The Everyday Athlete – Yousef Al Gurg

Yousef Al Gurg is an extraordinary individual. An Emirati prodigy with whole host of talents and experience at the age of 26 has dipped his toes in a number of career paths that a rare few get to realise. His passion, drive and willingness to experience new avenues and learn are second to none – a mountaineer, footballer and now gym owner, Yousef is a man trying to change a mindset, a culture hell-bent with the ‘right’ way to become fit. This is a man with a mission and I’m here to find out how he intends to bring about change.

How will he achieve such an extraordinary task?

Well, Yousef doesn’t own any ordinary gym, he manages Dubai’s first and only specialized calisthenics and parkour facility. We’ve seen many institutions offer classes and allocated sections to accommodate the craft but he decided to dedicate his passion for movement and create one specialized place for anyone to come in and learn.

 Yousef Al Gurg

I sat down with Yousef, sipping on our hot chocolate and latte at the rustic and hip, Tom & Serg Café to discuss his love for movement, calisthenics, parkour and his journey through the industry.

 “If we go back to my background in sports. I started when I was 13, playing football with my friends [and later] joined Al Wasl Football Club when I was 14. I played for them for 8 years, from 18 to 22 in the first team, under quite a few great coaches such as Bruno Metsu and Diego Maradona. It got to a point where things changed internally and I stopped enjoying the training sessions or playing and decided to keep it as a hobby. I still play with my friends every week where I enjoy playing more.”

Yousef had a short yet enlightening experience with Al Wasl Football Club where he learnt from some knowledgeable coaches. When the love for the game dies, it’s time to hang up the boots and move on even if it’s at the age of 22. He takes early retirement to a whole new level!

 We moved on to his mountaineering adventures and his decision to move to an unconventional hobby.

“I stopped playing at 22 and moved on to mountaineering. My family and I went to Zermatt in Switzerland, which is a small town in the mountains. We had a chalet that had hiking trails which were all within a 5 minute walk. Whenever we would come back from a day out, I would just take my back-pack and just started discovering and that’s where my love for mountaineering came from. I did my first mountaineering course at 22 and I climbed a few mountains, one in France and one in Italy, both in the Alps. I continued climbing here locally and [eventually] climbed Aconcagua in Argentina, which was the highest mountain I went up. I climbed that, I think in 2013. It was a 21 day trip, 6,900 meters high, 14 days on the mountain itself with no running water, electricity and freezing temperatures.”

Yousef chuckled momentarily but quickly realized the stress he faced during his mountain adventures!

 “It was tougher mentally than physically. Sometimes the weather was bad and you’re just spending 24 hours in a tent with no space to really move around. No toilets for two weeks, so that was the worst part. Packed and powdered food was all we had. I couldn’t wait to get back home!”

YAG Mountains

Yousef isn’t short of experience and at this point, you’d forgive him for wanting to go back home and start looking at a desk job but with the man that he is, he isn’t ready to settle for anything less. The Emirati is always looking for a challenge and took up a challenge in the form of calisthenics:

 “I [first] came across calisthenics on Instagram while I was training at Fitness First. I asked my trainer if he had any idea about this stuff, he was pretty new to it too so we ended up trying new stuff out even though we had no idea what we were doing – we just self-taught [ourselves]. A few months later, Kenneth Gallarzo, vice president of the world calisthenics organization, was giving a workshop on calisthenics. So my trainer and I ended up going to the workshop and at the time I thought, I really want to learn this sport but there must be other people in Dubai who want to learn about this too. After the workshop finished, I spoke to Kenneth about setting up a gym here, enquiring about what would be required to setup a facility here. From there, I worked on setting up Gravity, we went to Dubai Chambers and we got our funding from their SME program. It was about a year since I had the idea to actually setting it up.”

