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How Ramadan Become a Season for Fitness in Egypt

Inc. Arabia speaks with fitness instructors, gym owners, and investors, about the growth of Egypt’s fitness scene, and how Ramadan has become a season for working out.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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This article first appeared in the March/April issue of Inc. Arabia's digital magazine. To read the full magazine, click here

An hour and a half before Iftar, fitness studios across Cairo bustle with groups doing everything from functional workouts to yoga to individual training. On the streets, groups of friends and neighbors walk and jog together, some with children and strollers in tow, capitalizing on the golden hour of working out during Ramadan: Pre: Iftar.

Over the past 10 years, Ramadan has become one of the biggest seasons for Egypt’s fast-growing fitness industry. With working hours altered to accommodate sunset mealtime, people fall into a rhythm: Work out or rest, eat, and then work out or socialize.

“Ramadan is a time when people set their goals for their year. It provides a structure that makes it easier for people to incorporate fitness into their routine,” May Morad, group fitness director at the upscale LA7 Gym Egypt, tells us. Morad, a former basketball player, began her fitness training in the US and joined LA7 when she moved back to Cairo in 2020. LA7 Gym, which opened its doors in 2017, now has 5 branches across Egypt, with facilities in Cairo's suburbs, the Red Sea, and the North Coast.

Deana Shaaban, who co-founded Ignite Wellness with her husband, former pro athlete Hussein Abdeldayem in 2017, tells us that the landscape for fitness has been upended over the past 15 years. Shaaban, who was a pro swimmer when she moved to Egypt from the US in 2003, was hard-pressed to find a place to work out that she could relate to. Today, she and her husband run a Ramadan Transformation Program that accommodates 1,500-2,000 people.

“We run one of our biggest programs in Ramadan. It’s a combination of fat loss, physical transformation, and muscle building. We also have nutrition and mental wellness workshops that we do virtually over the weekends,” Shaaban tells us.

Mohamed Elaish, director at Arqaam Capital and managing partner at F45, went from being a casual gym-goer to a fitness investor. In 2018, he launched an online fitness app called Outpace, which he shut down when he brought the global fitness franchise F45 home to Egypt in 2020. Today, he manages 3 facilities across Cairo and 2 seasonal facilities that operate during the summer on Egypt’s North Coast. “Ramadan has become a huge season for the industry and it’s growing each year,” he tells us.

Almost all the coaches and investors that we spoke with credit CrossFit as introducing functional training to Egypt--although all of them note that the prevalence of injuries quickly created a need for alternatives and made consumers wary of quick-fix workouts. It was the native BeFit 360, which was founded by former athlete Aly Mazhar, that emerged as one of the frontrunners of functional training in Egypt in 2013. In addition to introducing a new way of working out, it created a community around fitness and made it aspirational.

One of the keys to creating a strong brand, Shaaban and Abdeldayem tell us, is building a community around working out and creating opportunities for people to form new friendships--something that most adults struggle with.

“I think the community is part of why people come to group training sessions in countries like Egypt and the Arab world in general. It’s very difficult to make new friends as an adult, but in setups like these, people feel safe and always walk away with new friends,” says Shaaban.

Elaish tells us that community building is integral to a brand like F45, which has adopted the slogan “It’s not a gym, but a community.”

Before the emergence of fitness centers and modernized gyms, sports were centered around traditional gyms, which were largely populated with men, and sporting clubs. While sporting clubs still host modern fitness facilities, many providers have opted to launch standalone gyms and fitness clubs.

A Growing Industry

The global health and fitness club market is expected to grow from $112.17 billion in 2023 to $202.78 billion by 2030, according to a report by Fortune Business Insights. And while COVID shutdowns affected the short-term growth of industry, it has created more awareness around the importance of health and fitness.

In Egypt, investors are getting on board with the change, although the size of the industry is hard to come by. “The problem in Egypt is that there is no data,” Elaish, who is also an investment banker, tells us.

“The market is growing horizontally and vertically,” says Elaish. “Before most of our customers were in their 20s. Now, we have 15-65-year-olds training. There are also more products. Before it was just the gym, now there are more boutique studios, boot camps, and healing retreats,” he tells us.

Across the board, fitness providers agree that users have more options than they did even 10 years ago, with boutique studios offering everything from yoga and Pilates to dance, in addition to gyms and functional workout facilities. New sports, like padel tennis, have also seen fast adoption.

And while pre-summer and summer, along with Ramadan, are peak seasons for fitness providers, yearlong interest in fitness has surged.

Elaish and Morad agree that the online fitness scene is thriving as well. Catering to a larger audience and with greater options for mass dissemination as well as tailored content, it gives users more flexibility to train with coaches from across the city and caters to a larger socioeconomic segment.

The biggest indication of the growth of the industry, Morad tells us, is the eagerness of large real estate players to invest in fitness facilities at their properties. She gives us the example of LA7 Gym, which manages 5 facilities owned by real estate investors across Cairo, the Red Sea, and the North Coast. 

But it’s not just fitness providers that are benefiting from the surge in interest in fitness. Mohamed Afifi, co-CEO and co-founder of WayUp Sports, an e-commerce platform for sports performance equipment, co-founded the startup with his brother and sister in 2021. Afifi, who also runs a B2B family business in the same field, launched the B2C arm during COVID when home workouts surged. Today, WayUp Sports has more than 100 local and imported brands, with everything ranging from fitness equipment to sportswear.

Afifi tells us that people are increasingly adopting fitness as a yearlong lifestyle, whereas before demand for sports was largely seasonal. “COVID accelerated us 5-7 years in terms of e-commerce and fitness mentality,” he says.

Although local data is hard to come by, global trends show that self-training ranks second to personal training as the largest segment of fitness, as people with busy schedules opt to work out at home.

Afifi tells us that fitness products--particularly in e-commerce--are increasingly drawing interest from investors. In November, WayUp Sports raised a seed round--the startup’s second round in 2 years. According to Afifi, investors are increasingly willing to back startups in the sports space, which to him indicates rising interest in the industry. 

Health Awareness on the Rise

One of the biggest changes that providers report is the rising awareness of health and fitness among consumers. “People are very stressed in their lives, so I think they look for a way to escape and work on their health and wellbeing,” Morad says.

Additionally, expectations have risen as gym membership prices have gone up and consumer awareness has improved. To compete, gyms and fitness providers have to ensure that instructors are up-to-date with the latest fitness trends and serve as role models for gym-goers, Morad tells us. “It’s not just about having trainers, you have to have good trainers that are well-educated. They have to understand how to build strong relationships with clients,” she adds.

One of the most notable changes over the past 10 years is the entrance of women into the fitness scene, with gyms seeing a surge in female participation. Morad tells us that women make up around half of the attendees at LA7. As women become regulars, gyms have begun to provide more programs catering to women’s goals, or in many cases, women-only classes.

Elaish also credits sports event management companies like The TriFactory, which organizes multi-sport events, road races, trail runs, relay runs, and yoga retreats, with creating a culture around fitness for families. These kinds of events, he tells us, create opportunities for parents to serve as role models for their children, creating a trickle-down effect that has resulted in children starting sports earlier.

Awareness, coupled with rising interest and education about health and fitness, has made for a more discerning consumer. “Clients have become more informed. As a coach or a service provider, you have to keep studying and learning, and that raises the bar in terms of competition,” Elaish tells us.

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