Amna Al Haddad
Sports Pioneer from the Middle East

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Published on October 16th, 2012 | by Amna Al Haddad


Misconceptions about Lifting Weights in the Arab World

A lot of people in the Arab world are rather confused about what I do for a sport. Majority of the people I interact with usually assume that I am a bodybuilder because I lift weights. That is not the case. Bodybuilding is definitely one of the most prevalent and preferred method of training in the region as a whole (and most common), although the fitness industry is expanding to provide a variety – at least in Dubai.

There are many sports, training programming and fitness regimes that include the act of “lifting weights.” I would say the Arab world is still not as exposed to the different methods and understand the goal of each of these methods. The lack of awareness causes insults and negative talk toward what I do – either publicly or personally directed at me. Hopefully this post will shed some light and inform.



The word “Weightlifting” actually refers to Olympic Weightlifting. The first official weightlifting event was held in 1896 and only in 2000, women were allowed to compete at the Olympics in weightlifting. The sport of weightlifting includes two lifts: the Snatch and the Clean And Jerk. Both lifts require the weight to be lifted from the ground to overhead. In competition, each lifter has three attempts at both the Snatch and Clean and Jerk, and the total of the highest weight lifted then determines the overall result based on the person’s bodyweight. Weightlifting is a very technical sport and heavily depends on your central nervous system (and not the size of your muscles!) There are also assistance exercises that are used to improve weightlifting such as; squats, pulls, deadlifts, push presses etc. The Snatch and clean and jerk are also often used to improve other athlete performances as they help in developing speed and power.

More about weightlifting as a sport here.


Nia Shanks – Sumo Deadlift

Powerlifting is a sport that tests true strength across three different lifts; the Squat, the Bench Press and The Deadlift. Like in weightlifting, the athlete have three attempts at each lift to score the biggest total based on their bodyweight category. However, unlike weightlifting, powerlifting is not an Olympic sport, but the bench press has been included in the paralymics sport since 1984. Powerlifting is practiced commonly in the USA and UK as a sport.

More about powerlifting here.



Bodybuilding is a form of physical activity and body modification where the individual trains with a goal to increase muscle hypertrophy (muscle size). Bodybuilders go through bulking and cutting phases, with their main goal being to reduce their bodyfat to a certain % to show their muscle definition. Bodybuilders often stick to “split” training program; as such, legs and abs; chest and triceps; back and biceps as an example. Professional bodybuilders model their bodies through routines highlighting a certain muscle group in front of a panel who then give them points.  The first big professional bodybuilding event took place in America in 1904,  while female bodybuilding first event took place in 1978.   Bodybuilders work toward winning the title of “Mr Olympia” and “Ms Olympia.” Whether bodybuilders are athletes or not…is open to discussion.

More about bodybuilding here.

Strength Training

Strength training, also sometimes referred to as resistance training, is a form exercise where resistance is being used to cause muscle contraction. Strength training does not necessarily always involves just weights, but it also includes bands, machines, and trx bands. Strength training focuses on increasing strength rather than size, but it also beneficial for overall well-being as it increases strength in the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones; improves the joint, reduces injury, increases metabolism (i.e. helps in burning fat), and improves cardiovascular function to name a few!  Any athlete or non-athlete can benefit by strength training either an athlete wanting to improve their performance, a mountain climber, or an everyday mom who carries her kids. Strength training is not a sport, but an exercise method executed to improve overall well-being and strength!

Weight Training

Weight training is a form of exercise with the goal of developing strength through the use of  equipments that are loaded with weights such as dumbells, barbells, weighted machines…etc. Weight training is part of strength training, but is only one way to strength train. Again, anyone can be benefit from weight training to become better at their sport or everyday activity.


Strongman training or competition showcases a person’s truth strength through various challenges that include lifting rocks, pull trucks, tire flips, sled pulls, farmers walk, and log presses to name a few. Strongman athletes still train using traditional lifts to increase their overall strength by doing squats, shoulder presses, and deadlifts. Strongman focuses on functional strength; so picking, throwing, pulling, pushing.  The word “Strongman” first originated in the 19th century which means an “exhibitor of strength,” however in the 20th century the term was used when someone competes in strongman athletics.

More about strongman here.


Crossfit is a form of strength and conditioning program and have recently become a well-known sport internationally. Crossfit is a program that is used by police academies, military specials etc. Crossfit combines different aspect of every sport under one roof and delivers it in a circuit-style workouts that are ““constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement.” It includes powerlifting, weightlifting, gymnastics, kettlebell training, bodyweight training to name a few. It tests 10 different domains of fitness such as: stamina, respiratory endurance, strength, power, speed, agility, flexibility, balance, accuracy, and coordination.  Crossfit doesn’t specialize in anything but rather focuses on general physical preparedness (GPP.) It was founded by Greg Glassman in 2000, and the first ever “Crossfit Games” took place in 2007.

More about crossfit here.

And with this, I rest my case on the different sports and fitness regimes that include the act of lifting weights. I hope the post have been useful and that YOU have learned something new today.

p.s. I cannot stress enough that I do not bicep curl. But I have guns. You’ve been warned.

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About the Author

Amna Al Haddad , born in 21 Oct 1989, is an Emirati who always had a passion for health and fitness. She made history by being the first Emirati and GCC national to ever to participate in the Reebok Crossfit Games Asia Regionals. Since then she embarked on Olympic Weightlifting with being an IWF Arab and West-Asian Champ -63. A NIKE sponsored athlete, a motivational speaker and published author.

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