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French Version


New gym offers personal touch (Daily Star)

Owners say exhale has lots of variety, but a cozier feel
New facility puts the emphasis on classes, with options ranging from spinning to yoga


Walking down Bliss Street one is faced with a dizzying succession of all that Beirut has to offer: coffee shops, restaurants, cell phones, embassies and consulates - and, of course, the campus of the American University of Beirut, which gives the whole area a youthful buzz.

With such an alignment of all that makes this city tick, it is only normal that Bliss Street also has Beirut's latest craze: the gym.

"Exhale" has taken up residence on the first floor of a classically Lebanese building just past what used to be the Australian Embassy. Visitors enter a high-ceilinged space housing a reception desk and a large seating area around which are spread four large exercise rooms - each bathed in natural light and a beautiful breeze that seems to blow in through the windows by looks of the swaying tree branches outside.

But it is the reception area that is key. Done up in a retro 1970's style, it rotates around a juice bar offering everything from protein shakes and bars to espresso and cappuccino.

Exhale is the brainchild of partners Hania Bissat and Trudi Hodges.

"Opening this gym has been on my mind for the past two years," says managing partner Bissat. "I just did not feel that there was a place offering the variety of a big gym with the scale and personal interaction of a small one."

The gym's emphasis is on classes, she says, hence the high number of female clients.

"We have 14 certified instructors, male and female," says Bissat, "so the gym is not exclusively female, but our emphasis on classes might explain the larger number of female clients."

A quick look at the equipment room soon reveals the latest exercise equipment, from steel bars and weights that make up the "BODYPUMP" class to the stacked, spherical boards used for the "Reebok Core" courses.

Explaining the BODYPUMP program, Bissat says: "If you want rapid results in terms of toning, this is it."

Hodges steps in to point out that BODYPUMP is part of a worldwide franchise, so Exhale must follow a specific program.

"Whether you live and exercise in Europe or Dubai" explains Hodges, "you can pick up where you left off."

Meanwhile Bissat has stepped on a "Reebok Core" board that floats like a spaceship below her feet.

"We are the first gym in Lebanon to have the Reebok Core Board class," she says, adding that "core training is a huge trend" in the U.S.

Bissat says that, by challenging your equilibrium, the Reebok Core Board works your core muscles, which include your abs, hips and lower back muscles.

"They can also be incorporated into other classes, such as Pilates and kickboxing."

In the first of the four exercise rooms, a large space is revealed with parquet flooring and wall-to-wall mirrors beautifully reflecting the light from the windows.

"This is used for spinning classes," says Bissat, a fact made obvious by the almost Maoist way in which the state-of-the-art bicycles are laid out. Pointing out that Exhale is the only facility in Lebanon certified by the cycling program "Johnny G. Spinning," Bissat explains its many benefits.

"Whether you want to lose weight, build endurance or train for an athletic event, spinning is ideal. ... It is dynamic and safe as each client works with a heart monitor. ... It is an amazing workout."

Moving on to the biggest room in the gym, Bissat lists the many classes that Exhale offers: kickboxing, BODYPUMP, Reebok Core, step, stability ball, bikini, Pilates, yoga, Oriental dance and even break-dancing for children.

The tour ends with a visit to the changing room, fully equipped with showers and lockers, all done in a minimalist Japanese style.

"What we have to offer is variety and flexibility," says Bissat. "We have the most qualified and diverse group of instructors, and they are our greatest strength. Clients receive excellent instruction, minus the contracts and fees of larger gyms.

"We have clients who swim at another facility but come to Exhale for a specific class. ... For us this is a positive. At the same time, we have clients who are here every day."

You can contact Exhale at 01/364638 and 03/197271, or e-mail them at exhale@cyberia.net.lb

Beirut 11-10-2004
Samia Nassar Melki
The Daily Star



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