Tell us a little about yourself:
Who I am today is who I’ve become after having kids – or perhaps because I had the wonderful experience of having kids – so I have to answer that I am first and foremost Mum to two beautiful souls Aljood (4) and Zayed (2).
I’ve recently co-founded ‘Chapters Fitness & Soul’ with my business partner Jehan AlSairafi focusing on prenatal and postnatal strength training. While my education and work background is in Management Consulting and Education Strategy, I have now shifted my focus to Health and Wellness, and certified as a Personal Trainer with an advanced specialization in pre and postnatal training as well as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach.
How did I get here? Passion for movement. Sports played a big part of my life growing up. While I loved all types of sports, showjumping was what eventually defined me. When I moved away for university, I took a break from showjumping but needed to find other forms of movement that I enjoyed and that’s when I discovered the rush of traditional fitness, the meditative aspect of running and the post yoga inner glow.
As I started my journey into and through motherhood, my interest in movement grew however in a different direction and my focus shifted to supporting women in this particular Chapter of their life.
Tell us about your desire and passion to promote pre and postnatal strength training:
There are three moments in this journey that spurred my desire to promote prenatal and postnatal strength training.
Firstly, the moment I found out I was pregnant with my first. The day before I was riding my very grumpy horse and that same morning I was at the gym doing box jumps and sprinting. The next morning I skipped riding (for a whole year!) and scaled my workout all the way back down to a walk. What if my horse had thrown me off (cause he definitely tried)? What if those box jumps hurt the baby? My mindset shifted to being concerned with all the things I couldn’t do rather than those I could. Google’s wealth of contradictory advice confused me more and I could not find a place that encouraged the type of training I enjoyed.
Second moment of truth, my emergency C-section. With a low risk pregnancy and baby in optimal position, I didn’t realize it was a possibility I had to consider. Looking back it sounds silly however I can admit I knew absolutely nothing about c-sections. I was discharged with absolutely no information to guide me in my recovery. I researched and researched but I did not find what I was looking for until I joined a postnatal pilates class with a fantastic instructor. I initially found the class too slow for my liking but to my surprise it ended up being the second best thing that happened to me after giving birth. At 7 weeks postpartum, I could finally feel my previously numb core. The simple targeted movements had made me regain confidence and control over my body. Why hasn’t anyone told me about this before? I thought how this needed to be general knowledge so that other mums could also benefit.
Lastly, about two years later, Jehan and I joined a circuit class when she was pregnant and I was just under a year postpartum with my second child. While we thoroughly enjoyed the class, It wasn’t specific and it didn’t feel completely safe. Due to extensive research and experience, we were able to come up with our own modifications however this is not the case for everyone. At that point we decided it was time to create a safe space for mothers-to-be and mothers to exercise without doubting the choice of exercise. I had personally tried strength training classes abroad when pregnant with my second and I felt incredibly strong and empowered. This is the feeling I want mums to have here in Abu Dhabi.
How do you empower mothers and mothers-to-be with your program:
We empower women with knowledge and control over their minds and bodies.
Our number one reason to start Chapters is to increase awareness on the many benefits of exercise and movement in general during pregnancy but also the importance of postnatal rehab and slowly getting back to exercise post birth. Yes giving birth is a natural phenomenon but it does not mean your body should automatically “bounce back” with the click of a button. There is more that needs to be considered than the number on a scale.
Our aim is to create a safe space for women to ask their questions and be fully informed. A space where they can grow stronger, physically and mentally. A support system and culture of collaboration so we can offer only the best advice and services.
Side anecdote that I’m sure many mums can relate to: when I had my first, I was added to a mums whatsapp group and that was probably the best support system I had. Although I am lucky to have my whole family around , these women were going through the exact, or almost, same things I was going through. We could relate and support one another. There is so much power and empowerment in that mum community.
We don’t claim to know it all. We are continuously learning from and sharing with our community. We collaborate with medical, physiotherapists, child development and women’s health experts. We want to offer an all-encompassing approach to women and in turn children’s health.
What are the benefits of pre and postnatal strength training:
Training during pregnancy the focus shifts towards maintaining strength, although I have witnessed clients get stronger as they got bigger! “Don’t worry about exercise until after the baby”. We have all heard this before but if we let go of our strength for 40 weeks how do we go about our daily lives with relative ease? Who is going to give us the stamina for labour? Pick up our baby? Play with our toddlers?
Including the general benefits of strength training which apply whether pregnant or not, research shows that training during pregnancy may:
- increase energy levels
- offer stress relief
- improve psychosocial well-being
- promote better quality of sleep
- improve fetal cardiovascular health and viability of the placenta
- prevent or manage gestational diabetes
- reduce bone density loss, which is only achieved with resistance training
- Manage weight
In terms of training focus during pregnancy, our programs look at:
- strengthening the posterior chain to support the natural postural changes that occur during pregnancy
- in particular, strengthening the muscles groups that weaken and lengthening the muscle groups that become overly tight
- bringing awareness to the pelvic floor, helping your body cope with the growing weight of the baby therefore reducing or avoiding issues such as incontinence. Strength and pelvic floor training highly aids the postnatal recovery.
During the fourth trimester women experience substantial physiological, social and emotional changes. Exercise will help boost your mood and increase endorphins.In terms of fitness, our programs focus on healing and rebuilding the core muscles from the “floor” up. Jumping back into exercise without proper guidance can result in injury and delay the journey to becoming stronger.
What is your favorite quote:
“Health is a journey, not a destination”.
Setting goals are a fantastic way for us to measure progress but what happens after reaching that goal? Do we stop? Do we set another goal? Health is a lifestyle. You live it day in and day out. It’s a continuous work in progress and you are consistently tweaking it to find the right balance of ‘Primary Foods’ that suits you.
Primary Foods is a term coined by Joshua Rosenthal, Founder and Director of the Institute of integrative Nutrition and one of my favorite, and main, learning point from the course. For a long time health has been defined by food and exercise with the ultimate goal of reaching a certain weight. The mind and soul was left out of the equation. I’ve learned over time, and it makes me happy to see that this is where the conversation is now being directed to, that health isn’t simply about the food we eat but rather the food that fuels us, different aspects of our lives that include but are not limited to healthy relationships, regular fitness activity that feels good to you, a fulfilling career and a spiritual practice be it whatever it may be for you.
Share with us your 5 top life tips
Keeping this in line with Chapters’ aim:
- For pregnant mums: Be grateful for the gift you are given and try to enjoy the ride, despite the many obstacles that you may encounter. Focus on all the wonderful things you can do rather than the things you can’t, whether it be in term of fitness or soul.
- For postnatal mums: give yourself time. Most of us come out of this experience feeling completely disconnected from our bodies and our formal selves. Don’t pressure yourself to bounce back physically or emotionally. Give yourself time to enjoy your little one(s) and your body the time to recover.
- Embrace the change. Easier said than done. Change can be good. Discover who you are today as opposed to pressuring yourself to be who you were before baby. Experiences only enrich our lives. You will discover a strength you never knew you possessed.
- I think the lack of sleep was probably my worst postpartum experience. When you are sleep deprived you are moody, you don’t eat well and in turn you do not feel your best. Many dismiss the advice to nap when your newborn naps, we try to do all our errands during this time it sometimes can feel impossible, however I swore by it the second time around. Which brings me to my last tip.
- Ask for help. When I had my first I wanted to do everything on my own and I know many mums feel the same way, after all these tiny souls are our whole world. Eventually you will crash. It’s OK not to be able to handle it all on our own. We were not meant to. Humans are meant to live in a social community. The saying “It takes a village” didn’t invent itself.