Shaikha Al Qassemi is on a mission to change the UAE fitness movement and challenge the preconceived gender notions in the fitness industry. She may have flirted with other sports prior to discovering her current discipline, but when the professional athlete began her CrossFit journey in 2013, it was finally true love.
What first attracted you to the sport?
I got into CrossFit in 2013. I walked into the gym not really knowing what to expect in my first class but I loved it. I enjoyed the diversity in movements, learning new skills and the community support was just amazing. The best thing about it is the community that has been built. If you drop into a CrossFit box anywhere around the world, they’ll always make you feel welcome and part of the community.
Have you faced any cultural barriers in pursuing CrossFit?
I think anything outside of the usual “societal norms” will always get some criticism. I got mixed reactions for the first couple of years and because I had opened a public Instagram account and posted my workouts, people were shocked by what they saw.
How did you deal with it?
Lifting weights, competing and also openly sharing it with the world was unheard of and I understood that people will always judge what they don’t understand. The comments would get to me but I always kept myself focused on why I do it. Slowly it turned into more of a support system and the people that surrounded me believed in my purpose, pursuits and hard work.
What do you think of the scope of CrossFit in the Middle East?
It started very small around 2012, but it grew big in just a few years with up to 30 CrossFit affiliates. The impact that it has made in the community is certainly positive; it has brought people together, supporting each other and working together to spread awareness on health and fitness.
Last year you opened the Platform gym in Dubai, what was your inspiration behind that?
My main inspiration was to teach and inspire. I wanted to build a space that is welcoming to everyone, and not focus so much on the competing aspect of CrossFit. I don’t stress on the importance of putting up scores, as it becomes more of a competitive thing and people tend to push too hard at the start. Everyone has different levels of fitness, some have never done anything at all so I encourage people to listen to their bodies and feel their improvements across the weeks.
Within the Platform space you offer a dedicated ladies only section, do you believe this will help encourage more women to try CrossFit?
Yes, I have seen many women come and go, they have tried CrossFit and many of them do come back. I always tell my followers, members, and clients, do what you love the most, as long as you are moving, it doesn’t matter if it is Zumba or weightlifting. Any sort of fitness is important. The only difference is that with CrossFit you have the regulars in each class, they bond, they banter, they have an awesome time and most of all they get fit with each other. We run multiple events throughout the year and the ladies only ones are always the most successful.
How do you motivate yourself to stay active?
I remind myself every day why I do this and I have personal goals. There are days where I don’t feel like training because I’m either overwhelmed with work, tired or extremely sore. But instead of reminding myself of how I feel, I go to the gym and do something instead of nothing. I listen to podcasts, mindful apps and watch videos to get my focus together and in the mood for training.
For anyone concerned about joining crossfit, what would you say is the biggest misconception that people have about it?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that it is a dangerous activity. CrossFit is a scalable exercise where anything that is on the board can be made easier for beginners so everyone gets the same stimulus. It is the athlete’s responsibility to tell the coach if they have injuries, aches, pains or discomfort. It is the coach’s responsibility to scale accordingly and help the athlete train safely and effectively.
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