In the next installment of the everyday athlete series we speak to an incredibly driven, passionate and humble lady who has dedicated her career to improving the wellness of women in the United Arab Emirates; I bring to you – Kirsteen Thain.
Kirsteen is a dedicated coach who moved from a full time crossfit coaching position to becoming the co-founder of her love child: Get Fit Chick Bootcamp. We’ll dive into a bit more detail a little later but first let’s take a look at the girl behind the coach.
Kirsteen Thain loves Cross Fit and working out. If there’s anything I gained from our conversation, was her love for the gym and hate for the word ‘healthy’. She moved to Dubai 3 years ago from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. A native of the island, she is also part Scottish. An intriguing combination. To her surprise, a guy was a fundamental reason behind her emigration to the United Arab Emirates where she decided to take a risk and just do something different.
Having worked in marketing for 6 years in Hong Kong, she desperately searched for similar marketing opportunities in the Emirates. Kirsteen enjoyed her previous work where she was under an empowering boss who gave her the opportunities to grow and express herself but the corporate life slowly became a monotonous daily grind and sucked any motivation dry. She constantly thought “life can’t just be this one way track”. Thain’s first instinct in her new surroundings was to seek out her safe zone, a place of comfort and get a foot hold in her newly adopted home.
Kirsteen’s first sign to move to fitness full time came when she was approached by other gym members for coaching but without any qualifications, she wasn’t sure how far she could go. With doubts about being able to juggle her day, it made matters complicated but eventually something just clicked in her mind and she almost instantaneously realized that she needed to follow her passion and finally make that inevitable move into fitness. Kirsteen completed her qualifications and became a full time coach landing a job at a local crossfit gym and thus began her journey towards becoming a fitness mogul.
Before I move onto this topic, I think it’s worth adding in Kirsteen’s definition of an athlete and why she claims she isn’t one. In her words, she just loves to workout.
“Athletes are selfish people. They don’t want to change people’s lives. I know there’s this trend now that everyone wants to call themselves an athlete, it seems to be the buzzword right now but I’m not going to call myself an athlete. I like taking part in competitions like the crossfit open but that’s because I love working out. An athlete has to eating, sleeping, recovering and train 7 days a week. I think people are athletic and if you’re working out to look good naked then that’s fine too. There’s no doubt that you’re an athletic person, but if you’re full time job is being a lawyer then you’re a super talented lawyer but you’re not an athlete. I don’t mean to offend anyone but I think it’s okay not to be an athlete, as long as you love it, that’s all that matters”
There really is this trend with every other individual whether it’s done intentionally or not to call themselves an ‘athlete’. Yes, we do have some incredibly talented people out here who train 6 days a week for triathlons and marathons that eat, sleep, train and repeat during their camps but I really think people need to stop branding themselves as athletes when it doesn’t warrant it.
Fitness & Crossfit Trends
We swiftly moved on to how fitness, health and nutrition trends have changed in the U.A.E over the years and how Kirsteen feels a change the attitude towards crossfit is required after spending three years in Dubai.
“It’s way more developed here than it is in Hong Kong. A great amount of credit goes to Sheikh Majid who invests his time and money into things like the Dubai Fitness Championship because he has a personal interest in crossfit. So having a sponsor of the sport of fitness is great. He’s been crucial to developing it here. It’s amazing having a leader or pioneer of crossfit here. Crossfit has definitely been around for years but has [only] developed and been popular recently. Lots of people are finding out about it now and are keen to get involved. I think a lot of people were intimidated by it but it’s more accessible now. It’s not exclusive anymore.”
I believe a majority of the casual population just watch the professionals when it comes to any sport or fitness related activity which isn’t necessarily a negative but I think it clouds their judgment on how accessible and easy it is to just walk into a facility and start learning. There aren’t enough Kirsteen’s around to educate people to say ‘Look! they were where you are 2-3 years ago and today they’ve become phenomenal at fitness by just starting’. I think we live in a a very results driven culture where unless people see results immediately it makes no sense for them to start. This mentality needs to change but on the positive side, the last year or two has seen a lot more individuals going into gyms and joining crossfit classes and boot camps.
“There’s a huge difference between someone who competes in crossfit and who does crossfit and that’s the biggest misconception we have right now. If I start running, does that mean I can compete against Usain Bolt? No way”
This led us to client and coach relationships and how they should ideally be:
“Most people in the gym are helpful people. Even if they have bulging biceps, they are the nicest people you can find. Coaches are coaches for a reason, they love helping people. People should be able to tell coaches that they want a foundation in 10 personal training sessions which would leave with a solid understanding about what they want to achieve.”
I personally think that we also have a problem where some coaches just want to rack up the hours so they can fill up their quotas. This can be detrimental to a client’s progress; they don’t realize that they are losing their revenue in the long term but also discouraging people from staying on and continuously improve themselves.
“Coaches that are aware of their clients, constantly adapting their clients routine. It’s easy for anyone to sell themselves as a personal trainer; just make a few Instagram posts. I’d tell anyone looking for a coach, to ask them lots of questions. Are they correcting you mechanically? Are they changing slight things in your squat or deadlift? Are they teaching you the movement first and then correcting your movement? Are they starting you off with the correct exercises before starting certain movements. Lot of people can’t start deadlifting immediately. The same goes for diet, deepening on their progress, your coach should be changing your diet. Ultimately, do they care? If they do, then you as a client automatically start feeling like you should care and put the effort in.”
She Started Somewhere
“Oh I was forced!” – Kirsteen said with a chuckle.
“I was actually forced into yoga and I thought I guess I should do something. I was one of those skinny fat people. I started doing yoga and really enjoyed it but I realized I did nothing for my legs. At the beginning I did for the aesthetics. My friend who was really into crossfit started preaching to me about it and actually bought me a foundation class for my birthday. Oh..thanks, great present for my birthday..”
