Re­shap­ing the body and the mind

Trainer aims to change Mus­lim women’s view of go­ing to gym

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - KAR­ISHMA DIPA

FOR con­ser­va­tive Mus­lim women, go­ing to a gym filled with men can be daunt­ing and can make them feel un­com­fort­able.

Thanks to fit­ness fundi Zaaki­rah Khalek, such women can be ac­tive while stay­ing true to their val­ues.

Khalek, 28, left a cushy, cor­po­rate job to pur­sue her pas­sion, and is now a per­sonal trainer at the Wan­der­ers Sports Med­i­cal Cen­tre in Jo­han­nes­burg.

She un­der­stands that Mus­lim women are not en­cour­aged to at­tend gym, but wants to change that mind­set.

“A lot of my Mus­lim client base are ladies in hi­jab, so when I moved to this gym they were con­cerned that men were there,” Khalek said.

She makes house calls for those who can’t face a testos­terone-filled en­vi­ron­ment.

“If you want to train, you can even come with your hi­jab,” Khalek said.

“It is so en­cour­ag­ing to see a lot more In­dian and Mus­lim women in their hi­jabs with run­ning sneak­ers on, jog­ging around the block.

“Mind­sets are chang­ing and even though you were brought up a cer­tain way, you can still be fit, it’s just your re­spon­si­bil­ity to ex­er­cise.”

Her love for all things fit­ness be­gan at school and con­tin­ued af­ter she ma­tric­u­lated.

“I used to be a sprinter in high school and uni­ver­sity,” Khalek said.

While study­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg, she took up road run­ning as a hobby.

She grad­u­ated with a BCom de­gree in in­dus­trial psy­chol­ogy and worked as a hu­man re­sources con­sul­tant for a Jo­han­nes­burg law firm.

Khalek flour­ished in her ca­reer, yet couldn’t shake her love for fit­ness.

She be­came a more avid road run­ner and joined a run­ning club.

When she saw an op­por­tu­nity to be­come a train­ing con­sul­tant for Nike, she ap­plied.

Khalek stud­ied part-time to­wards her qual­i­fi­ca­tion in per­sonal train­ing, sports con­di­tion­ing and train­ing in dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments for two years.

She soon found jug­gling her com­mit­ments dif­fi­cult and last year, she quit her job to be­come a full-time per­sonal trainer.

“A lot of peo­ple were in­quir­ing about per­sonal train­ing so I thought: ‘Why not take this risk now while I’m not mar­ried or don’t have any chil­dren?’,” Khalek said.

Her de­ci­sion paid off as she has quickly built up an im­pres­sive client list.

“I en­joyed my HR job but I wasn’t un­happy in the cor­po­rate world, but fit­ness is hon­estly my pas­sion and I have ab­so­lutely no re­grets so far,” Khalek said.

Her job can be chal­leng­ing but it is some­thing she be­lieves she was born to do.

“My client’s suc­cess is my suc­cess,” Khalek said.

“Since train­ing with me, one client was on chronic med­i­ca­tion and was very de­pressed; she’s off the med­i­ca­tion now and is healthy.

“An­other client lost 12kg, and lit­tle sto­ries like th­ese give me the mo­ti­va­tion to keep go­ing.”

A stereo­type that Khalek wants to break is that if women do strength train­ing, they will be­come too mus­cu­lar and look “mas­cu­line”.

“Women of­ten think that by do­ing strength train­ing they’re go­ing to look mas­cu­line, but phys­i­cally it’s im­pos­si­ble be­cause we don’t have enough testos­terone to look like a male,” she said.

“When I look in the mir­ror, I don’t see a male and I’ve been do­ing strength train­ing for years. I don’t have the body com­po­si­tion of a male.

“I might have more mus­cle than the av­er­age woman, but I don’t look like a male so that’s just a myth.”

She said women should not starve them­selves in an ef­fort to lose weight.

“When you do that your me­tab­o­lism slows down and your body holds on to any food that you’re eat­ing, and that will ac­tu­ally make you gain weight,” Khalek added.

Her ad­vice for those who fear ex­er­cise? Start slowly.

“Some of my clients are very over­weight and have very bad eat­ing habits and I ad­vise them to just start do­ing a brisk walk ev­ery day and to cut the junk food from their diet slowly,” she said.

For those who say they don’t have time to work out, Khalek said that they must clear their sched­ule.

“There is time in the day, you just need to find it. Be self­ish a lit­tle. Ex­er­cis­ing is much more than look­ing good. It’s about be­ing healthy, avoid­ing di­a­betes, de­pres­sion and even drug ad­dic­tions,” she said.

PIC­TURE: BHEKIKHAYA MABASO

CROSS­ING OVER: Zaaki­rah Khalek, 28, turned her pas­sion for fit­ness into a full-time ca­reer as a per­sonal trainer, hav­ing first worked as an HR con­sul­tant.

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