In conversation with Nazia Hassan – an athlete, a body builder, and a new mom
Prenatal fitness, as a concept, is one that many people in the subcontinent are strictly opposed to, which stems from the lack of awareness about its benefits. Staying active and exercising during pregnancy can be crucial in order to ensure that both the mother and the baby are healthy, and that the delivery process is made much smoother. With an aim to educate people about the perks of making fitness an integral part of our lives, Nazia Hassan walks us through her journey.
Nazia has become the household name for fitness inspiration for most
Bangladeshi women. Currently settled in Australia, Nazia embarked on her fitness journey back in 2012. Having been involved with sports from a young age, her busy schedule at the time leaving her little scope for any physical activity did not sit right with her. Thus, she decided to join the gym with her partner, and started strength and weight training, with the objective to grow stronger - physically and mentally. Soon enough, she discovered a passion for working out that she’d never truly realised she had. Over the years, she made changes to her diet as well as her lifestyle, slowly paving her way to the kind of healthy life she wanted. Soon after that, she decided to create her public Facebook and Instagram accounts to document her routine, and also to inspire more people to implement exercise into their lives.
Last year, in November, Nazia announced that she was 16 weeks pregnant. As her audience wondered how it would affect her work-out routine, Nazia decided to use her platform to showcase how she let her pregnancy modify her routine, and not put a stop to her journey. With frequent updates, she informed people how she maintained the balance, breaking through the stereotypical roles that pregnant women are made to fit into.
For Avenue T this month, we decided to let Nazia spread her knowledge on the matter, and help us understand her journey further.
When you found out you were expecting, did you have to deliberate whether or not you should continue working out, or was it a given that you would?
Not at all, there was no question. I knew I would stay active during this pregnancy; strength training/weightlifting is my life. I did, however, consult my obstetrician beforehand, and given my athletic background, there was no reason why I shouldn’t continue.
How do you make sure that your routine is safe? Did you consult a specialist?
Yes, my obstetrician cleared me for the exercises that I do. I was advised to workout at a lower intensity, of course; it is not safe to, say, deadlift a 100kg when someone is pregnant, because pregnancy is a time when one needs to be careful, and exercise with caution so as to not overload the joints, or over-exhaust yourself. But exercising has helped me battle most of the awful pregnancy symptoms, like morning sickness, fatigue, gestational diabetes, blood pressure issues etc. Physical exercise, while being pregnant, is immensely beneficial for both the mother and the child, and this is according to medical research - don’t just take my word for it!
The idea of a female body-builder is alien to the people in this subcontinent; even more so if one is expecting a baby. What kind of backlash have you received from the audience, seeing as you’re a public figure? How do you combat that?
I believe the backlash that comes my way is only because we, in Bangladesh, don’t see pregnant women at a gym, or even outside, or anywhere, really. I don’t remember the last time I saw a pregnant woman in public doing anything like this or even remotely close, so the concept of me being pregnant and lifting weights/exercising at the gym in front of the public eye was nerve wracking to a few people. I got comments that said I was being selfish and careless, and that I was putting myself at risk, and all of this came from people with no knowledge of physical exercise and pregnancy. But MOST of the responses I get are amazing, people are really supportive and women, especially, love the fact that I am setting an example for them. It’s becoming less scary, people’s perception of pregnancy and fitness is slowly changing, and I’m really fortunate that I have been able to show my Bangladeshi people that pregnancy can be tough, but women are tougher.
What major changes to your lifestyle and workout routine have you had to implement? What advice do you have for women who’re inspired to go down the same path as you?
The only changes I have made is to the intensity of my workouts; I slowly decreased the amount of weights, and focused more on bodyweight exercises and strengthening the pelvic floor and my core to ensure I have a good and quick recovery post partum. Strength training during my pregnancy has helped me remain sane, in shape, and helped me battle all the discomfort that comes with pregnancy. My advice to women who want to follow this path is to make fitness a lifestyle. Exercise should not only be pursued during a pregnancy, it should be a permanent part of your routine - health comes first! If you start now, it will be easier to continue during your pregnancy, and it will make all the difference in the world. And of course, consult with your doctor; every pregnancy is unique.
Which gyms would you suggest that cater to pregnant women in Bangladesh? A lot of women imitate content they see online; what are some of the dos and don’ts that they should keep in mind?
The only two gyms I can think of are OXYGYM in Lalmatia, Dhaka, and Ruslan’s Studio in Banani, Dhaka. I began my fitness journey in OXYGYM, and the people there are my family - they supported me throughout my journey. Not a lot of people know about pregnancy and fitness, it comes down to doing your own research; you will have to determine what your body is comfortable with. I would advise you to please maintain caution, be mindful and careful, and do not over-exhaust yourself; exercising is supposed to make you feel better, so if anything feels uncomfortable, switch it up. Know and understand your body and its limitations and strengths. Most of all, enjoy your pregnancy. It’s a beautiful time, as your body creates new life. We women are way stronger than we are given credit for. You’ve got this!
After the interview, Nazia and her husband Zubair were blessed with a baby boy, Kayvan Jubair, on the 24th of April. We reached out to her for a follow-up:
How are you managing your time, now that you have your baby boy? Will fitness and health be a major part of his life as well? How do you plan on implementing that?
Managing time is still a work in progress with this little one. There is less time for everything, as I’m focusing on him; feeding, changing, clothing, and loving him is a 24x7 job, plus I’m recovering from giving birth with my partner’s help in this. A partner can make this process much easier. I am currently 2 weeks post partum, have already started walking everyday and plan to start full on from week 6, with my doctor’s clearance. But so far, recovering has been speedy. As parents, it’s our responsibility to ensure our kids lead a healthy life, and remember children always copy what they see, so I’m not worried about fitness being a part of Kayvan’s life, because it is inevitable. I always say that fitness is a lifestyle, not a destination - and that is exactly what I plan to implement for my little one. I plan to workout with him around me, and let him pick it up on his own. Working out should be fun, and kids can easily adapt that if it’s done right.