By Raeesa Ashique, Blog Contributor
My gym life has always had many ups and downs. Exams in April interfered with my regular routine, May was more off than on, and then Ramadan came. Fasting with a full-time job meant my free time was spent sleeping or catching up on Quran reading, and I justified continuing to skip the gym. But alhamdulillah I mustered up the discipline to get back into shape the last two months of summer.
I won’t mention all the physical and mental benefits of working out, since they are pretty obvious and can be found on any fitness site. Instead, I will offer some perspective and some advice. I’m no fitness guru, but I hope to encourage some of you to hit the gym.
Decide what you want to focus on – this can be mainly cardio, weight-training, or resistance exercises. I primarily do cardio, alternating between the treadmill, elliptical, and rowing machine, followed by core circuit training. Come up with some routines in advance, so indecision does not become an excuse to skip a workout.
My second piece of advice: be realistic. Having unreasonably high expectations will make achieving them difficult, and attempting to reach them intimidating. For example, say I decide to run five miles every day. I’ll probably quit after a week, since I would rather quit than fail. Make sure that you can realistically stick to your plan, and slowly increase your expectations as time passes.
Thirdly, make your intention! Allah has given us our bodies as an amaanah, or a trust, and we are supposed to take care of them. This means staying healthy, keeping in shape, and not exposing them to unhealthy or toxic substances. I think we’ve all heard the famous hadith “Actions are judged by their intentions”. It is a beautiful thought, knowing that a simple intention can turn a workout into worship.
For my hijabi girls: I feel you. Actually, this is for any of you modest women. I won’t pretend it’s easy to cover – it’s hot under all those layers, but there is some consolation.
I always feel like covering at the gym is da’wah. Remember: you are making an impression on the people who see you, and you are racking up reward for this act of worship as well! Allah rewards us for our struggles, so make the double intention of staying healthy and being modest for His sake.
You also want to wear the right clothes. I can’t tell you what the right clothes are, since it depends on your own comfort level. Personally, I wear workout leggings (the ones from Pink are my favorite) with oversized men’s workout tops (which I “borrow” from my dad!) since they are super light material and fall to mid-thigh. I try to avoid cotton since it’s much less breathable, with my scarf being the only exception. I wear two-piece cotton scarves rather than maxi scarves, since it reduces the amount of material surrounding my face and sticking to my neck. I definitely prefer the voluminous scarf look for day-to-day wear, but this doesn’t matter at the gym: I’m there to get in shape, not to take selfies.
Finally, I would like to touch on body image (although I will save the extensive discussion for a future post). I know this will sound cliché, but I wouldn’t be saying this if I did not completely believe it. Don’t get obsessed with your weight. Focus on how you feel. If you feel stronger, if you feel satisfied with your progress, if your routine is encouraging healthier eating, if you generally feel good: your routine is working.
Weight is just a number, and does not necessarily correlate to progress. For example, my body type is such that my weight doesn’t fluctuate. I can do crazy amounts of cardio for two months, and my weight will stay the same. Instead, try to measure progress in terms of how long you can run for, how many squats you can do, or how your cardio has improved.
This may take a while to accept, but it is very true: if you don’t feel good, then no amount of weight loss or dieting will make you happy. And ultimately, feeling good and pleasing Allah are the goals.
Follow Raessa on Instagram at @raeesashique