In a demonstration of physical rigidity, coordination and dynamism, 35-year-old Khairuddin Awg Majanun reaches for what appears to be a metal bowling ball with a handle between his legs and swings it overhead in a single, seamless motion.

“That’s a kettlebell snatch,” says the founder, instructor and sole employee of Hustle Station gym. “It looks like its in the shoulders, but it really comes from the hips – its all in the hip extension.”

Situated on the first floor of the Higher Hotel Complex in Kiulap, Hustle Station is styled similarly to a growing number of “functional” gyms; consisting of an open space for group classes with minimal cardio and weight machines.

Khairuddin – known to his regulars as Coach Kai – aims to separate his establishment by crafting classes and programmes delivered with precise instruction using kettlebells almost exclusively – a tool he believes is sufficient to strengthen and condition the whole body.

“Kettlebell training is simple yet complex; simple because you don’t need much equipment asides the kettlebell itself – and you can do it anywhere – but complex because you can perform so many exercises with it that you won’t typically see in a traditional bodybuilding gym,” said Kai.

“And while you can see kettlebells in some gyms in Brunei, you wont see a gym or class dedicated to building routines just for kettlebells.”

Kai began his fitness journey more than a decade ago with more traditional bodybuilding routines focusing on workouts that each isolated different muscle groups.

After plateauing with that approach, he began trying out different fitness group classes, which included using kettlebells for basic movements like squats and deadlifts. But building entire routines with it only came when Kai decided to join a kelttlebell workshop by Global Fitness Education from Indonesia at a local gym – and in the process became one of the first Bruneians to be certified as a kettlebell instructor.

“I didn’t have any plans to open a gym at the time,” says Kai who was working full-time when he got his first certification two years ago. “I was just getting into the learning process, hoping that I could be a personal trainer somewhere down the line.”

Kai would rack up more certifications including one from ISO kettlebell sports – which focuses on lifting kettlebells in a competition format – and begin doing group classes at various local gyms including Fitness Rebel, BruFit and R3.

He built a small following across two years, saved $20,000, and in October 2019 took the leap to open the first gym in Brunei focused on kettlebell training and become a full-time trainer.

“In fitness and in business it’s all on me,” he added. “If I could make it would be my success, and if I failed it would be my responsibility.”

Kai demonstrating a Turkish get up exercise which begins by lying on the floor and ends by standing upright. Kettlebell exercises are typically more dynamic than standard free weight exercises, incorporating more swinging and involving multiple joints, which its proponents believe will translate better to athletic function through total body coordination.

Five months after opening, the COVID-19 outbreak in the Sultanate saw a national directive ordering gyms and other establishment to close. The measure was sudden and unprecedented in length, lasting from March 19 to May 15, during which Kai continued to pay rent despite having no walk-in customers.

“We had no idea how long (the outbreak and closure) would go on for; if it was just a few months longer I could no longer sustain rent, and was just thinking to close the gym to cut the losses,” he said.

Kai attempted to use the kettlebell’s flexibility to continue doing business – renting them out and conducting classes online through video – but the response was lukewarm, with all but the most ardent members participating.

“We would get maybe three to four people joining in classes, the online packages couldn’t really sell so we were only doing payment per class,” he said.

Since the controlled reopening of gyms at 30%, 60% and now 90%, Hustle Station now opens seven days a week to allow for classes to be more spaced out.

Classes have also been streamlined into four types: hypertrophy, which uses slower, controlled movements to isolate and grow each muscle; build up, which focuses on increasing sets to a peak intensity; met con, which aims to get the heart rate up with shorter rest times and higher repetitions and rebel which introduces more technical routines and exercises.

“Since the re-opening we have been doing really well as more and more people are coming through,” said Kai, who plans to host more trainers offering different classes and expand into merchandising.

“The whole experience has taught me to not take anything for granted. We’re open 24/7 for classes, personal training, private groups, and anyone from beginner to advanced can get something out our sessions.”