Sand and Sweat: Dakar’s “Muscle Beach”

#028

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Photos: Ali Withers


No air-conditioning or state-of-the-art machines at this fitness center, and nary a fancy sneaker. In Dakar, capital of the western African nation of Senegal, a central stretch of beach draws what might be the world’s largest daily workout group. And the sessions are very much D.I.Y. 

The location is one reason so many flock here: “Muscle Beach,” as it’s sometimes called, is mere steps away from Cheikh Anta Diop University, and many who come to rip off some reps are students. Heading to the beach is an end-of-day social ritual, especially for those observant Muslims for whom grabbing a drink after class (or work) is not an option. 

Athletes dig holes in the sand and do push-ups. Others skip rope and take part in running drills led by city-paid or volunteer coaches. There are pull-up bars bolted into place, and benches for pressing weights made from old wheel rims.

Senegal—Dakar in particular—has a vibrant physical culture, evident in its international soccer stars and the stadiums that fill up for laamb, the country’s traditional form of wrestling.  Not that everyone working out at Dakar’s pre-eminent temple of body is there with a single purpose in mind. One of the beach’s few amenities is a staffed area for praying, separated from the workout area by a low brick wall. 


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