Brussels youth spread street workout gospel

Summary

A handful young Brussels men have embraced a new sport that offers a low-threshold, cheap alternative to fitness

Everyman’s sport

They call themselves Wolves, and they look like they can lift a car with one hand. Feeling a little intimidated? No need to. Junior, Malik, Manzul, Marvin, Thibaut and Federico are the founding members of the Wolf’s Bar crew, and they’re all adherents of a new sport called street workout that celebrates healthy, strong bodies.

Street workout is a natural sport, Manzul Akhmedov tells me. He’s from the Brussels district of Molenbeek and, together with his brother, he took up the sport 18 months ago. “The only things that you need are your own body weight and some type of steel bars, which you can find at different spots in the city once you start looking for them,” he says. “Street workout is a bit like working out at the gym, but without the machines.”

In other words, the men use only their bodies as a weight to train with. The result is an iron-hard body mass that they use to perform gravity-defying tricks out in open in Brussels parks.

Until two years ago, street workout was unheard of in Brussels, explains Akhmedov, 20. “The origins of street workout are in the former Soviet states, but no-one had heard about it until the Americans picked it up. And the internet did the rest.”

Known and practiced only by a dozen locals, the sport still has a lot of catching up to do here. The guys insist that it offers a healthy alternative to young people who might otherwise just hang out in the streets.

Akhmedov gives the example of a time he went to a local park to work out. He had his earphones in and was engrossed in his routine, until he noticed a couple of guys sitting on a bench nearby, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. “They watched me, but we didn’t talk,” he recounts. “But when I went back to the park later on, I saw them doing street workout themselves. That was so cool.” 

A dream come true

For Akhmedov, street workout is a sport for everyone. “Anyone can pick it up,” he says. “It costs nothing, it’s cool, and it’s healthy. What else do you want?”

More training spots, apparently. Brussels lacks places that lend themselves to street workout sessions. “Right now, we work out in a park in Jette, but we need more places dedicated to street workout,” Akhmedov explains. “It’s basically like playgrounds, but instead of swings, we need bars.”

You have to earn your firm body by disciplined training and healthy living

- Manzul Akhmedov

So a while back, he began knocking on doors to ask local officials to create dedicated spots. At first, he was told they wouldn’t be able to do anything before 2016 – but that was too long to wait for him and his friends. “So I insisted, and not without success,” he says. “Elsene will start building a workout park in a couple of weeks, and Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe and Molenbeek will follow soon.”

Akhmedov and his friends follow a gruelling schedule, training up to six times a week. “You have to earn your firm body through disciplined training and healthy living,” he says, pointing out that the street workout ethos prohibits protein supplements, cigarettes and alcohol.

Taken together, street workout almost sounds too good to be true. These young men eat fruit, steer clear of smoking and treat their bodies like temples. Wouldn’t that make any mother’s heart sing?

Er… until you see the clip in which Akhmedov and his gang somersault their way over Brussels’ metro tracks. As the caption below the video warns: Don’t try this at home.

Photo by Mark Gysens

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