- She’s a trained dancer, biker, fitness instructor and entrepreneur. No wonder then that she starts her day at 6.30 am.
- At 66 kg, she has lifted 160 kg from the floor (deadlift), pressed 75 kg (Bench Press), and done squats of 115 kg.
- Every day at 9.30 am she has a breakfast of oats, 6 eggs and vegetables with anti-oxidants and micronutrients now and then.
Her sinewy frame, rippling muscles and a body crafted to flatter those brawny curves might make you think that Yashmeen Manak, 37, just fits the cliche of an athlete. But when she does an overhead press of 61 kilograms, casually showing her strength and then ends with the poise of an accomplished dancer, you know there’s much more to her. She’s our new power woman who was crowned Miss India at a competition organised by the Indian Body-building and Fitness Federation in March. What’s more, she is also a trained belly dancer. Yashmeen pumps iron with gusto and trains men to tone up their flagging physiques, but she could also take you off the hook by sashaying down the floor with shimmering grace. At her Gurgaon-based gym which she set up in 2003 to ride the mean wave of body-building after defying several odds, she tells us: “A slim woman is commonplace. I wanted to break that stereotype because normal is not always beautiful.”
Yashmeen, who was born in Delhi and grew up in Gurgaon, has been training since she was 17. When she was diagnosed late for an illness and put on steroids which made her obese, she knew that working out would save her from some of the ridicule. “I was tormented by all the mockery, so I decided that I would work hard and prove it to others by getting back in shape.” But what started as an innocuous pursuit turned out to be much more of an inner calling. Coming from a broken family, Yashmeen realised early on that she had to be independent quickly, so she started teaching at a kindergarten school to pay for her workout lessons. Skills learnt fast landed her an offer to take group classes at another gym in Gurgaon that opened in 1998. But the turning point came a year later when a professional body-builder gifted a book on power-lifting for women. “At the time I used to think that weight training was not for women. But the book changed everything.” After a brief liaison with kickboxing and group classes at corporate organisations, Yashmeen ventured out on her own, starting a studio in 2003. “I was my own person finally and could blend workouts with hip hop, belly dancing or even Bollywood.”
At her studio in Gurgaon, where she trains about 300 fitness junkies a month, she’s quite a multi-tasker, flitting between hulky musclemen sporting ribbed beef and lifting dumbbells, fitness-conscious women harnessing the lean machines or bench-pressing wannabes.
She says that it’s not been easy breaking into the male-dominated world of body-building. “At first, men passed snide remarks or asked if I was really the one who’d train them and chalk out their workout plans.” She didn’t get much support from her family either. “For many years my family was not on speaking terms with me, but now they’ve realised that I’m too much of a rebel and strong-headed to cave in. So they’ve mellowed down.” Curiously, no one from Yashmeen’s family has ever been interested or involved with body-building, so she had to work much harder to prove her worth. But even while dealing with jealousies and a feeble support group, she has received great encouragement from her husband who’s a mechanical engineer. They’ve also mutually decided not have children. “We support each other in our endeavours and want a fulfilling life,” she says.
Having trained under Kaizzad Capadia, a well-known fitness professional in Mumbai, also gave Yashmeen’s career a boost. “Her attitude was exactly what a coach looks for in an athlete. Besides, Yashmeen is incredibly attentive, obedient and disciplined. Not only does she have a winning figure, but she’s capable and willing to lift heavy weights, which makes her a winner in power-lifting,” says Kaizzad. Even Dr Som Tugnait, who’s been awarded the strongest man of India title thrice, believes that he’s never come across a female athlete who is so focused on weight training. “Yashmeen has won the Miss India title in both women’s physique and women’s fitness categories, which is an incredible achievement. She’s international material,” he observes.
Nonetheless, the road to success has been gruelling. Yashmeen’s lifestyle is strictly regulated with fixed workout hours, scrupulous diet charts and measured sleep. “Earlier I would wake up before day-break but nowadays my day begins at 6.30 am with branched chain amino acids, followed by cardio and abdominal training at the gym, and then breakfast of oats, vegetables and six eggs at 9.30 am.” Eating at regular intervals and supplementing her diet with anti-oxidants and micronutrients are critical to her day’s schedule. Even then, there are periods of illness, weight gain or loss. “My body’s gone through a lot, so when my shape goes haywire I feel unsettled. It takes a lot of effort to maintain my body weight at 66 kg.” Sometimes, to supplement her fitness regimen and also for a breather, Yashmeen takes long rides to the hills on her favourite Royal Enfield bike.
For Yashmeen, though, the coveted Miss India crown has been her biggest dream fulfilled so far. “I worked really hard to get the right muscle mass and definition. Your body had to look stylish, yet speaking of the effort you’ve put in every inch.” Amit Chaudhary, former Mr India and the general secretary of the Uttar Pradesh Body-Building and Fitness Federation, believes that Yashmeen’s presentation and body structure are bound to win her several laurels at international competitions. As though in agreement, India’s power woman has decided not to sit on her laurels. She’s busy pumping iron and raising the bar a bit higher for the upcoming body-building competitions in Hong Kong and Bhutan. When asked what to her is body-beautiful, she says, “It’s still an enigma, but something that encompasses style, strength and the willingness to toe the unconventional line,” says Yashmeen.