Dybdal on improving fitness in Rwanda


Dennis Dybdal working out at the gym. He says being fit takes more than just doing exercises. Courtesy.

Dennis Dybdal is one of the founders and the Managing Director of Waka Fitness. He is also the brains behind the recent Waka Warrior Race, a fitness race which involves participants overcoming a number of obstacles from piles of tires, high walls, a stream of water, mud puddles, soapy tarpaulins, walking on narrow platforms and running through a fire. Sunday Magazine’s Sharon Kantengwa had a chat with the 38 year old on Rwandans’ changing altitude to fitness and working out.

Three years down the road, Waka fitness has grown to be one of the biggest fitness center in Kigali. What would you attribute this success to?

Even though Waka fitness is a gym with all the equipment required for an excellent international gym experience, to us this is not the most important aspect of our concept and our success. For us it is very important to listen to our members, their goals, and their health and exercise history. We want to make sure that they don’t waste our members’ time, because we know that most of our members have a busy life and busy jobs. So we provide effective training that helps people build lean muscle, which means that they will get stronger and loose bodyfat.

How are you achieving this?

We decided from the beginning to eliminate any exercise that we knew could be harmful to our members or that wasn’t effective. As an example that’s why we have very few classic aerobic classes, because it has no real effect, except maybe being a fun class. Fun is important but we know that the real reason why our members have stayed with us for three years is because they are seeing big results, which they didn’t see while working out in any of the other gyms in Kigali.

By choosing to involve regional participants, are you saying that the obstacle has outgrown Rwanda already?

We wanted to make it regional for two reasons; grow Waka into an African lifestyle brand and the warrior race is a good avenue to demonstrate on how we can deliver on unique fitness experiences. We also believe that an event like the warrior race is missing from the fitness landscape in East Africa.

How effective is the Warrior Bootcamp?

The Warrior Bootcamp has become a huge success, because of the strong community that has been created around it. Everyone in the class is very welcoming and inclusive, everyone is willing to share their goals and their previous weight or fitness struggles, we constantly remind each other of the importance of eating healthy, we keep each other accountable, we get stronger together physically and as a team. The Warrior Bootcamp became the inspiration for the recent Waka Warrior Race that was held at Masaka Park.

The ‘Strong Women of Rwanda’ challenge proves your passion for women’s fitness. What makes you passionate about women’s fitness?

Women face the hardest struggles in trying to balance public body expectations and their own self-image. We want to help women own their sizes and shapes by helping them become the strongest and fittest they can be.

In your view, are Rwandans taking their health seriously?

We see that Rwandans are very health conscious. They work hard and are curious about how to improve their health. We make sure to update our trainers on new ways to exercise based on the international sports and science community. Fitness today and what we now know is not the same as in the 1980’s. We see that our members enjoy and benefit from the many new training methods and equipment that we offer. It keeps our members engaged, they get results and encourages them to want to improve.

What is your fitness philosophy?

Our fitness philosophy is that we are more than just a gym, we are targeting our clients’ lifestyle choices from helping them manage stress at work, incorporating better food choices in their routine and connecting them with a community of like-minded people.