- Now in her late 40s, she has picked medals all over Africa, including one she got in Portugal on Wednesday.
- During the off-season (not competing) the body-builders have to maintain a strict exercise schedule to keep their bodies in shape.
- Because she competes in the bikini category, Farah does not do squats with heavy weights.
In her 40s, Farah Esmail has chiselled abdominal muscles, toned thighs, and arms to envy.
The extroverted lawyer and consultant has not let her career nor stereotypes interfere with her passion for body-building.
Her fitness journey started when her marriage ended.
“I divorced at a young age and while trying to figure out my life, I travelled to the US to spend some time with friends,” says the 5’3 feet bodybuilder.
That is where she discovered a new passion to give her a different kind of high.
She loved the way the women competing in body-building looked, and how confident they were. This motivated her to start body-building.
“I got to see this woman on stage, her amazing body, her physique, she looked like a princess, a princess who is strong and poised. It then stuck in my head that it would be an interesting thing to do,” says Farah, who has always been athletic since her younger days of playing hockey and football in school.
That was eight years ago.
Back in Kenya, she realised that the gyms at that time were not well equipped to train women in body-building, she went back to the US to scout for a coach.
“He put me on a fitness programme, and told me he will work with me, I was the happiest person. That year, I did my first competition and I came first in the bikini category. I was hooked,” she says, giggling.
Now in her late 40s, she has picked medals all over Africa, including one she got in Portugal on Wednesday.
“My first international competition was Dubai where I won first place in 2016. But anything that was to go wrong during the competition went wrong. My makeup artiste was late, my spray tan smudged everywhere, the competition ran on for hours and my stomach got bloated,” she says.
Bodybuilding training is very intense and demanding. During the off-season (not competing) the body-builders have to maintain a strict exercise schedule to keep their bodies in shape.
“When I am preparing for the competitions, I do a one-hour cardio exercise in the morning, eat six meals a day with more protein and vegetables. I have to weigh everything I eat all the time because I can’t overeat,” she says.
“Then I exercise different body parts each day. I work out six days a week and then two days of conditioning training and that is a lot of jumps, squats and running,” she adds.
Because she competes in the bikini category, Farah does not do squats with heavy weights.
“I actually don’t squat a lot as I have big legs already for my bikini category. I do hip thrusts instead for my glutes,” she says.
To tone her waist area, she does abdominal workouts three to four times a week.
“Usually, I pick three exercises and do 50 reps of each. So for example bicycles, cable crunch and leg raises,” says Farah who has run five marathons and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya.
Being an Indian and a woman body-builder has its challenges.
“As a Kenyan woman and Indian on a stage, there are a lot of cultural issues that would stop someone from being a body-builder. But there is no other way to look at muscles other than on stage, wearing a swimsuit,” she says, adding that the scene is getting better.
In 2014, when she competed for the first time, they were only two women from Kenya. But last year, the bikini category attracted about 16 entrants, meaning that now it is becoming socially acceptable to see women in fitness and figure competitions and gyms.
Farah says it takes a lot of work, dedication, and discipline to do the sport. And for a woman, when one ages, they lose muscle therefore lifting weight keeps one’s joints and muscles active.
“And it’s funny how my life has changed because of bodybuilding. It keeps me busy that I skip parties or events,” says Farah, who hopes to set up a health resort to impart the skills she has learnt.
It also keeps her weight in check. “I have replaced fat with muscle. I am around 57 kgs. For competitions, I need to be about 52 to 53 kgs,” she says.
People ask her why she is obsessed with herself.
“But what they do not get is this is an obsessive sport and to do well, you have to be obsessed with your body,” she said.
What she loves about this sport is its camaraderie.
Preparing for a competition is stressful. One way to relieve the stress is packing the right stuff.
To prepare for the competitions that have earned her awards in the UK, Dubai, Las Vegas, India, Kenya, and South Africa, she ensures she packs an extra suit, glue, personal music player, tanning supplies, footwear, food, water, makeup, jewellery, and bands.
“Bodybuilding is an expensive sport because I have to pay for a coach, I also have a trainer that I work with, pay for a gym membership and set aside a food budget. My meal plan has foods such as asparagus, chicken breast and supplements which can be expensive. I also need a bikini which is like Sh57,925 ($500), earrings, shoes which can cost about Sh11,585 ($100), body tan which costs Sh11,585 ($100) and then pay for hair and makeup,” she says.