Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Crossfit in the UAE

Bodybuilding, it was reported recently, is taking off in the United Arab Emirates, and there was more than a little (English and Arabic language) media coverage given to Dubai-based personal trainer Haifa Musawi, aka "the first Gulf Arab female bodybuilder", at the start of this year. Now comes news that Emirati women are taking up Crossfit in ever-increasing numbers. And crucially, unlike the female bodybuilders, it's a sport in which they are able to compete for their country.

The name at the forefront of Emirati women's Crossfit is Nuha Almarri, the first woman from the UAE to have competed in international events. There were very few Arab girls initially, she says. I clearly remember in 2014 there were only seven Arab girls competing in Kuwait at the Battle of the East. That number went to 10 the following year. The interest is growing and more Arab girls are being drawn to the sport and even taking it up as a profession.
Nuha competes in her first Crossfit competition, August 2014

Her passion for sport was ignited at school, where she did gymnastics, then basketball and athletics, and while doing her Business Management degree in Dubai she continued to run, and also started weight training. Then, in 2013, she discovered Crossfit and was immediately hooked. I like the challenge it provides, she says.

If you are waiting for the "overcame cultural prejudice about women in sport" bit, then here it comes - she found it quite difficult to convince her mother that Crossfit was the profession for her. But over a period of time she realised that my heart and soul is in it, says Nuha. When your family starts backing you in what you do, then things become a lot easier. And Nuha's sister, Latifa, has also taken up the sport.
Nuha (centre) with sister Latifa (left)

Latifa says that she was "into Muay Thai" before she discovered Crossfit "was more fun", and if this isn't sounding like the kind of story you would expect to hear when reading about Emirati women and sport, then believe me, it isn't the kind of story I expected to be writing! Where's the prejudice?! Where's the struggle?!

Actually, the Almarri sisters do acknowledge they haven't had it as tough as the majority of Emirati women, and the numbers actually participating in Crossfit and Crossfit competitions are hardly earth-shattering. But when you consider that just a few years ago the number of women would have been zero, you can see why organisers like Dunia Khaleel are getting excited about the future. The sport is making giant strides within the UAE, she says. Around 15 Emirati women athletes participated in the Abu Dhabi Throwdown. We didn’t do any advertising for the event and still so many ladies came, and we had competitors from Qatar and Oman as well.
Nuha at the recent Abu Dhabi Throwdown

This all sounds rather hopeful - and not at all what I would have expected to find in a country and region that my own ideas about clearly need recalibrating. I want to qualify for all the major CrossFit tournaments globally and try and win medals there, says Nuha Almarri. My goal is to put UAE on the map and show that UAE women are not behind in anything. She can already count me as shown!


Tuesday, 30 August 2016

She's So Shredded: Heidi Krochter

Been feeling like a superhero lately, says Canada's Heidi Krochter, looking every inch like, er, yeah, like she's pretty damn super. "Lately" has been the aftermath of her appearance at the Canadian Nationals, where she finished 7th in her class.

Lucky indeed is the country whose 7th best-in-class Physique lady looks like this!

Heidi - it's "KrocKter" by the way, not "KroCHter" - has been getting rave reviews on the forum boards for some time now. Her progress from circa 2014 through last year (when she became champion of British Columbia) to this year's preparation for the CBBF Physique Nationals has been nothing short of remarkable.

And she's not been difficult to follow. Her Instagram is, to say the least, busy. And on top of that, her YouTube channel has been charting her progress for over a year, with the "Road to the Nationals" series from the last couple of months filling fan's screens with Heidi's vlogs, workout clips, and hilarious Bodybuilding rants.

She is, without question, not shy about "putting herself out there" as they say. And I think part of her appeal to her fans is the fact that the bigger she's got, the more unapologetic she's become. She's never come across as what you'd call shy, but it seems like her infectious personality has come bursting out of her in much the same way as her big, vascular muscles threaten to burst through her workout tops.

She's not the most conventionally beautiful woman in Bodybuilding (some "fans" have taken this to mean it's OK for them to show that the percentage of eejits in the female muscle lovin' world is around the same as there are in the world) but I think the fact that she very much has her own unique beauty is another big part of her appeal.

But just as I'm about to fall over the edge of over-analysing why the 7th best-in-class Canadian Physique competitor has got herself so adored, I'll step right back from intellectualising and acknowledge that while her attitude and beauty are important, by far the biggest reason why we all love Heidi is that body, those muscles.

Fantastic! This physique beats anything I've seen in a long time, one particularly taken fan comments. We love her "V", we love her legs, and because of her penchant for posting post-workout most musculars, we love her bulging, vascular arms, her massive round shoulder balls, and especially that chest - we really love her chest.

My off-season will not be one to be played around with, she says, so don't expect Heidi to be competing anytime soon. Instead, she's already planning her assault on her nationals championships next year. I can see all the areas that need improving, so it's back to the drawing boards for me. I already know what it is I need to work on and improve. The next Nationals will be even more exciting.

Heidi is already, as one fan puts it, "so beautiful, so sexy, and so built", it'll be a joy indeed to follow this amazing woman through that off-season. And far beyond.


