Elevating Fitness with Zola’s Aerobics Club

Author: Mandy Mbekeni
Photos: Zola Sibiya

Throughout time, unstructured outdoor play has been one of the easiest, instinctive, and natural ways for children to be physically active. And if you grew up in a black household, mostly in the township, you’ll remember ugqaphu, undize, udushe, and umgusha. Depending on which part of the country informed your upbringing, the rules of these games are different, but that’s neither significant nor the point. In hindsight, the fact that outside play extends to physical exercise might not have been as obvious in our younger minds as it might be now.

But we can agree, even as young adults, that given the space and permission to play together, children do not need encouragement to be active. Yes, this thought makes me envious as an adult who would get a side eye for wanting to participate in a game of ugqaphu with the neighborhood kids. 

Well, somewhere in Gugulethu (Gugs), Cape Town, is a man determined not to let this intuitive way of exercise and fun not die down. “Aerobics is in all those childhood physical games we all played growing up,” says Zola Sibiya of Zola’s Aerobics Club. “At our aerobics gym club, we always make the environment conducive and fun – like an amusement park for adults. Our clients do not only look forward to going to the gym, but it’s an opportunity to get fit and a great environment to unwind after a long or hectic day,” he continues, describing what the aerobics gym club is all about. 

The notion behind the establishment of Zola’s Aerobics Club was the result of trying to introduce a different sports code in the Gugs community to help curb and avoid cardiovascular diseases and mental health-related issues and attempt to get the youth of Gugulethu involved in a more constructive and productive activity. Sibiya’s personal training philosophy is: “Start today; tomorrow might be too late.” Of course, this is not to discourage anyone looking to start their fitness journey but is moreso a prompt to validate the thought to start your fitness journey as soon as possible. 

“Physical training has always been my passion. I come from a background of athletics, sprinting, long-distance running, and mountain climbing,” he elaborates. “Aerobics, for me, allows for the sports I’ve mentioned to intersect. Furthermore, it allows for skills transfer, encourages positive health of the participants, and the combination of people with different fitness goals to all exist in one room and have fun while exercising.” 

Exercise is often rejected in many cases because it requires changing our everyday routine. Still, Zola’s Aerobics Club insists on not making it an “add-on” to our lifestyles but an intrinsic part of our lives. If it’s as close enough to our routine as play is for younger children, then hopefully, it won’t feel like an extra activity but a way of life. 

Zola’s Aerobics Club exists with the help of Sibiya’s wife, Sibabalwe Sibiya. Together, and through popular demand, they expanded and now manage their two aerobics gyms. “We take good note that you are what you eat, and that affects your growth in fitness. We also acknowledge the community we serve and that a nutritious diet might be expensive and, therefore, difficult to maintain; as a result, we encourage a balance between nutrition and mental fitness as they both equally impact physical fitness. More importantly, we encourage consistency for one to see positive long-term results.” 

And as with everything, consistency, and patience are good virtues to have. It’s even more instrumental that one exercises determination regarding physical goals. “Kindness to self, diligence, and the ability to celebrate short-term achievements are pivotal to what we do as these also inform the long-term achievements.” Fitness is a journey; through aerobics, you kill two birds with one stone: a structured fitness plan that allows for exercise and a way of life rooted in fun and playfulness. 

But what should a first-timer look forward to or expect in their first session? “It all begins with what goals the client has. Depending on their physical fitness and goal, generally, we would start by building stamina to get them in gear and then cardio whilst still building their stamina. We then establish a routine, and when they have a good command of that, we can focus intensely on the fitness area they desire.” 

Recently, Sibiya’s journey with ikeja is like a candle at the bottom of the last drawer during a power outage, a saving grace. “When we took out our wifi contract with ikeja I grew more inquisitiveness about their business model and how they operate, and so I enquired about a collaboration with them as a means to give back to the communities where we both operate, specifically in Gugulethu in our case, and the result was a match made in heaven. The collaboration with ikeja has elevated our brand, afforded us more visibility and a broader reach, and has garnered a positive response towards our upcoming event.” 

Zola’s Aerobics Club is gearing up for their upcoming event, a Crossfit Challenge, in October, aimed at bringing in more participants this year than the previous one. This year’s momentous event will be in the company of ikeja in the spirit of growing the community spirit of Gugulethu, encouraging the right to play, and elevating the need for organizations like Zola’s Aerobics Club to gain as much visibility as possible. 

“Our future, as most would say about themselves, looks bright. We want to grow our capacity, get more gym equipment, and establish our presence in other communities. We think our expansion and presence would be appreciated in neighboring communities as we have much to offer. We want people to be impressed by our style, commitment, and creativity through playfulness and fun exercise metrics and improve the fitness strengths of those who remain consistent in their journey and our growth. I love getting fit and enjoy having others doing that with me. There is nothing else I would rather be doing.”