At dawn, a township road in Zimbabwe turns into a fitness club

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ON a road over a railway track outside Bulawayo, about 30 people from surrounding townships go through their morning exercise routines.

The wide stretch of road is a well-known gathering spot each morning from 05:00 to 07:00 for fitness enthusiasts who stretch, jog, shadow-box, plank and do squats, push-ups, sit-ups and jumps.

The nearby townships of Emakhandeni and Cowdray Park have scant health facilities, and the bridge is a safe, social spot for anyone looking to burn some calories at the start of the day.

On Sunday, two young footballers did warm-up drills under the eye of their coach, groups of men worked out together and a couple shared a laugh as they exercised while small children joined in.

“I come with my sisters as early as we can, like at 05:00, and we come every day,” said Sidumsile Mthethwa, a 20-year-old arts student. “On Sundays we come before church.

“It keeps kids busy, and it allows us to spend time together – others come from different places around so we meet here.

“We connect as young people and we get to know each other better.”

 ‘Fitness is key to a healthy life’ 

“There’s a local gym but there’s no equipment,” said Emmanuel Sibanda, 25, a keen bodybuilder. “We come here because it is a way to lose weight and look good. People want to be healthy.”

The fitness “club” has no name, members or structure, and each group does its own routines, with some bringing along music on mobile phones or small hand-held stereos.

They use the road curbs for step exercises and drainage holes for their feet when doing sit-ups, or they sprint up and down the steep embankment from the bridge down to the railway tracks.

Some also jog along the railway, from one concrete sleeper to the next.

“That’s not the best exercise – it could lead to injury,” warned amateur football coach Julius Ndlovu, who brought two young players from a local side for pre-season training before matches start in March.

“Many kids take drugs but if they come here in the morning they avoid that,” he said.

“Fitness is the key to a healthy life – you have to fight against high blood pressure and diabetes.”

As the morning progresses, traffic picks up and the small crowd clears off the road to allow cars, trucks and buses to hurtle past on their way to and from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city.

The session ends with a coordinated exercise when about eight pairs run towards each other from either side of the road.

They jump in the air 10 times, clapping their partner’s hand each time in a final burst of energy.