Wow. It’s incredible to see how Yousef’s curiosity and intrigue taken from one Instagram post eventually turned into a business that plugged a gap in the market. The amount of thought, effort and research that went into setting up the facility was amazing and it just goes to show how an idea or thought can be leveraged into actuality. Let’s be fair, many people think the locals have it slightly easier than everyone else here but Yousef has proved that without the dedication and willingness, success is not guaranteed.

After being amazed for a few minutes, we dove into a bit more detail on Gravity DXB, discuss future plans, the current market and how he assembled his masterful team of trainers.

Gravity DXB

 “We opened Gravity in May 2013, and since then I’ve been concentrating on it and we’re actually in the process of moving to a bigger facility, which is a 2 minute walk from where we are currently located but it will be double the size of our current facility. Over here we want to introduce new sports, such as bouldering, trampolining, obstacle course running, just a bit of everything. Just like a full movement academy. For the new facility, I brought on a new partner, an old friend of mine; Saleh Al-Braik. We are in the process of buying into the world calisthenics organization, and that’s happening in the next couple of months.”

It’s incredible to think that they want to finalise numerous projects within the next few months. Looks like a busy second quarter ahead for the team at Gravity!

Gravity DXB

After listening to all of Yousef’s immediate plans for the future, I just had to quiz him on the developmental stages of Gravity DXB; how did he attract the crowds? How did he help people understand the sport during the industry’s infancy?

“At the start, it was difficult, people look at the sport and go this is only for the elite athletes but the way we work is with program and progression. You can be 100 KGs and start working with us, where we start off with the basic pull ups and push-ups and build up from there. With every move, we go through a series of progression. Regardless of what level you start at, our trainers will assess you and place you at your appropriate level.”

He touched upon an issue that I whole heartedly agree with, where people think they can’t enter a sport like calisthenics or parkour or basketball because it’s restricted to elite level athletes but in reality it’s the exact opposite. Trainers and gyms alike are trying to change the current trend and culture of “we can’t”. Yousef and his team are have created a progression program for people to take step into something they never thought was possible! The average person shies away from seeing athletes and individuals that are comparable to themselves rather they compare themselves to the cream of the crop. Demotivation and laziness creeps in and stops people from being brave and just starting:

As Nike preaches: “Just Do It”.

“I think people’s own perception gets clouded when they come into the gym. They’ll see an advance move and get frustrated but what we try to do is remind them about where they started and make sure they reflect back. It’s similar to when I started mountaineering, when you first begin you can see the summit, you can’t even see the people walking near the peak, and you think, there’s no way I can get there but just taking it one step at a time, you start realizing where you’ve reached. At the end if the day, it’s all about making people understand that they can start calisthenics and eventually become what they envision themselves to be.”

 There’s one major difference between your commercial gyms and ‘boutique’ gyms as Yousef calls them, where there’s a family and communal feel in the air. People spurring each other on to beat personal records and attempt new feats is exactly what we require more of here in the Emirates. Gravity DXB personifies exuberance, where encouragement from his team and members to train with a positive attitude is a priority. It is why there’s a large, almost cult like following amongst the experienced practitioners in their respective crafts and gyms. If you look at different gyms around the city; The Warehouse Gym, Train Strength and Fitness, Gravity DXB and more so with the CrossFit affiliate gyms, people are associate themselves with their gym of choice.

The gym is fully equipped with calisthenics & parkour facilities.

“Dubai is a very trend [associated] market. In terms of fitness or restaurants, people move their loyalty from one restaurant to another. The hype dies out and people just keep moving. What we try to do differently at Gravity is create a community. The average member spends 2 to 2.5 hours at the gym. We try and do communal activities such as hiking trips from time to time; we go paint balling and go-karting every few months. We want to build connections between members and spend the rest of your time at the gym interacting with other members. We have people coming in, working out for their one hour class and then you spend the rest of your time to talk to other people. Since its very much skill based, they will ask people to help them on a certain skill, people just move off to one side and help improve each other. People that don’t show up for a week or two, members start checking up on them in the gym’s WhatsApp group. We try to keep people engaged and make it relatable for everyone.”

