A Day With: Shaikha Al Qassemi

Hiba Khan - Contributor 07:00 04/11/2016
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Leading the way: Shaikha Al Qassemi.

CrossFit athlete and trainer, Shaikha Al Qassemi challenges the preconceived gender notions in the fitness industry and recounts her journey into this unique training program.

The 27-year-old Emirati is a firm believer and an avid proponent of CrossFit, which she strongly credits for having a positive impact on her life and overall body image.

As she gears up to compete for the second time in The Battle, a two-day fitness festival scheduled to be held in Kuwait this weekend, she speaks to Sport360 on her future plans and aspirations.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a CrossFit athlete, coach and soon to be owner of Platform gym in Dubai. I started my journey early 2013 with a growing passion to change my lifestyle. I’m a CrossFit Level 1 trainer, hold many speciality course certificates and have coached ladies classes in both Sharjah and Dubai. My aim is to inspire women along my journey and I am on a mission to change the UAE fitness movement, increase awareness, encourage more women and men, to get stronger and fitter for life, and to make a change for future generations.

How did you get into CrossFit and can you tell us a bit about the nature and philosophy behind this fitness regimen?

I started CrossFit in early 2013, I did my first competition and got hooked. CrossFit is performing functional movements that are constantly varied at high intensity. It is a core strength and conditioning program that can be scaled for all levels.

When I first started CrossFit, I enjoyed the fact that I was learning something new everyday. Even today, closing four years into my journey I am still signing up for courses, listening to my coaches cues and researching whenever I want to educate myself on something I don’t know much about.

Being a public figure in the fitness industry, I stay updated and educated on everything within health and fitness to make sure I am always ready to answer any questions that my followers ask.

As an Arab woman, have you faced any cultural barriers in pursuing CrossFit?

I am very lucky to be surrounded by family, friends and followers that are constantly supporting me however my journey goes along the way. Of course there has been backlash through social media from people who don’t understand what I am aiming to achieve.

Pushing limits: Sheikha Al Qassemi.

Pushing limits: Sheikha Al Qassemi.

Some comments like “a woman shouldn’t lift” or “you look like a man,” however everyone will have their own opinion, the key is to focus on yourself.

What do you think of the scope of CrossFit in the region? How receptive is the region to CrossFit and other sorts of fitness activities?

CrossFit started in Dubai around 2012 and it has changed from then and now. With the constant support of HH. Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, CrossFit athletes are lucky enough to compete sometimes weekly and annually in the Dubai Fitness Championship.

There are some people that misunderstand the concept of CrossFit. It is about the community, the support system, and the progress of each and every individual. As much as we love watching the elite athletes battle it out for places, nothing is more satisfying than seeing our students progress throughout the weeks, months and even years.

Do you feel that there are enough people doing CrossFit in the region?

CrossFit was created for people in all fitness levels, any movements within CrossFit programming is scalable to what the person is capable of doing to ensure movement is good and safe. However, CrossFit may not be for everyone. Some people have tried CrossFit and have moved onto calisthenics, weightlifting, basic strength and conditioning or even martial arts.

I always advise people who ask: Should I do CrossFit to lose weight? No, you should do whatever makes you excited to wake up in the morning and get moving!

Do you think there are enough women doing CrossFit?

There is never enough women doing CrossFit! What I love about CrossFit is the support system that is built within the gym, the coaches are well educated and informed enough to educate women on why CrossFit is the most effective way to get fit and how good it is for you.

Most importantly, I think women should be educated about health and fitness in general. Spending hours in the cardio room will not get your body sculpted and lifting a lot of weights won’t get you fit. You need a good balance of both as well as changing their food regimen.

Can you describe the impact CrossFit has had on your life?

It has made a huge impact! It has changed me physically, emotionally and mentally. I was always self conscience about how my body looked, since high school until I found CrossFit. I always had wide shoulders and I am quite average in height (although people do think I am tall, I’m only 5’3”).

In university I was yo-yo dieting for years and after I graduated I joined a gym and got my fitness together. I went from 72kg down to 52kg and even though clothes fit me nicely, I was not happy. I wanted to look strong, squat heavy, lift weights, run, do it all.

When I was in a global gym, I was told by my trainer I shouldn’t be lifting too much, it’s dangerous, it’s not good for my back or knees. Once introduced to CrossFit, I was taught how to lift weights safely; I was taught how to take care of my body and how to supplement and rest when I need to.

Training and competing has changed my mental strength; years ago I would have never thought I would be capable of what I can do now. I am much more confident and also I have learned to love my body.

What is ‘The Battle’ and how do you feel about competing in it this year?

The Battle takes place in Kuwait annually and attracts athletes from all over the world. After competing last year, the energy of the arena was breathtaking. This year the first workout is an obstacle course and I have never done an obstacle run before so I am up for the challenge.

Their workouts always have a twist and I have had so much fun during qualifiers I can’t wait so take on the battle this year.

What are your future plans?

I am currently in the process of opening my own gym, it will consist of three spaces to workout in and I am mainly targeting women, mothers, kids and teens. My mission is to shape a better future for future generations, educate them on balancing health and fitness with life as well as encourage them to follow their dreams.

How do you aim to push the scene further?

I guess it is already getting pushed, there are so many new CrossFit boxes opening across the UAE and there is always space for more. My strategy is to build a good friendship with all boxes and aim on creating projects to keep people in the fitness industry excited.

What advice would you give to young girls?

Love yourself, find what makes you happy and follow your heart. Everything else will fall into place. Don’t take life too seriously, find a balance and focus on you.

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