updated 4/7/2010 1:22:08 PM ET 2010-04-07T17:22:08

Gold's Gym, the American bodybuilding chain that has helped pump up Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tiger Woods, is pushing deeper into the Arab world.

The Irving, Texas-based fitness company and a Dubai family firm it has signed as a regional partner told The Associated Press on Wednesday they have reached a deal to open at least 26 gyms in four Arab Gulf states.

Under the terms of the deal, Al Ahli Holding Group will open the gyms in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. It will build some itself, while establishing franchise or licensing deals with local partners for others, said Mohammed Khammas, Al Ahli's CEO.

Gold's Gulf facilities will vary in design to appeal to different types of consumers. Some will include luxury amenities such as restaurants and spas, while others are expected to be simpler bodybuilding shops.

The oil-rich region has few modern, Western-style gyms outside of luxury hotels.

"We want to give people an alternative to what's available right now," Khammas said in an interview in his Dubai office. "Gold's would definitely give a lot of people a run for their money."

Al Ahli runs an outlet mall in Dubai and has interests in construction and petrochemicals. It plans to open the first gyms in Dubai and the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi, he said.

It also has the right to open another 66 gyms in a total of 13 countries mostly in the Middle East and Africa, including South Africa, Morocco and Jordan.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gold's Gym started in 1965 as a weightlifting shop in Venice, California — a site now popular with Hollywood celebrities looking to bulk up. It later expanded across the U.S. through franchises, and now counts nearly 3.5 million customers at more than 700 gyms around the world. It is a division of TRT Holdings, which also owns the Omni Hotel chain.

Gold's deal with Al Ahli comes amid an aggressive expansion drive overseas. Last year, the chain signed a deal to open 26 gyms in the Philippines.

"You're seeing that fitness is kind of an emerging market overseas," Gold's Gym spokesman Dave Reiseman said. "In the next few years, we'll have as many, if not more, international locations as domestic ones."

The new gyms will not be Gold's first in the Middle East. The chain already operates outlets in Egypt and Saudi Arabia — including a women-only branch in the western port city of Jiddah to cater to local sensibilities.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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