 The Coaches

“We have nine full time coaches. [The first coach] Marina Pavlenko (@mar_violinha) trained under us but wasn’t completely under calisthenics but she progressed pretty quickly, got her certifications and came back as a strong willed and passionate coach.

Next we have two parkour coaches; Amal Murad (@leap.of.hope) and Mohammed Al Shamsi (@i.xm5), who we call Speedy. They both started as members and got really into parkour. They eventually completed certifications and became part time coaches. So they have their own jobs and come during the evenings to coach. We bring our coaches from abroad, [for example] we initially had Kenneth Gallarzo, he was with us for 6 months.

We generally bring in our international coaches for a 6 month trial period but they end up enjoying their time that they want to stay beyond the 6 month period. We want to give our members a new trainer every 6 months so they can learn new things. Members love how our coaches are engaged with them and we almost prioritize their personality over skill. Skill is something we can improve but you can’t change an [unapproachable] personality.”

 “Four of our coaches competed in the Battle of the Bars in Dubai in November last year. One of our coaches was judging the competition.”

Before I move, let me take a minute to explain what Battle of the Bars is:

The Battle of the Bars is the first legitimate global calisthenics event, with athletes going head to head in a freestyle body weight competition. This competition is held in major cities around the world including Dubai, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Jose, Mexico City, Brazil and Kuwait.

Back to Yousef.

 “Not only do they improve their own skill but they help the members improve theirs too. Someone like Speedy who was looking at Calisthenics as a fun sport is now a serious competitor and he competed last year in the Battle of the Bars.”

One stand out coach who has competed is Justin Garcia (@justinshape) is an elite level athlete who has traveled around competing in the Battle of the Bars and other world class competitions. Definitely worth browsing his Instagram.

Yousef teaches the graduate class (who are the more advanced members of the gym) and teaches them workouts that he normally would use. He smiles while he tries to explain that people have called him a tough leader because he doesn’t give anyone a letup!

It’s impressive that Yousef has been able to band together a talented team of international and local coaches who have contributed towards the success of the gym and more importantly their members.

 The Ultimate Goal

“The short term goal is to turn this from a calisthenics, parkour gym to a movement academy. Fitness awareness in general is growing in the U.A.E but we still have a lot of people focused on body building. We have a big problem in the Emirates with the use of steroids and that affects our youth. It becomes a show of how you look and I what I hope to do is grow the awareness of movement rather than the superficial aspect of fitness. Show people the freedom their body can give them and feel free and better once they get older. Basically create a movement culture than just a body building and [aesthetic] trend. Local calisthenics is growing really fast and is becoming known as a global hub. Many of the Emirati athletes are between 18 and 21 and have potential to go on and do well.”

 Two relative success stories that have graced the mats at Gravity DXB have been Nesa Rassouli (@nesarassouli) and Kyle Jordan Smith (@kyledxb). The calisthenics power couple were under the tutelage of Yousef and his team and have gone on to accomplish some extraordinary feats in Dubai, garnering a favourable reputation in calisthenics around Dubai.

That brought an end to my chat with the CEO and owner of Gravity DXB. A humble individual with a lot of heart and a passion to alter people’s mindset and encourage a movement culture here in the U.A.E. Listening to him explain how he plans to approach his goals has been truly inspiring and the growth of his gym tied with the success stories is a testament to his hard work and dedication. If you want to learn more about Yousef, the coaches and Gravity DXB then head over to their social platforms and have a wander around.

Yousef, I think you should let your Mom know that you’ll be staying around the gym for a little while longer :).

Yousef x Gravity Contact + Socials

Instagram: @algurg22 // @gravitydxb

Coaches – Socials

Marina Pavleknko – @mar_violinha
Justin Garcia – @justinshape
Amal Murad – @leap.of.hope
Mohammed Al Shamsi – @i.xm5

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