“I work… a lot,” explains 34-year old Yasmine Farah. “I am a handbag designer, an art teacher, a photographer, and I have an art atelier.”
Despite being red faced from a freshly completed one-hour workout, Yasmine is dancing around the reception of Trainstation Fitness Center cracking jokes and offering bear-hugs to whoever passes by. Her fellow gym attendees respond well and goodbye hugs and kisses are exchanged, as if everyone has just finished a Sunday family lunch.
“I had never done sports in my life until a year ago,” she goes on to explain. “I smoked, I drank… I was never someone who cared about my figure or anything like that.”
Yasmine’s story may sound like a typical fitness success story in which a once unhealthy chain smoker becomes a 24/7, high-octane gym rat. However, it is not that simple. Her story is not so much about power lifting and figure as it is about lifestyle and community.
All in the Family
One year ago, Yasmine came down with a cold and lost considerable weight from her already slim frame. After a few weeks, the cold had still not gone away and her friends and family were going as far to ask her if she was anorexic.
Realizing she had hit a physical brick wall, she started to tease herself with the idea of going to the gym. She had always been envious of her more active friends and now had a real reason to join them. Feeling the need for a change and little bit of adventure, she pushed herself to join her friends for a session at Trainstation.
“I thought I would come only once to the gym,” she recalled.
What was initially a personal physical challenge turned out to be the beginning of a new social circle and lifestyle.
“I liked it because of the music and the friends…. It wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought to start (because of the atmosphere),” she professes.
One could argue that Yasmine was lucky that her first foray into the fitness world was at Trainstation, a fitness center focused more on holistic lifestyles and community, rather than high weights and hard targets.
The intimate social setting of the center, the fun atmosphere, and the nurturing drive of the Trainstation trainers had her hooked. Rather than being daunted by grunting men, angry faces, and cheap music, she was welcomed into a challenging, but accessible space.
Yasmine’s story is a source of pride for Trainstation co-founders and sisters Hiba Safieddine and Rafa Chabtini. Three years ago, Hiba, a nutritionist specializing in eating disorders, and Rafah, a former marketing analyst, decided to team up to create a fitness center that embodied the one thing they wanted more of in their own lives: Balance.
“I always pictured myself working in a big multinational corporation, in an office. But after 6 years, I noticed that this was not at all what I was looking for,” explained Rafah.
Using Rafah’s business skills and Hiba’s background in nutrition and fitness, the sisters opened Trainstation.
The gym is entirely class based, with specialized trainers who share the Trainstation philosophy. Attendees are given nutrition consultancy by Hiba, special fitness snacks and juices are tailor ordered, massage stations are available, and intimate one-on-one relationships with attendees are the norm.
The goal of the sisters is to get their clients thinking about their health outside of the gym as much as inside. In practice, the fitness center serves as a meeting point where attendees socialize, exchange fitness ideas, plan active weekend excursions, and work out in a dynamic and entertaining setting.
“You rarely find people who say ‘I love coming to the gym,’ ” insists Hiba, “it’s because most gyms are just about people doing their own thing and keeping to themselves. Our idea was to create an environment where people get excited to come and participate. Here it is all about human interaction…. We [Hiba and Rafah] are present as much as possible.”
While social interaction and balance are fundamental to Trainstation’s approach, physical challenge and personal goals are still very much integral to the gym’s success. For Rafah and Hiba it is about making those goals personal, manageable, and enjoyable for the individual client.
Rafah describes the client relationship as one of give and take. They listen to what their clients want in order understand what it is they want out of the gym. Within this framework, they encourage them to push further and work harder. “It is a compromise,” explains Rafah.
For Yasmine, the approach has paid off. She is now one of the most common faces at the fitness center and treats the place as a second home. That being said, she is only spending 1-1.5 hours in the gym, 3 times per week. Much of her improvements are also thanks to increased attention to her day-to-day lifestyle. She has also stopped smoking and pays better attention to her food.
“I eat better, I’m hungry now!” she exclaims. “I gained weight and I feel better.”
With Yasmine’s success story in tow, Rafah and Hiba’s goal is to try to reach more people like her to raise further awareness about holistic health through their fitness center and personal relationships. With a new studio expansion currently under construction, it looks like their message is steadily gaining pace.