Despite there being tonnes of Instagram-famous fitness stars, it can sometimes feel as if the online space lacks diversity when it comes to fitspiration.
When personal trainer Zehra Allibhai, 35, from Canada, started her account in 2014 with a mission to share workouts and nutrition tips for new mums, she had no idea she’d become a role model for muslim women online.
As Allibhai’s following grew, she became one of very few visible hijabi women int the fitness scene on Instagram. Now, the PT, who also teaches CrossFit, realises her online presence is an inspiration to those who don’t see themselves represented.
“I’m realising how many younger Muslim girls might not be comfortable to go out and join a gym or to go out running,” Zehra, 35, recently told SELF. “Hopefully, just seeing someone who looks similar to them doing what she enjoys doing will inspire them and show [them] that it doesn’t matter what other people think.”
What do you credit to your success in your fitness journey?
“I’ve always been super passionate about sports and fitness, and I think that comes through in whatever I do, whether it’s training a client or posting a video of myself working out with my kids. I’m also lucky to have so many people encouraging me and cheering me, including clients, friends, and family. I truly love working with others and helping women get healthier, grow stronger, and feel more comfortable in their own bodies.”
What’s one of the most memorable moments in your career and why?
“My favourite moment is watching that shift when I’m training someone and they realise that their body is actually capable of so much more than they had ever thought. I can literally see the physical and mental shift in front of my very eyes. It honestly gives me such a high, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m addicted to doing what I do. I love knowing that so many people have been positively affected by what I share.”
Was there ever a low point where you wanted to throw the towel and how did you get past it?
“Before kids I’d been a nationally top-ranked personal trainer and had also helped run one of the most successful gyms in the country. After having kids, I realised that I wanted to change it up so I could spend more time with them so I started training from home around their schedule. At first it was a huge change of pace. I have to admit, there were times when I felt I had to pick between my passion for training and my family and that was super frustrating. It was around that time that some clients and friends started encouraging me to begin posting and sharing online. I slowly realised that I could reach and help so many more women this way. I never had plans for it to grow so fast or so large, but I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be able to reach so many women.”
Talk us through your week in fitness.
“I teach eight group classes a week (usually one hour) including bootcamp and CrossFit style classes. I also teach a seniors’ class at my local mosque. In addition to that, I train women one-on-one at the home gym we have in our basement. I usually work out along with my class/clients, but I also try to get in my own workout a few times a week (usually 30 to 60 minutes). I do Yoga or stretching at least once a week and love getting in walks whenever I can. My favourite time to workout is in the mornings, right after I’ve dropped the kids to school, it’s a great way to start the day.”
What’s your favourite type of workout and why?
“I love doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts with weights. I love that it keeps the intensity up so it gets my metabolism going and I can also work on building strength as well, all in one workout.”
What’s your favourite way to spend your rest day?
“I usually teach a class and work out on Saturday morning but leave the rest of the weekend for rest and hanging out with my family. I love spending time outdoors in nature, it definitely helps recharge my batteries after a long and busy week.”
What do you eat throughout the week to complement your training schedule?
“I’m usually cooking and prepping for the family so I eat what we all eat. I have a shake once a day, since I love the way they taste and they also guarantee that I’m getting in my greens every day. I love soups, stews and salads. We’re also trying to move towards a more plant-based diet, cutting down on our meat and chicken, and getting in more veggie dishes.”
What are your pre- and post-workout snacks?
“When I work out in the morning, I usually train on an empty stomach and then afterwards have a protein-rich post-workout meal with some carbs, like a veggie omelette and sweet potatoes or a protein smoothie with spinach, banana and berries.”
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about food?
“Eat fresh and whole foods as much as you can and it will really help transform your body from the inside out. Also try to limit sugar and processed food as much as possible. If you’re going to have a treat, it’s great if you make it yourself since you’ll know exactly what’s going into your food. Balance is key. You don’t have to try every new health fad or ‘super food’ out there. I don’t follow any particular diet myself but for those who ask I always say the best diet is the one you’ll stick with.”
Do you have a motivational mantra that keeps you going?
“Two quotes I like to remember are: ‘Put in the work and the results will follow’ and ‘Enjoy the journey’.”
Do you always have fitness goals you are aiming for?
“My goals have shifted from the way I look to the way I feel (both during and after my workouts). I try to have as much fun as I can when I’m working out so I always love learning new moves, trying out a new class, and pushing my body in new and fun ways.”
What’s your ultimate workout track and why?
“I personally love listening to songs with an upbeat pace. I find they help me get moving and encourage me to give it my all during an intense workout. I’ll change up the music every now and then, but not too often since I love having that association between a fave workout song that will have me pushing myself harder to.”
Follow Allibhai’s fitness journey on her blog, The FitNest.
‘Fit Fix’ is a weekly dose of fitspiration from leading athletes and fitness fanatics. Each week we chat to stars about their weekly workouts, the food they eat and what keeps them going.