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Get in shape

Alan Micallef has turned his lifelong dream into reality. Ramona Depares meets him at Gymnasia.

I have to confess that the first time I walked into Gymnasia, there were more than a couple of butterflies fluttering about in my stomach. Gyms, with their air of cold efficiency and uber-fit patrons, have this effect on me.

If you’re anything like me, chances are that the first walk of shame until you familiarise yourself with the equipment and everything – with everyone seemingly stopping what they’re doing to stare at you – is the worst part. I was totally braced for this the first time I showed up at this year-old gym in Paola, but as it happens I needn’t have worried.

The first thing that strikes you about Gymnasia is that it is a hive of activity, in the best way possible. Everyone is busy doing their own thing in one of the cleverly designated areas, which means that you can go about your business without any pressure – particularly if you’re not that familiar with gym etiquette, which I really wasn’t.

Gymnasia is massive, incredibly so. Owner and personal training guru Alan Micallef tells me that this used to be a warehouse before it was transformed into the fitness haven that it now is.

The Gymnasia story started just over a year ago, when Alan decided to turn his lifelong dream into reality. This was after obtaining a Certificate 5 in fitness in the UK and spending years in Sydney, offering personal training services to private clients. When Alan eventually decided to return to Malta, he found that awareness about fitness and health were on the rise. For a number of years he dedicated himself to private personal training services, gathering a number of well known personalities as his clients, until he decided that it was time to act on the dream of opening his own gym.

“When I found this warehouse, I immediately fell in love with the location. The southern part of Malta has been in need of a gym for years. My plan was to open a huge facility with separate areas allowing for dedicated sections so that members can use the facilities in the most convenient way possible.”

Alan opted to keep the industrial-inspired aesthetic as much as possible, complementing it with modern steel gym equipment. The wide, open area is divided into a resistance equipment area at the back, cardio towards the centre and a totally separate section for classes on the upper level. A huge climbing wall, the only one in Malta, serves as a backdrop.

“The idea is to catch those fitness parameters that you don’t usually get in other gyms. For equipment, I opted for a top brand. We have even included TRX equipment for suspension training. It’s one of the biggest fitness trends at the moment – you use your body weight to train and it’s extremely effective.”

One of the aspects that also distinguishes Gymnasia is that there isn’t the drive towards extreme bodybuilding that is typical in a number of other gyms. Alan tells me that even internationally, the trend has moved from building up huge body mass to focusing on a fitter and healthier body.

“Big muscles are out. In reality, most people come here to lose weight – however there is this shift in the attitude that you only go to the gym if you’re overweight. People nowadays know that it’s good to train for that feel-good factor and for health reasons,” Alan explains.

The variety of classes offered at Gymnasia contributes to this feel-good factor. Held in the upper level, away from the rest of the hustle and bustle, there is everything from spinning, kick-aerobics, fitness freaks, kickboxing, circuit training and yoga to the more exotic martial art Wing Tsu. New classes and activities are constantly added.

“Hygiene and a welcoming environment are a priority here,” Alan says. “I also make it a point to keep the equipment as well organised as possible. Clients don’t want to spend five minutes hunting for the right dumbbell just because the previous user left it lying around somewhere. We keep things running pretty efficiently.”

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