Ramadan is a month in the Islamic calendar where Muslims worldwide will not eat or drink anything between the hours of sunrise and sunset.
The fasting window usually lasts between 16 to 17 hours and stretches for around 29 days.
In part one of this article series, we have asked one of our leading trainers, Umar Malik from U.P. London City, to share:
- How he plans to approach his training during Ramadan.
- Training advice for clients observing Ramadan.
What Ramadan means to me
The Ramadan experience will actually be a new one for me.
In recent years, I have developed a much stronger relationship with my faith. As a result, I have decided to observe Ramadan this year along with my friends and family.
The premise behind fasting is to better understand the lives of the less fortunate, those without a regular supply of food and water.
Living a few days each year in their shoes teaches us to value what we have while understanding the hardships faced by so many.
How I train now (and what will change)
My approach to training has changed significantly in the past six months.
Before this, I spent over four years focusing solely on fat loss. I started this period weighing 180kg and lost over 70kg to finish at 103kg.
The final 12 weeks were particularly challenging, as I spent them preparing for a photoshoot to mark the end of my transformation.
The whole process was mentally and physically draining, and I have put aside this year to focus on maintaining my results and trying out new styles of training.
With this in mind, I have been experimenting with a powerlifting-style programme. The goal is to become as strong as possible on a few key exercises: the bench press, deadlift and back squat.
I usually train four times a week with each workout taking roughly 90 minutes. This sounds like a lot, but it is about average for a powerlifting-style workout.
I have based most of my workouts on straight sets, which involves performing consecutive sets of one exercise rather than pairing exercises together.
As a result, I need longer rest periods to maintain my performance across multiple sets.
During Ramadan, I will increase my training frequency to five workouts per week but will limit them to 45 minutes each.
I normally train in the afternoon, but will switch to training in the evening straight after the fasting window closes.
I do realise that I am in a fortunate position when it comes to scheduling my training. I work at a gym (so no excuses there!) and home is nearby.
If your gym does not stay open late or you struggle to sleep straight after training, I recommend:
- Find a 24-hour gym in your local area.
- Time two of your workouts to fall on the weekend so you can stay up later without worrying about being tired for work the next day.
- If you do have to train fasted, pay close attention to my advice on how to adapt your approach to training (see below).
- Aim for a minimum of three workouts per week. You can train more frequently than this, but limit your sessions to 45 minutes
My training goals during Ramadan
My training goals during Ramadan are quite simple. I want to:
- Maintain my current amount of muscle mass and strength.
- Introduce and spend time learning new exercises.
Maintaining my strength and muscle mass should be relatively straightforward. I just need to make sure I stick to my target training frequency and meal plan.
I am excited about goal number two, learning new exercises, and will be introducing the front squat and snatch grip deadlift into my programme.
They are not entirely new exercises, but I have not done them for close to 10-months. I have also lost a significant amount of weight during this period, which does affect how I feel when performing full-body exercises like these.
Introducing new exercises into a programme can be frustrating, as you have to lift lighter weights than your muscles can handle while learning the exercise technique.
This makes Ramadan the perfect time to introduce new exercises. I can start light, focus on technique and feel like I am making progress rather than just maintaining.
Regarding training goals, my advice to clients would be:
- Pick some new exercises you want to try (or old favourites) and include them in your Ramadan training programme.
- Do not make too many changes. Performance changes in exercises you know well provide valuable feedback.
My approach to workouts during Ramadan
I have spent the past few weeks visiting family in Kenya so my training and diet have not been as consistent as I would have liked heading into Ramadan.
I typically advise clients to lower their weights by 10% when they have not trained for a few weeks – this is exactly what I will be doing.
Even If I had not been travelling I would have dropped my normal training weights by 10%.
I do not normally train in a fasted state, so comparing my Ramadan workouts to my normal training is not a fair comparison.
Do not freak out if your strength levels drop during the first week. However, if they continue to drop after week one, then you need to review your approach to training and nutrition.
Regarding how to approach workouts, my advice to clients would be:
- Avoid training to failure and pushing yourself too hard. Try to stop one to two reps short of failure on each set.
- Make sure you have a set programme to follow. You cannot monitor your progress if you change exercises every workout!
- Keep detailed records of all your workouts. Documenting your progress will allow you to learn from the experience and refine your approach for next year.
- Remove any cardio or conditioning exercises from your programme. Focus on hitting a daily step target instead.