What happens in the ladies' locker room stays...Women in MENA gyms sweat n tell

Internationally known gym franchises operate from Beirut to Doha. (There’s even a health club in the Makkah Royal Clock Tower so you can squeeze in a workout before perambulating the Kaaba!). But while Middle Eastern health clubs may look like their EU and US cousins; activities inside are expected to adapt to more conservative Arab cultural norms, especially for women. Gym rats, don’t be alarmed, all is orthodox when it comes to the exercise  — you can expect the routine staples in sets and reps, cardio and classes, nothing alien there! But look again at some of the subtext to the stretching, spotting and squatting!

Inside the ladies locker room, expect to encounter the quirks and foibles of the more body-shy but no less body-obsessed culture. Nudity is haram, and you’ll be eye-balled as potential wife material for a stranger’s distant cousin! Things can also get strange on the exercise floor machines until you’ve found your feet. Gird up your loins for the eccentricities of the MENA female gym experience! It will help you get back in the zone to offset that sleepy and sedentary lifestyle.

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women locker room gym

Locker room taboo against undressing: While discreet signs do remind users that modesty is required and that nudity is off-limits – you’d think partial states of undress at least might come with the territory. Yet make no mistake – this is not the naked zone men fantasize about having peep holes into.

muslim woman praying

Prayer before unlayer! Hapless foreigners can offend locals who use locker rooms to pray, as visible undies are haram near supplicated women – no matter who came first, the stripper or the devotee. Persons at prayer might block members’ access to lockers, leaving them wondering why the real offender couldn’t pray unobtrusively in a corner.

older woman exercising at gym

Women eyeing you up as potential wives for their sons or nephews: You’re getting propositioned but not directly by the eligible bachelors. Who needs OKCupid when you’ve got these seasoned moms, aunts and other enlisted wife-shoppers on the job! Knock off the exercise act! (Shutterstock)

woman reading book couch

Women ask you if the NGO/ media company you work for is recruiting because their daughters/ nieces are fresh graduates, newly retired on the sofa as full-time couch potatoes (with no relevant experience or skill set that your industry might require, mind.) If it’s not a marriage agency, let it be a job recruitment joint! (Shutterstock)

friends drinking smoothies gym

You can forget the 30-mins workout you’d budgeted for, you need to meet and greet every familiar face you’ve come across as a regular in this social club. Half the members are in it for the extended coffee mornings where chit-chat n chai is the whole point of putting in appearances at the gym. Ladies, don’t break a sweat now! (Shutterstock)

women working out treadmill

Women sidling up to exercise near you (though the whole floor of machines is free) to oggle at your settings and ask you for training tips when there are staff sporting ‘happy to help’ gear on hand. (Shutterstock)

woman lifting weights gym

Don't push it! Break into a trot, ramp up the intensity on the cross-trainer and you get funny looks as most lady's gym ‘clubbers’ prefer a leisurely stroll on the tread (gossip) mills while catching up with friends – by phone if they’re not exercise-buddying. One user reports being asked why she was jogging when she "looked great".

arab woman weightlifter

Lure lore! At a club in a certain conservative Kingdom, treadmills sit on a mezzanine above the weight lifting zone. A male jogger objected to the ‘distraction’ of a woman weightlifter below. A tennis coach told his female student he quit his coed gym because women athletes posed too much of a ‘distraction’. (Shutterstock)

hair dryers bathroom gym

Supply and demand crisis over the hair dryers — just cause they’re veiled doesn’t mean looking immaculate at all costs is not the order of play! Bed-hair or gym-and-go locks are not an option in this fastidious fashion culture. Here’s looking at you, Lebanon! (AFP/File)

woman working out makeup

Working out in full make-up and seemingly having visited a hair salon prior as well as presumably post for a top-up! (Shutterstock)

arab women taekwondo gym

Veiled ladies don’t let their garb get in the way of a good sweat! Hijab is commonplace in mixed gym settings, but single sex clubs do allow for the head-covers to fly off! If you ever want to see the ladies really run, be on standby for when a clueless man walks into the no-man zone, and see those girls sprint for cover! (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)

headphones music working out

Music spillage from the cheap earbuds of the person next to you – trying to pedal fast to Nancy Ajram’s love ballad! (Shutterstock)

spin class gym

The class zone: Attendance at the more challenging classes may be sparse - you’re lucky if even the trainer shows up on time! But when the oriental dance starts, the ladies come running in full attire and with jingle bells on! (Shutterstock)

