Bahrain mall walking can be more like boot camp than shopping
Time Out Bahrain staff
I don’t normally volunteer to write any of the Sports features for Time Out. Massage treatments, Friday brunch write-ups, anything sedentary, basically, and I’m first in line at the editor’s desk. But when ‘City Walkers Programme’ popped up, well, I thought, even I can manage a gentle stroll slash spot of window shopping with a doddering of old dears. Where did I sign up?
At the Customer Services desk on the ground floor of the City Centre mall. I turned up bright and early and was rather disconcerted to find myself amidst a group of people of all ages, shapes and sizes. Where were my old dears? Not here, Fitness First personal trainer Paul Hamblin told me. ‘The whole concept of mall walking started off in the States, it’s really big over there, and basically it is groups of older women and middle-aged housewives wandering around and chatting. And we started off with that here, but over time I’ve built it up, added more things once people got accustomed to it, and now it’s nothing like that.’ Nothing like that? It was at this point that the dread set in.
The City Walkers Programme is the first of its kind in Bahrain, the brain-child of the Capital Governate, the Ministry of Health and Bahrain City Centre mall, and kicked off on April 7, World Health Day. It is the Kingdom’s way of participating in the World Health Organisation’s 2010 ‘1000 cities - 1000 lives’ campaign, which aims to promote a healthier lifestyle for urbanites by ‘calling on cities to open their streets to pedestrians and promote health related activities’. Streets fit for walking along are a rarity in this region, what with the temperatures, dust and pollution, and so malls, so ubiquitous in these parts, provided the perfect setting. Fitness First’s Paul concurs. ‘Look around, it’s practically custom-built, different levels, stairs, travelators, and miles and miles of temperature-controlled walkways.’
The promotional leaflet I’d picked up proclaimed ‘Walk up to 2km and burn up to 700 calories’ which turned out not to be the guff or typo I’d assumed it to be because it was a full-on, hour-long workout. City Walkers? I’m thinking of suing for libel. It all started off innocuously enough, about 50 of us walking around in a big, uneven circle, swinging our arms self-consciously. But it soon became far more hardcore with the introduction of partners and a competitive element: Paul put us in pairs with one partner having to maintain frankly sadistic poses while the other sprinted back and forth across the width of the shopping concourse. The trick is to land yourself a super-fit partner: they can run faster so you don’t have to hold your squat for as long, and then they can easily hold their pose for the aeons it takes you to waddle through your quota of widths. Picking such a partner was the one thing in the entire hour that I actually managed to do well.
By the time we came to start some actual walking, my thighs and calves were already screaming and I was red in the face and out of breath. But no time for my muscles to recover: straight up the switched-off travelator to the first floor, brisk walk along to the circular handrails outside BHS and Centrepoint where we were arranged into two circles, one gripping the hand rail, the other ranged further out around them. The inner circle had to do squats while the outer group punched. Several minutes of this, with the groups swapping activities, then it was another brisk walk along to an escalator which we ran/jogged/walked/crawled up (guess which one I circled) to the top floor, where we were lined up along opposing handrails and made to endure several excruciating minutes of leg raises. I was very relieved to see I wasn’t the only one suffering this time.
And then, thankfully, we got to do some proper walking and set off to walk or run around an area of the top floor for about five minutes. This gave my poor leg muscles some much-needed time to recover but was over woefully quickly. Paul then had us back lining the handrails for some killer arm exercises, which even had the super-fits grimacing. I’d hoped to be able to blend into the background and go at my own pace, one for everyone else’s two was my thinking, but Paul is a mean task master and added on another five repetitions for every slacker he spotted.
We finished off with even more sprinty, racey type things and then, finally, we were done. Looking around at my co-exercisers, I thought I’d be surprised to see smiles and laughter and hear ‘see you next time’s but, somehow, I wasn’t. Despite it having felt like absolute torture for most of the hour, it had actually been really good fun. There’d been a nice mix of ages (older, middle aged and younger, with two little kiddies thrown in for good measure), abilities and backgrounds (local women in the full abaya and headscarf, expat housewives, business types stopping in before work) and Paul had known just what joke was needed to get us through the particularly difficult bits. Will I be going along again? Almost definitely yes!
The City Walkers is absolutely free! They meet every Mon, Wed and Sat at 9am at the customer service desk on the ground floor of BCC. For more details call 17 177 771.