Amna Al Haddad is a 22 year old Emirati freelance sports journalist who is a fitness fanatic and advocate of strength training for women. She started her fitness journey in 2007 out of curiosity and her training took a serious turn in 2009, and a sudden route toward competitive sports just last year! She was the first GCC woman to compete in the Crossfit Competitions. She was also a speaker at the Tedx held in Ajman where she spoke about fitness and wellness.
|1. How did you get into weightlifting?
During 2007-2009, I was a few kilos overweight and did a lot of reading on the best way to reduce bodyfat and get a lean body composition. Weight training was the answer! That’s how I got hooked. However, I also faced a bout of severe depression at one point in 2009 where I stopped exercising, was unhealthy, ate junk food all the time – I reached a point where I was sick of that lifestyle and I knew I can be a much better, healthier, happier person.
|2. You post a lot about the different weights and other things in your training. Could you explain the details of weightlifting professionally, for someone who is not familiar with it? In terms of how you are scored and what levels there are and what the different competitions are within it?
When I first started exercising, my training was a combinations of traditional weight training and cardiovascular, however my current training is sport-specific and they are two parts; Crossfit and Olympic weightlifting.
Crossfit is a strength and conditioning program/sport that includes a variety of different sports such as Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics, rowing, running, kettlebell training, medicine ball and bodyweight movements and it tests the different domains of fitness. Crossfit workouts known as WODs (workout of the day), are constantly different with variety of functional movements.
Crossfit is an annual competition that is three stages. The first stage is the Reebok Crossfit Games Open, and international competition which takes place from Feb-march, about five or six weeks long where there is one workout announced by Crossfit HQ, and we have a few days to finish the task and put our scores up on the Crossfit HQ websites. The scores are approved by qualified judges locally or by uploading a video that is viewed and approved by the HQ. Top 60 men and women, and top 30 teams then move on to the next stage, the regionals.
This year, I was the first Emirati and GCC national woman to compete in the Open stage of the competition, where I was ranked 77th out of 170 women in the Asia region. I was also contributing to a team score where our team was ranked 3rd in the region, therefore we moved on to the regionals!
The regionals competition took place across 17 areas, from Asia to USA to Africa. In this stage I was the first GCC and Emirati to ever take part – among men and women – and first Muslim to compete in a headscarf.
The final stage of the competition is the Games that takes place in California and only the top 3 athletes in each region and top teams move on to this grueling stage where their fitness is put to the ultimate test.
Weightlifting unlike weight training, is a an Olympic sport that has two very technical movements, the Snatch and Clean&Jerk. Both movements require weight to be moved from the ground to overhead. During competition you have three attempts to lift as heavy as possible and your score is your most lifted weights from each lift.
At the moment, I have not competed in any official weightlifting meets as I have only about 10 months of experience in Olympic lifting, which a very short period of time. However my ultimate goal is to represent the UAE in the Olympics in this particular sport!
|3. You are also a journalist. Tell us about your career in journalism.
I have studied Mass Communication Journalism at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE and graduated in Fall 2010. I was hired by a leading English newspaper in the UAE almost immediately after my graduation, whom I have worked for as an intern beforehand, and recently completed a year with the company. My career in Journalism was quite exciting as I have got to meet high profile individuals, write very interesting articles on social issues and a lot more.
|4. How do you balance your work with your training?
For a year, I was able to perfectly find a balance between my profession and my training ,however, unfortunately, after I have made history for the country, the newspaper did not recognize my efforts and did not wish that I appear in the media because of conflict of interest. I was put in a position where I had to choose between my profession and my passion, and I decided to go for my passion and where my heart is. This is not saying I am not longer a journalist, I have recently started freelancing for a local sports newspaper! So it’s a win-win situation!
|5. What are your future aspirations?
Far too many!!!!! I would like to become a certified personal trainer, open my fully-equipped facility gym, go to the Olympics, and a lot more. All I know is that I love fitness and I want to help people get fit!
|6. What do you feel is lacking in terms of women in sports in the Middle East?
I would say there is a certain degree of lack of support toward sportswomen in the Middle East. There is a lot of misconceptions in the Middle East regarding active sportswomen, where being an athlete in general for men or women is viewed as an unfavorable profession or looked down upon. Of course, there are those who support and especially UAE leaders who are in the forefront when it comes to sport, however sometimes the public does not understand the benefit of sport, not just on an individual scale, but the country as well!
|7. Mashallah you are doing all this in your hijab. How important to you is maintaining your religion and culture?
First and foremost, it is very important for me to hold on to my religion, Islam teachings, and modest clothing in everyday life as well as while practicing sports. Wearing the hijab does not come in the way of my athletic career or performance, and I think it’s important that people realize it is possible to follow Islam guidelines as much as possible and still practice sports.
|8. There are not many Muslim/Arab women doing weightlifting. What advice would you give to other Muslim girls who are interested in weightlifting or any other uncommon sport?
There are a lot of misconceptions regarding weightlifting among women and I hope to change that perception. A lot of people think that any level of weight training will make them bulky, but that’s untrue. Women do not have the level of testosterone as men do that creates that bulk. Strength training has many benefits for women, from reducing body fat which means a leaner body composition, to stronger bones, stronger core (can help with pregnancy!), and a boost in self-confidence and esteem.
If you find a sport you love, go for it! Sports is a wonderful path where you can work hard, see yourself progress and help inspire others. More importantly, make sport and exercise be part of your lifestyle so its sustainable and you can see indefinite results.
|9. What has been your greatest obstacle and how did you/ will you overcome it?
The obstacles I have faced are two-fold. One being mental, wondering whether I will achieve what I aim for, and with hard work and dedication I have and will continue doing so. Sometimes, coming from a culture that looks down upon sport or don’t take athletes as seriously can play some mind games, but I keep reminding myself, it is my journey, my path, and my passion, with that, that’s all that matters and is what keeps me going!
Second, I have had received some negative reactions from some people, but that’s normal as not everyone believes in what you do, even more so understand it. So I always remind myself of the positives, the moral support from my fellow sisters and brothers, and in the end of the day if you are content and convinced with what you’re doing, there is no point on focusing on what may bring you down, but focus on what will keep you moving forward.
|10. What was it like to be named the first Emirati woman to compete in this field and what type of doors do you hope it will open?
It’s an honor to hold such a title, but it comes with a lot of responsibilities as I am not only representing myself as Amna the athlete, I am representing my religion and my country worldwide. I do hope that my story inspires more women into sports, competitively or otherwise. And to highlight the important of sports in this region.
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