Monday, 29 August 2016

Pic of the Week


What an awesome hike! Melissa Wee (Hot and Hard 100 #10) told her Instagram followers a few days after she'd competed at the Arnold Classic Asia in Hong Kong. Crazy terrain and harsh weather, but the experience was amazing. I took a piss in the wild (when you gotta go you gotta go), took naked photos at the mountain peak...

And minutes later, she'd posted one of them!

Melissa made the top 6 in the amateur Physique class in Hong Kong. You can watch her (and the rest of the Physique competitors) in action in all rounds courtesy of the magnificent watatiwatatio on his YouTube channel, which is great and all, but I can't help wondering about all the other photos of Melissa on that mountain peak...

Next month Yosemite National Park, she says.

Visitor numbers there may be in for a sudden boost.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Around the World: India

Around the World is an occasional series celebrating the female bodybuilders of a particular country, and examining any issues peculiar to muscle women there.

Having previously reported on two Mumbai muscle women - the trials and tribulations faced by Ashwini Waskar, and the more mainstream success of Shweta Rathore - it's with no little delight that today we bring you the news that in India, to some extent at least, times seem to be very much a-changin' when it comes to female muscle.

And one sure sign that that is happening came when Elle India featured seven "muscular women" in their May issue, announcing they were "overthrowing every feminine stereotype". Being strong is sexy, it’s empowering, claimed 23-year-old yoga instructor Natasha Noel (above left) in the article, while personal trainer and gym manager Nilparna Sen (above right) confessed that when I saw my bicep pumping for the first time, I wondered why I had ever wanted to be skinny.

The other five women included a nutritionist, a former athlete who now uses social media to change the way Indian women think about exercise, a Bikini competitor, and a make-up artist who is working towards her first Bikini competition.

And, there was MTV presenter and film actress Gurbani Judge, aka Bani J.

Of the women featured in the article, Bani had not only the best abs, but was also the most famous, the most high profile woman. Unsurprisingly then, after the issue in question had come out, it was Bani's body, Bani's muscles, that was the focus of most of the negative comments. Her response was nothing short of heroic.

I have drool-worthy abs and a muscular body by choice, and that has put me at the receiving end of so much body shaming, it’s unbelievable. India puts too much emphasis on a certain kind of a body. For a woman, thin is supposed to be good, and if there’s any deviation she hears no end of it.

Her counter-attack made quite an impression on the Indian media as far as I can tell. Before long, editorials were being written about what young women can learn from Bani's attitude and lifestyle, and how Indians more generally should start celebrating their very own strong women rather than trying to make them conform.

Whether by accident or design, Bani has suddenly become a bit of a figurehead, a spokeswoman. Fortunately, she plays that particular role rather well.

I always fight for what’s right; I don’t take anything lying down. And I wanted to be a strong person, both mentally and physically. What if I’m a woman and I have muscles? My plan was to unlock my strength - physical and mental and I am sticking to it. I love to work out. I am passionate about it. It gives me happiness, makes me feel secure and has netted me a body like no woman I know.

And while all this has been going on, back before Bani became the leader of the Indian muscle women pack, before the Elle India article, and even before FMS had brought you Ashwini Waskar and Shweta Rathore last year, one remarkable Indian woman had just got on a plane and gone and competed and won NPC Figure contests in both 2014 and 2015. She'd been so successful in fact that the IFBB had awarded her a pro card, and in May this year she made her professional Figure debut in New York.

Meet Deepika Chowdhury, India's first female IFBB pro.

Just a few years ago Deepika was doing research in molecular biology, and treating her fitness as a hobby. It's been an incredible three years, she said in an interview published earlier this year. I was doing some weights back in 2012, and around that time I visited the Sheru Classic and saw some of the best bodybuilders in the world and then I heard of the Figure category, which didn't and doesn't exist in India.

She spent 2013 preparing herself, and then took a deep breath and booked her passage to the US to compete at the NPC Battle on the Beach in Florida. It was March 29th 2014. It was a major risk of course, she says. It’s the US, and the ticket and stay aren't cheap at all, but when they announced my name as the winner, it was all worth it.

She returned to the US in 2015 and won the NPC Fort Lauderdale Cup. Then she won again at the NPC Steve Stone Metropolitan and then again at the NPC Atlantic States. Victory at the NPC Eastern USA Championships - where she left the stage to a standing ovation, apparently - gave her an amateur record of 5 contests, 5 overall wins.

Coached by Figure pro Gennifer Strobo, Deepika is now working on creating her own fitness brand and planning her route to becoming India's first ever female Olympian. But she has by no means turned her back on her own country, and is busy leading her own seminars to promote the fitness lifestyle to Indian women young and old.

Indian women are the most hard-working in the world, she says. Our success on the sporting front is a natural progression. However, we must not let negative factors and self-doubt distract us from our goals. Indian bodybuilding has been doing well of late, and I hope this will be a spur to female bodybuilders. The number currently in the country is between 10 and 20, but it is increasing. We have to take the responsibility to do well, so that people can see us and get motivated.

Here's RxMuscle's 2015 training vid and interview with her.

Follow Bani J and Deepika on Instagram.

आनंद! (as they say in Mumbai!)