Gym Wars - Ireland v Brazil

I've been fortunate enough to spend time in gyms in both Ireland and Brazil recently and I've come to notice some interesting differences. The Brazilian model wins without question for me. It’s important to note I haven’t travelled the length and breadth of both countries researching this (interesting idea though). I'm basing my argument on about 10 gyms I've frequented in recent years in the Dublin area versus a couple of gyms in Rio de Janeiro and a handful more around Florianopolis in the south of Brazil.

So what makes the Brazilian approach win out?

Standard Qualification

To work in a gym in Brazil as a personal trainer and to take classes you need, as a minimum, a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education, so unfortunately my FETAC qualifications wouldn’t cut it. Perhaps due to this, the clients hold personal trainers in Brazil in very high regard. It looks to me as though they are treated and trusted similar to a doctor would be in Ireland!

At a gym I was attending in Rio there was a former professional MMA fighter ‘supporting’ one of the trainers who was leading an MMA class. Why was he supporting and not taking the class himself? Because he didn’t have the qualifications to do so (he’s working on that apparently). So even though he was clearly very experienced in the field (even more so than the trainer), he couldn’t formally lead the class without the qualification. In other words, you are guaranteed to be in professional hands when you walk in to a gym in Brazil.

 MMA style sports are very popular in Brazil

MMA style sports are very popular in Brazil

As for Ireland? The majority of personal trainers I have encountered in Ireland are very well qualified with a mix of different accreditations and experience and I’ve learned a lot from them. This mix of qualifications can sometimes confuse and put me off though. Everyone has their specialty and that’s fine. I’ve been to a gym in Ireland before where I specifically requested a resistance training programme and the trainer was constantly trying to push me towards his specialist area (which was running). One example shouldn’t cloud your opinion but perhaps this wouldn’t be an issue if every trainer had the same foundation qualification before they started specialising? Just a thought.

Recommendation: Standardise the qualification in Ireland. Can a standard degree programme be offered that all personal trainers must have before moving in to their desired field?

 

Gym / Exercise Culture

There’s a gym/exercise culture in Brazil that I just don’t see in Ireland. In Ireland we’re spread across many different sports; Soccer, Gaelic Football, Hurling, Rugby etc. In Brazil, football is number one without doubt. Number two is probably MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is hugely popular and has led to the success of many Brazilian UFC champions (although Conor McGregor has begun to reduce this number). The gym plays a significant role in this sport.

There’s a low barrier to entry for gym training in Brazil. I’ve already mentioned the excellent free outdoor exercise stations that are common in many neighbourhoods, encouraging young and old to exercise. The warm weather makes it more attractive to get outside and exercise in the park or on the beach.  The actual gyms themselves are very competitive if you shop around. I did pay top dollar for a quality celeb hangout gym on Copacabana beach in Rio but my current local gym in Florianopolis has all the basics covered plus excellent staff and costs me $60 Reals / €15 a month.

 Beach exercise

Beach exercise

The weather is a factor in attracting Brazilians to the gym. How so? Well, particularly in coastal areas, people are generally showing off a lot more of their bodies in the Brazilian sunshine than you would see in Ireland. Many Irish people will only ever see their bodies once a day; in the shower! In Brazil, hitting the beach or the pool on a nice day is standard practice among family and friends so Brazilians like to frequent the gym so they can look their best in their bikinis and budgie smugglers.

 

Welcoming, Pro-Active, Approachable Staff

When I walk in to my current gym here in Florianopolis I’m greeted with a high five (and sometimes even a hug!) by the instructor on duty. We’re not lifelong friends or anything like that, I only joined the gym three weeks ago! I’m not getting special treatment either, there’s a similar greeting for everyone else that strolls in. It’s a really friendly, welcoming atmosphere and I noticed the same when I was in Rio.

During my workout I find the instructors to be really pro-active, walking around and seeing if they can help clients out. They like to ask me questions about my workout, as opposed to the other way around. When I’m struggling with my bench press I don’t have to ask someone to spot me, an instructor is usually standing over me before I know it pushing me to get a few extra reps out that I wouldn’t manage on my own.

 Spotting a bench press

Spotting a bench press

How does this compare to Ireland? Well the reality for me has often been to observe the personal trainer on duty sitting in the corner on Facebook for the duration of my workout. Is this the trainer’s fault? They’re kind of employed by the gym to do just that; to keep an eye on things, to answer client questions and to make sure no one injures themselves so perhaps there’s not a huge incentive to be more pro-active. They make their main money from the personal sessions they can arrange in addition to this. Is this different to Brazil? Well, no to be honest. The trainers that are already walking around supporting your workout in Brazil are available for one to one sessions too, they just don’t use Facebook it seems.

Recommendation (for Personal Trainers): Get up, walk around, share your knowledge and generate some business for yourself. And stay off Facebook!

 

Classes

The personal training I’ve witnessed in Brazil is comparable to Ireland. Perhaps a few different techniques being demonstrated but in general it’s the same idea. There seems to be a lot more classes offered outdoors in Brazil though and the weather of course makes this a very popular and attractive option. Every morning before work on Copacabana beach you’ll see trainers putting clients through their paces in bootcamp style sessions on the sand.

I also noticed that the majority of gyms in Brazil have a designated MMA area. MMA, Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai classes are as frequent as the Spinning classes. You’re imagining male dominated classes? Far from it. MMA in Brazil is hugely popular with females. The training provides a great all round workout. Fighting is optional and only enters the equation after many months of training and even then only takes up a tiny percentage of the class. In Ireland, Conor McGregor’s success is really putting MMA on the map and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of these type of classes popping up in gyms around the country which can only be a good thing.

Woman boxing MMA

 

As I mentioned above this is not an exhaustive study into gyms in both of these countries. I’m basing this on standard gyms in Ireland, I’m yet to attend a Crossfit, an Educogym or a specialised performance centre where I believe there’s a more interactive approach but I plan on doing so when I return. As for my thoughts on Brazilian gyms, I noticed similar traits at gyms in Colombia and Argentina in the past so maybe it’s a Latin American thing.

 I’m really enjoying my time at a Brazilian gym. There’s a nice social atmosphere, it’s a great way to interact with the locals and an added bonus is the fact that I’m learning new Portuguese words as I try to figure out what exercises my instructor has written on my workout plan.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. You can like, share and comment below.

This has been my 50th blog post! Thanks for reading and supporting me over the last 50 weeks. Until next time on Office Worker Health…….

Brian