitness Challenge launched by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. There are a lot more public areas now for exercising, walking, biking, and other outdoor activities, as well as a wide variety of fitness events that take place throughout the year.

“Nutrition plays a vital role in health improvement. Around 80 per cent of our customers’ results depend on their nutrition intake. Therefore, by partnering with ‘Fuel-Up’ by Kcal, our offering has become more comprehensive. For example, our members can benefit from exclusive cross-complementary offers and discounts and the best nutritional advice across the UAE.

“We also offer 24/7 access and foresee an increase in applications from those who work unconventional hours across the hospitality, tourism and F&B industries. Hopefully, all this sounds encouraging!”

Do you have any expansion plans?

Loren: “This is an exciting time to be in the fitness industry which is experiencing rapid growth, driven by the government’s fantastic agenda to increase awareness and knowledge around the importance of having a healthy and active lifestyle. We believe our affordable business model can help increase penetration levels across Dubai and have found that 30 percent of GymNation’s members are first time gym users. This is fantastic and will hopefully bring about its own benefits to society.”

Are you hiring?

Loren: “As a growing business we are always looking for personal trainers and professionals to join the sales team of a company with the ambition to become one of the fastest growing fitness brands in Dubai and the UAE.

“If you think of it, budget gyms were almost non-existent before 2008. Today they are considered the future of the gym industry in Europe and United States. We foresee the same trend catching on in the UAE with our no-frills business model. To be a result driven company, we need a team that will share our vision and passion.”

What is your leadership style?

Loren: “We are a young and dynamic company. I think drive, determination and hard work is what best describes the both of us.” 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Loren: “These days, spare time is a scarce commodity. When I do manage to steal a few hours away from work I like to spend it with my family. We recently had twin girls, so life is very exciting at the moment.”

Frank: “Generally, I spend my free time with the local rugby team, help the club function behind the scenes, and coach young athletes. I also enjoy a good fishing trip if I get the chance.”