Khobar: Just a few short years ago, Amal Alshahrani and her tight knit crew of Crossfit devotees were just a small group of girls doing deadlifts and squats together in a tiny room.
Now, Crossfit, the heavy-lifting fitness phenomenon, has become something of a trend in Saudi Arabia, and women are getting in on the action, too.
“We still get stereotypes all the time,” Alshahrani, Saudi Arabia’s first female Crossfit Games national champion told Gulf News.
“The biggest misconception is that you’re going to lift for a week and bulk up. That’s just not going to happen.”
Crossfit is a fitness concept which combines weightlifting, high intensity interval training, gymnastics and functional movements.
It can be used to achieve weight loss, muscle gains and to improve both endurance and stamina.
Alshahrani, who was introduced to Crossfit in 2013, says more women in Saudi Arabia are becoming interested in the sport because of its unique physical and mental aspects.
It’s also thanks to a greater push for physical activity across the nation through the Saudi Sport For All Federation, which has made it easier for women to have access to ladies sports and fitness facilities, she said.
The Crossfit instructor and competitor says the classes give women the chance to clear their minds and feel empowered by their own progress.
“It helped so much with my stress levels,” said Dalal Saudi Alduhaij, 27, who has been training for over a year.
“You have a tough day at work and you can just come here and release all the tension.”
She started training over a year ago in an effort to lose weight but said she was surprised to discover how much more it’s done for her than just change her appearance.
“It keeps you going. You come here tired from your job and think you’ll be more tired after your workout, but once you finish the class you actually have more energy.”
Alduhaij says she takes classes up to six times a week at Crossfit Antiope in Khobar, where Alshahrani is a coach.
For Alshahrani, her passion started six years ago at a gym in the UK.
She had been practicing mixed martial arts and Muay Thai but kept suffering injuries.
Her coach told her it was time to get stronger, not just faster, and recommended she try Crossfit.
“I tried it and I saw something I’ve never seen before,” she said.
“I had zero experience in strength training and here I saw people slamming weights and dropping barbells. You take your own body and push your own limits. It’s not a team sport. It’s a ‘you versus you’ sport.”
Later that year, upon her return to Saudi Arabia, she met a few other female Crossfit enthusiasts who shared her passion.
Among those women was Dr. Mariam Tashkandi, a sports and exercise medicine specialist, who focuses on nutrition, recovery and injury prevention.
“Everything we do in Crossfit helos with daily activities,” Tashkandi said.
“For example, deadlifting is like picking up heavy grocery bags and putting them in your car. We have a move called ‘wall balls’ which is the same kind of movement as when you grab your kid and put them in the crib -- squat, lift and place. It’s very empowering.”
In 2016, the two women started teaching Crossfit classes in Khobar for women.
In August, Alshahrani won a spot to represent Saudi Arabia in the international Crossfit Games competition held in the United States.
“It was insane,” Alshahrani said of the experience, which was a personal and professional milestone.
She was the first female Saudi national to compete in the games.
“Crossfit is growing so fast, lots of gyms or what we call ‘boxes’ are opening up in Jeddah, Riyadh, even two more recently Khobar for females.”
-Yagana is a freelance journalist based in Khobar