Saudi Arabian women take on bodybuilding in Riyadh in their latest sports venture

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Some Saudi Arabian women are hitting above their weight-class in this gym in the heart of the capital Riyadh, lifting weights and throwing punches with the aim of competing.

It is an extraordinary experience for their coach, Nada Ismail, who says she is surprised by the growing interest in weightlifting and bodybuilding among Saudi Arabian women.

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They are flocking to gyms to practice, abandoning decades-long social restrictions that limited them venturing into different fields, especially sports.

Saudi Arabian authorities lifted a ban on women accessing gyms in the conservative kingdom in 2017, part of a bigger initiative to increase women’s appearance in public life and participation in the workforce.

Now, women brave the hardships of the continuous training and change what were once taboos regarding women bodybuilders and weightlifters.

“Bodybuilding was an unwanted sport (for women) in Riyadh or Gulf countries,” Saudi Arabian bodybuilding trainee, Balqees Saleh, said as she just finished lifting some weights.

Her fellow bodybuilder, Fatima Abdallah, dreams of being a role model for Saudi Arabian women in sports after training hard for two years in bodybuilding and weightlifting.

“Now there is also awareness and acceptance to weightlifting,” said 30-year-old Abdallah, who works in a telecommunications company.

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