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Breaking Barriers: Kashmiri Women Lift Stereotypes with Strength

In Kashmir, women are breaking stereotypes by embracing strength training, historically seen as a male domain. This trend boosts physical and mental health, enhances confidence, and challenges societal norms. Increased awareness and dedicated fitness spaces are empowering Kashmiri women to pursue weightlifting, transforming it into a symbol of progress and empowerment.

 

Srinagar, 15 June: Last year, Yana Iftikhar, a young girl from Srinagar, began her ambitious journey of strength training. Despite facing discouragement from outdated views that considers weightlifting exclusive to men, she broke the stereotype by confidently lifting weights in the gym

“I’ve been going to the gym since eighth grade, but only for cardio. It was said that strength training was not for girls, and I was too young to say anything until last year, when I told my trainers I was only here to lift. I stood my ground, and here I am now,” she stated.

Yana’s passion for weightlifting is indicative of Kashmir’s expanding strength training scene. What was once just considered for men is now embraced by many women in Kashmir.

Strength training, often known as resistance training or weight training, is the process of increasing muscle size, anaerobic endurance, and strength by applying resistance to muscular contraction.

Historically, advice for women in the weight room has revolved around their gender and how swinging weights will change their physique. That also has led to myths that women need to lift lighter weight and focus on doing exercise that make them look ‘aesthetic’ and ‘socially acceptable’.

Women are now challenging these taboos, and Kashmir is witnessing a new dawn as women cherish strength training and weightlifting. This trend is encouraging them to embrace their femininity via fitness, marking a significant move towards health and strength in the region.

“I used to see calories as calories, but now I see them as fuel. I’m not scared of gaining weight after strength training; I have the energy to thrive.”

Diya Kaiser, Student

Sableena Shala, a certified gym trainer, guides a woman on the dumbbell shoulder press exercise at Hybrid Fitness Gym.
Photo: Toyyibah Ansar

Personal Stories of Transformation

Diya Kaiser, a university student, considers strength training one of the important factors that helped her gain confidence. While expressing her narrative, she said that she was extremely insecure about her body in the past, and her initial motivation to do strength training was to just lose weight.

“When I started lifting, I didn’t do much in the beginning, but could see changes in my body, which boosted my confidence. Then it wasn’t about losing weight which was my initial motivation instead, I wanted to get stronger and lift heavier weights.” she said.

Yana and Diya share a profound conviction in the transformative power of strength training. Both of them are convinced that incorporating strength training into their daily routine has significantly improved their physical and mental health.

“I used to have chronic back pain, and that vanished within the first month of strength training. My arms were terribly weak, but now they’re stronger than ever. I believe it has improved my mental health as well. I feel better about myself knowing I put effort into myself every day,” Yana added.

Strength training has miraculous effects when it comes to improving bone density in females. Women who strength train regularly have lower risk of getting osteoporosis after the menopause.

study by Journal of Bone and Mineral Research found that women who strength train only 30 minutes twice a week have better bone density than those who do not.

Societal Changes and growing trend

A large number of female-centric gyms have been established in Kashmir over the years, showing the growing trend of fitness among women in Kashmir. Many other gyms have separate sections for women, attracting a significant chunk of the female population.

Sableena Shala, a certified fitness instructor at Hybrid Fitness Gym Rajbagh, has been in the fitness industry for 6 years. While narrating her journey, she stated that she has noticed a significant shift in women’s attitudes towards fitness.

“When I first started as a fitness instructor, there was a misconception among people that women shouldn’t go to the gym, but with time and awareness, women are overcoming this and are willingly coming to the gym and getting into fitness,” she said.

While discussing the scenario of strength training in Kashmir, she stated that females here are unaware of the differences between basic fitness and strength training. She emphasised the importance of strength training, stating that it can help restore hormonal balances regardless of marital status.

Hybrid Fitness Gym during the 10:30 to 12:30 time slot sees a remarkable turnout of women, especially housewives, who are dedicated to lifting weights and exercising. This trend highlights a powerful sense of empowerment, as these women are taking time for themselves to build strength and embrace fitness.

This commitment to health and fitness is not only transforming their bodies but also symbolising their determination to lead healthier, more empowered lives.

The Role of Social Media

Social media holds the power to significantly alter people’s lives.It has transformed fitness into a vast industry and introduced many to the trend of strength training.  Influencers showcasing their personal progress in strength training through vlogs and reels have sparked a movement of women challenging stereotypes. Afreen Hyder, Hubza Mehar, and Fiza Nazir, among others, are social media celebrities from Kashmir who have inspired countless females.

Moreover, social media is playing a pivotal role in influencing women’s strength training journeys, such as Yana’s.“I follow many influencers on social media. However, the ones who are not toxic motivate me in a positive way. They demonstrate a genuine lifestyle, their achievements as well as their failures, and they inspire me to do better,” she said.

Expert Insights

Dr. Saima Salam, a specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology (OBG), who has been a resident doctor in LD hospital Srinagar for 5 years emphasises  physical health benefits of strength training. She stated that it is particularly beneficial for women suffering from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome(PCOS), as it lowers androgen levels, reduces joint pain and helps fight fatigue by improving muscle strength and stability.

As PCOS makes it particularly tough to drop some weight, its patients benefit more from strength training than from other sorts of exercises because it promotes muscle growth and prevents muscle loss . Additionally, it reduces the insulin resistance and lowers the testosterone hormone in females.

“Strength training can also improve mood in various ways. The act of sticking to an exercise routine can help boost confidence  and help you see the brighter side of life,” Dr Saima added.

Strength training is becoming increasingly popular among Kashmiri women as a means of breaking down barriers and combating persistent social stereotypes. They have been able to develop their physical strength while also empowering themselves through dedicated trainers and internet communities.

Now there is a need to raise more awareness to get ahead of orthodox thoughts and establish an era where all Kashmiri females find acceptance in this environment. This will transform weightlifting into a symbol of progress in Kashmir, rather than just an exercise.

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