“Why it’s high time we stopped comparing ourselves to others in the gym”

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Looking for some workout inspiration? Welcome to our new column, ‘This is what strong looks like’. 

This week, Nike’s first UK Hijab Ambassador Shazia Hossen talks to Stylist about comparing yourself to others in the gym, what motivates her and what ‘strong’ means to her. 

What is your workout regime?

My workout regime involves a variation of mainly weight lifting, body weight strength training and mobility. I like to keep it interesting and relevant by also practicing some martial arts/combat training styles such as Muay Thai, boxing and weapons training.

My training programme itself varies throughout the year depending on my goals and other commitments. However, my programme would generally consist of four to six sessions a week, with each one lasting about one to two hours.

What inspired you to start training?

I was referred to boxing sessions to serve as an outlet for all the pent up energy I had bottled up back in secondary school. Eventually, I found it to be a great way to clear my head. It allowed me to focus more and I embraced how much stronger and more confident it made me feel as a young person. This inspired me to engage in other forms of physical activity, and years down the line I still feel the same way!

What was it like on your first ever day at the gym?

I can’t really remember my first day in the gym as it was nearly eight years ago. I was 14 years old and had just begun to embrace the untapped potential of what my body was capable of. I was simply excited to unearth it all. 

shazia hossen running
Strength training: “Remembering the feeling of satisfaction that comes with doing what I’ve set out for myself usually helps me stay on track”

How do you motivate yourself when you don’t want to go to the gym?

Having a core motive, a reason or a ‘why’ established is a great way to get the engine revved up and ready to go. After that, it’s all about building good habits and staying consistent.

Remembering the feeling of satisfaction that comes with doing what I’ve set out for myself usually helps me stay on track when I don’t particularly feel like doing anything. I’d rather be at least 1% better than I was the day before than let the time pass away, and still not feel in the mood for the gym.

For me, it’s also a matter of integrity: my motivated self had planned to hit the gym, and fulfilling that promise to her is more important than the fleeting feelings of my current, unmotivated self.

Some women feel intimidated at the gym. What’s your best advice for getting through this?

Entering the gym, particularly the weights section, can be quite a daunting experience. This tends to stem from worrying about what others in the gym might think, being inexperienced, or not feeling like you look the part. As a teen starting at the gym I had no such reservations. I believed the purpose of a gym was similar to a classroom: it was a place for learning, practice and progress, which is an attitude I have carried with me.

shazia hossen boxing
Strength training: “Never allow the opinions of others to stop you from being great”

The first time I ever felt unnerved while training was the first time that I went to the gym wearing a hijab, just over three years ago. I remember constantly adjusting my scarf and wondering if anyone was looking at me weirdly. But by the end of the session, I realised no one cared half as much as I thought they might! That realisation made me feel annoyed that I’d wasted a session worrying about something I’d been doing for years, only this time with a scarf on my head, and I made sure I never let that happen again. People may glance at me out of curiosity or for no reason at all – the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter.

Something I try to instil into the young people and clients that I work with is to never allow the opinions of others to stop you from being great.

What should we remember when looking at other people’s fitness regimes on social media?

It is important to keep in mind that each person’s regime will be relative to their fitness levels. Therefore I advise that, while there is no harm in taking inspiration from what others are doing, you should refrain from comparing your current journey to theirs – as the saying goes, ‘comparison is the thief of joy’.

What people do in the gym is also based on their personal goals, so we may not necessarily benefit from their style of training. This does not mean that we are doing too much, too little or doing anything wrong. When in doubt, be sure to seek advice from a qualified personal trainer.

shazia hossen at the gym
Strength training: “Strong is empowered, unbreakable”

What does strong mean to you?

Strong is I

Strong is she

Strong is fierce

Strong is beautiful

Strong is progress

Strong is unyielding

Strong is empowered

Strong is unbreakable

Strong is overwhelming

Strong is enduring

Strong is vulnerable

Strong is heavy

Strong is tired

Strong is I

- Shazia Hossen

Stylist Strong is a fitness brand specialising in strength training specifically tailored for women. Our classes are designed to build both physical and mental strength in a smart and informed way.

So, whether you’re a beginner or already have strength-training experience, Stylist Strong has a class to suit you. Come and try our strength-based classes at our own purpose-built studio at The AllBright Mayfair. 

Photography: Boxing and running shots by Brunel Johnson @brunels_world

Gym shot: bench press photo by @ranouttawork and squat rack photo by Johaina Mahmood

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Commissioning Editor at Stylist. Follow her on Twitter

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