Time and tide wait for none in most circumstances but for the past few decades the unceasing tide seems to have locked into a dike and held in place, firm and staunch like an unshakeable idea. Like the idea that being fit means being scrawny and anorexic. The only parameter to measure fitness is weight, and weight-loss is the the path to the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. To beat home the point, generations for the past few decades have spent time staring at hoardings that promise miracles and spent hours losing the "fat" on static cycles, treadmills and severe diets, all this powered by a billion-dollar industry catalysed by shows like the biggest-loser, glossy magazines inundated with images of skinny, anorexic models on catwalks. But true to everything, the dike fills and the tide overflows, this idea of being 'thin and fit' is slowly changing, slow but with a steadfast intent, there is now a growing segment of women who refuse to crave runway models’ stick-thin figures and believe strong is better. One of them is Zareen Siddique, who believes strong bodies break less and recover faster when the focus is on strength.
Zareen Siddique represents this new breed of women, strong and beautiful - inside and out, she is defying the skinny to be healthy and fit. At any point during the year, she has an eight pack or a six pack. Yes, you heard us right. And she does this through sheer discipline in exercise and clean diet. "Fitness is a way of life for me, I don't have to think about making time for it. Being a mom of a fifteen year old girl and a five year old boy finding time can be difficult but not impossible. Strength ...both physical and mental is an attribute I admire, especially in women.” she says. And she garners quite a bit of admiration herself.
"I have grown up in an army household, both my father and mother are avid fitness buffs and sportspersons. Army cantonments are normally well fitted with coaches, gym, running track, basketball court, swimming pool, squash and one has plenty of choices to start and pursue a sport. Both my parents were physically active and into fitness. My mother was a runner as well as passionate about horse riding and my parents even today are very disciplined about their fitness.” With such a conducive environment for active living, Zareen grew up being a track athlete and sprinter in school days.
To her, making time for herself and her fitness routine comes naturally. She refuses to accept that women cannot take out an hour for themselves towards their health and fitness. Working out 4-5 days a week is a necessity - “It is something I have to do, prioritising an hour for myself during the day, has been a habit since I was 20 years old and I am 42 now. There has never been a time when I didn’t work out.”
Her fitness journey has evolved over the years. "Every two years or so, I add on a different facet of fitness to my routine. I started running three years ago and this year I've started practising advanced yoga. Fitness to me lies in moderation, extremes usually cause burn out or disinterest after a while. Making it a lifestyle will work for most people, when done in moderation.”
Being a sprinter all her life, her relationship with long distance running started accidentally when she met with Pune runners during a short run/walk session one morning. This was in 2013 and her son was a year and a half at this point. She requested the group and joined them for the run and finished 5 K in 30 mins. Soon she was a regular with the group and found her zone at a 5.45-6.00 min/km pace. She went from 5 K to doing upwards of 10 K and soon was doing half marathons the same year. The following year she joined Free Runners in Pune, a group that believes in running free of all aid. No gadgets, no water, no support. In 3-4 months she was running 1.55 half marathons. From there she went straight into running an ultra 50 with the group in what was Pune’s first Ultra run. Surprisingly she has never run a full marathon in an official race and is currently training for Sriram Properties Bangalore Marathon and its part of her 42 Kms at 42 goal.
While she indulges the runner in her, Zareen has fairly strong views on running. Her philosophy about moderation in exercise and ability to create discipline, defies pushing the body to the extreme. Having embraced yoga recently, she totally believes in Prana - life force or breath. Running she says is a lot of shallow breathing. So while she does run and is in training, she belives pushing your limits with running sometimes takes the away the life force. One must be full of life, youth and vitality through exercise, if you are burnt out and low, then there is something that you are doing wrong. She is not driven by time goals and PBs and refuses to push herself beyond a point that is often frustrating for her coaches. Hence she says she has no low days, in her runs she finds her happy pace and in yoga she finds her peace.
Zareen is now professionally coaching women (@FitwithZareen), creating fitness plans and helping them with their diet. It is something she started four years ago, focusing specifically on post-natal training from her own experiences. She believes that women should not have to give up on both physical and emotional health post a baby and she helps women struggling post delivery (especially C Section) to gain strength and fitness levels. Asked about her clients, she says ”Most transformations are difficult. One of my clients was inactive, 18 Kgs over her current weight and is now running 5-10 Ks regularly. Another girl who had severe Thyroid imbalance is now completely normal. We have been able to reverse BP for many clients. Many of these issues are viewed as lifelong ailments requiring medical intervention. But a lot can be reversed and fixed through exercise and clean diet. It is a wonderful thing for women to take charge of their lives.” She doesn’t advocate weight loss, that she says is just a by product. “My goal is to make you stronger so first step is to gain strength.”
"Food habits are an integral part for an individual looking at transforming himself or herself to a fitter version. I am pursuing an advanced dietetics and nutrition course to enhance my knowledge in my work as a diet coach.” Diet planning is something she works on with most of her clients. "I plan simple, easy to cook, typical Indian meals which most clients are used to. Vegetable juices and fresh fruits are a given in most plans.” Her diet plans are available online for remote clients while she trains local clients in Pune at her home studio for strength & core training multiple times a week.
When asked to describe herself in a single word, “passionate” she says. And its clear that it is what drives her. "To me, my work is my passion. If I have to share a message through this platform, it would be 'Follow your passion, use your talent and your calling to do your best. Let the results speak for your work’.
It's in women like Zareen that we trust to lead the brigade to unshackle from years of prejudiced beliefs, as we feature her today and wish her all the best for all her endeavours, we can't help but leave being a lot more passionate and stronger in the belief that strong is beautiful.