sheer athletic tights

Gym gear: Forget freeweights, weight machines and kettle bells, the real gear that counts is in the clothing! Some of the attire seen in ladies-only gyms will send you soaring off your treadmill! With no men in sight, ladies take full advantage by wearing skimpy, daring and highly coordinated workout-fits. (Flickr)

women locker room gym
muslim woman praying
older woman exercising at gym
woman reading book couch
friends drinking smoothies gym
women working out treadmill
woman lifting weights gym
arab woman weightlifter
hair dryers bathroom gym
woman working out makeup
arab women taekwondo gym
headphones music working out
spin class gym
sheer athletic tights
women locker room gym
Locker room taboo against undressing: While discreet signs do remind users that modesty is required and that nudity is off-limits – you’d think partial states of undress at least might come with the territory. Yet make no mistake – this is not the naked zone men fantasize about having peep holes into.
muslim woman praying
Prayer before unlayer! Hapless foreigners can offend locals who use locker rooms to pray, as visible undies are haram near supplicated women – no matter who came first, the stripper or the devotee. Persons at prayer might block members’ access to lockers, leaving them wondering why the real offender couldn’t pray unobtrusively in a corner.
older woman exercising at gym
Women eyeing you up as potential wives for their sons or nephews: You’re getting propositioned but not directly by the eligible bachelors. Who needs OKCupid when you’ve got these seasoned moms, aunts and other enlisted wife-shoppers on the job! Knock off the exercise act! (Shutterstock)
woman reading book couch
Women ask you if the NGO/ media company you work for is recruiting because their daughters/ nieces are fresh graduates, newly retired on the sofa as full-time couch potatoes (with no relevant experience or skill set that your industry might require, mind.) If it’s not a marriage agency, let it be a job recruitment joint! (Shutterstock)
friends drinking smoothies gym
You can forget the 30-mins workout you’d budgeted for, you need to meet and greet every familiar face you’ve come across as a regular in this social club. Half the members are in it for the extended coffee mornings where chit-chat n chai is the whole point of putting in appearances at the gym. Ladies, don’t break a sweat now! (Shutterstock)
women working out treadmill
Women sidling up to exercise near you (though the whole floor of machines is free) to oggle at your settings and ask you for training tips when there are staff sporting ‘happy to help’ gear on hand. (Shutterstock)
woman lifting weights gym
Don't push it! Break into a trot, ramp up the intensity on the cross-trainer and you get funny looks as most lady's gym ‘clubbers’ prefer a leisurely stroll on the tread (gossip) mills while catching up with friends – by phone if they’re not exercise-buddying. One user reports being asked why she was jogging when she "looked great".
arab woman weightlifter
Lure lore! At a club in a certain conservative Kingdom, treadmills sit on a mezzanine above the weight lifting zone. A male jogger objected to the ‘distraction’ of a woman weightlifter below. A tennis coach told his female student he quit his coed gym because women athletes posed too much of a ‘distraction’. (Shutterstock)
hair dryers bathroom gym
Supply and demand crisis over the hair dryers — just cause they’re veiled doesn’t mean looking immaculate at all costs is not the order of play! Bed-hair or gym-and-go locks are not an option in this fastidious fashion culture. Here’s looking at you, Lebanon! (AFP/File)
woman working out makeup
Working out in full make-up and seemingly having visited a hair salon prior as well as presumably post for a top-up! (Shutterstock)
arab women taekwondo gym
Veiled ladies don’t let their garb get in the way of a good sweat! Hijab is commonplace in mixed gym settings, but single sex clubs do allow for the head-covers to fly off! If you ever want to see the ladies really run, be on standby for when a clueless man walks into the no-man zone, and see those girls sprint for cover! (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)
headphones music working out
Music spillage from the cheap earbuds of the person next to you – trying to pedal fast to Nancy Ajram’s love ballad! (Shutterstock)
spin class gym
The class zone: Attendance at the more challenging classes may be sparse - you’re lucky if even the trainer shows up on time! But when the oriental dance starts, the ladies come running in full attire and with jingle bells on! (Shutterstock)
sheer athletic tights
Gym gear: Forget freeweights, weight machines and kettle bells, the real gear that counts is in the clothing! Some of the attire seen in ladies-only gyms will send you soaring off your treadmill! With no men in sight, ladies take full advantage by wearing skimpy, daring and highly coordinated workout-fits. (Flickr)