She definitely doesn’t think it’s a waste now!
“I had it for like 9 months before I finally used it. I actually enjoyed it, that’s what surprised me the most. A year later, I got a better job and thought I should actively pursue this not before I used to make fun of my friends who used words like snatch and cleans and I’d respond by saying yeah, that schumerang and double twisted double bee. Once I started, I just loved it. I was good at it and saw results after the first month and it became part of my social life. I developed a love for it.”
We both had a good laugh during this part of the conversation and it was great to see how Kirsteen did a complete u-turn and went poking fun at crossfit to making it an integral part of her life.
Stranger things have happened.
Get Fit Chick
“I was working full time at a CrossFit Box and I had a lot of female clients come and tell me they didn’t see a difference or enough of a difference. I was trying to explain to them that food was really important but I was so busy with my job and doing personal training that I didn’t have time to help them with food because it’s very intensive. I just realized that these women, that want to do something about themselves but aren’t getting the right kind of support or help. There isn’t a support system they need or information they need.”
“I don’t like calling us a bootcamp anymore even though it is, it’s more of an women’s training program. The exercise part is easy, you just show up and it’ll be done in an hour but once they leave they are free to do what they want, it doesn’t work like that. They need support outside of the gym. They need to know the coach gives a crap and there are others suffering with them. I then realized that I needed to make something like this happen. Started it out in the crossfit gym and quickly realized that I needed to focus on this full time, so I quit and founded Get Fit Chick with my partner and friend Salma. Salma and I were just friends and she’s been very successful in her own right. It really took, we posted one class here at Train SF and it sold out that we needed to add in another session. We’ve been very lucky.”
Kirsteen and Salma have really used the social aspect and created an environment where people look forward to coming in and working out with their friends.
“Get Fit Chick has been going on for over a year now, which is exciting. We have higher retention rates, we’re really lucky with that. There are some girls who really like us for some reason and keep coming back! We keep trying to improve our sessions with every cycle with new movements or equipment but we’re very grateful with the response and success we’ve achieved so far.”
I had a look at some of their success stories and the results were quite astonishing. These girls have really made some significant progress with their weight loss.
“The girls who listen to us and actually show up (the key word here actually) have achieved a 4-5 KG loss. We don’t encourage a low carb diet, just to eat better quality food. We really look at their diet and portions. We noticed a lot of people do not know how to eat. Many people come back to me and say “I ate healthy!”. I keep telling them to stop using the word healthy. Stop thinking about this word healthy and start thinking proportionately – how many carbs am I eating? how many fats am I eating? how much protein am I eating? Once people understand that, they eat much better and can eat by themselves, they don’t need me anymore. It’s as simple as just looking at your plate and thinking if there’s too much carb for example. It’s very sustainable once they do learn what different carbs, proteins and fats are available.”
“People can come in for an hour and we can take them through and do the exercises with them and that’s their workout complete but what about the other 23 hours? We want them to be fully equipped for the rest of the day.”
“We give the girls an option a choice of macro counting but we also teach them about looking at their plate like a pie chart. We want these girls to enjoy their food.”
Marketing has changed people’s outlook towards food. A person with the experience she has in marketing would know better than anyone about misrepresented information that has led many people to take nutritional information at face value. Another integral part of her boot camp is teaching these girls how to read labels and make improved buying decisions.
“It’s all marketing. I have girls coming to me saying ‘look, I have a box of protein bars!’ and I always ask them to look the nutritional facts on the flip side and go through it with them. Bless them, it’s all part of the marketing [hype]. They slowly start to understand how to read between the lines. Companies marketing something as healthy, again with the word I hate, is ridiculous and shouldn’t be used.”
It’s remarkable how much thought and effort Kirsteen and Salma have put in to this program. Most importantly, they are educating women in the United Arab Emirates on how to take care of themselves and providing a sustainable base for the rest of their lives and pass on their learnings to other people. They have really pinpointed one of the most important aspects which is diet and how critical it is in any weight loss journey. Handholding them, giving them the tools to go out and take care of themselves and hopefully spread the knowledge to other people.
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After such a fascinating conversation with such a talented person, we reluctantly ended our conversation with the future of the company and herself.
“We want to dominate. We are looking into expanding and love to have a base. I think we can do it. We need to establish ourselves [in the market] as a leader in women’s fitness in the region and hopefully elsewhere. Salma’s Egyptian, so I’m sure she’d want to do something over there. I believe in what we’re doing and we are helping a lot of people and I hope Salma and I can disassociate ourselves away from Get Fit Chick to make it known as it’s own brand rather than Sal’s and Kirsteen’s bootcamp. We’re getting to the point where people are joining our bootcamp and are surprised when they find out that we aren’t teaching every class. We have a great team of coaches who are inspirational women.”
“It’s our baby and we want this to grow. I want to help more people. I care a lot about the girls that come to us and i’m personally upset if someone didn’t have a good experience. This is what i want to do. I have Tuesday mornings off, I go horse riding and brush the horses’ hair for hours and that’s my zen. I think even if you’re going after world domination you still need some time off.”
“For the longest time, it was for other people. Now I do all this for me. Now I know exactly what I want to do. I used to wake up not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I used to think that all my friends had boyfriends or girlfriends, now it doesn’t matter, I’m just focused on myself.”
That brings to an end an exhilarating conversation with an incredibly passionate and motivated coach who wants to bring wellness, care and change into people’s lives. Dubai needs more people like this and it’s only fair that these individuals are given the recognition they deserve for the stupendous work they’ve put in over the years to improve the nation and its people.
If you’d like to find out more about Kirsteen or the Get Fit Chick Bootcamp then follow their socials and other relevant information below: