Lifestyle coach Mantaha Maqsood bashes fitness myths and tells us what works — or doesn’t

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It took a big leap of faith for Mantaha Maqsood to get where she is today.

For one, she had to leave her desk job at a prestigious firm in the Big Apple. Venturing into the unknown and pairing it with hard work, Mantaha’s journey from banker to health and lifestyle coach has been an eventful one.

In a few months, Maqsood’s fitness program under her headquarters at The Wellness Company in Karachi has expanded multifold. Her vision is crystal clear: fitness is the route to a blissful life.

The beginning of the empire

“While I was working out at a local gym in New York, women started showing interest in my workout techniques instead of following the trainer. The trainer flat out said to me that this is a ‘calling from God’. I was already put off with my current job and wanting to live a more active lifestyle. The next step was a phone call to my father to tell him that I was going to be a wellness coach,” she shares.

“He put down the phone and didn’t speak to me for six months because he was scared of the preconceived notions about fitness instructors who wear tights and dance. Over times, things have changed; now he’s proud of my achievements and sends me his patients as he’s a dermatologist and many of them experience skin problems due to weight issues.”

Maqsood is extremely focused on high-intensity physical fitness. —Photo courtesy: Mantaha Maqsood's Facebook pageMaqsood is extremely focused on high-intensity physical fitness. —Photo courtesy: Mantaha Maqsood’s Facebook page

After getting the green light from her parents, she searched for the best appropriate institute in America and enrolled herself into the Cooper School run by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the founder of aerobics.

Changing lives, one body at a time

Mantaha was driven by the idea that every “body” is different and therefore requires particular focus to flourish.

“You have got to know your trainee inside out, know every detail about them. You have to go the extra mile, otherwise it becomes a very studio-oriented class.”

The required requisite to become a lifestyle and fitness coach is a test in which you have to go through changing lives whether it’s through a holistic wellness approach or working of the mind, body and soul.

Mantaha teaches smaller groups so that every trainee gets her utmost attention. —Photo courtesy: Mantaha Maqsood's Facebook pageMantaha teaches smaller groups so that every trainee gets her utmost attention. —Photo courtesy: Mantaha Maqsood’s Facebook page

You are required to change the lives of “at least ten people in this way in a span of four to five months and if you can do that, they certify you as a wellness coach,” she relayed.

And herein lies the difference between a trainer and a coach, according to Maqsood.

“A trainer will only guide you as far as your physical fitness is concerned which is based on four components: resistance, strength, cardiovascular training and flexibility. A trainer is a specialist in one field. When I’m focusing on strength, I do resistance training and cross fit, which is a high intensity workout where you are increasing your endurance levels and burning fat at the same time while a coach covers all four components.”

Maqsood also teaches Zumba, a rigorous form of dance fitness program. —Photo courtesy: Mantaha Maqsood's Facebook pageMaqsood also teaches Zumba, a rigorous form of dance fitness program. —Photo courtesy: Mantaha Maqsood’s Facebook page

There is nothing more comforting than achieving her client’s goals who feel satisfied and happier when they walk out, a testament to her highly personalized and customized commitment. The no-nonsense approach she takes to exercise and nutrition is infectious; she maintains that her high-intensity workout will torch calories, speed up metabolism and boost energy levels.

She also remains positive that the workout after-burn will ensure that one continues to burn calories till the next scheduled workout. Additionally, the nutrition plan will ensure a healthy transition.

She added that although it is hard to inculcate change in a client, you know you have succeeded when you have made a difference when their personal goals go higher: “There are people who have lost the belly fat they had in the beginning but they are now aiming for a six-pack.”

Shed the pounds and get buff

I couldn’t help but bring up the age old question: why are people resistant to building muscle mass?

Mantaha was quick to bust some myths about strength training. “It’s a myth that strength training will make you ‘fat’. There’s a difference between a sculpted body and being a stick figure, and you should aim for the former. Gaining muscle will actually help you burn fat and calories much more efficiently.”

Mantaha says that healthy, balanced eating — that is, making sure your body gets all its nutrients — is a must. “You must fuel the body to be able to exercise at all,” she says. “People in Pakistan must learn to ignore the weight scale and look past things like the Atkins diet; these are a thing of the past.”

Mantaha has no shortage of celebs endorsing her workouts such as HSY (L) and Wardha SaleemMantaha has no shortage of celebs endorsing her workouts such as HSY (L) and Wardha Saleem

So what should one focus on?

“Bar training or Pilates is the way to go! It puts less pressure on bodies as it elongates your muscles and increases elasticity. For those who wish to avoid rigorous exercises, like Zumba, this is recommended, especially for women because as they grow older, their bodies are prone do osteoporosis and arthritis so this aids in alleviating that.”

Bye bye fad boot camps?

“No boot camp gives you five diet plans that change every week and if my client’s cravings are going haywire then I switch the plan. I spend my weekends making those diet plans, if I have to,” states Mantaha. who insists you can’t be commercially driven.

Mantaha regularly posts pictures of food and shares recipes with clients to keep them motivated to eat right. —Photo courtesy: Mantaha Maqsood's Facebook pageMantaha regularly posts pictures of food and shares recipes with clients to keep them motivated to eat right. —Photo courtesy: Mantaha Maqsood’s Facebook page

“Before I give out a diet plan, I want to see the client’s blood report and support every food plan with a written recipe. There are certain spices that you can’t have and certain herbs that rev up the metabolism. Each week, the intensity in the workout may vary and the diet plan fits in the weekly regimen would follow. It’s very calculated, customized and result oriented.”

The proof is in the results

Mantaha had this to say about her stint in Lahore last month to test the market: “If you give Lahoris the right food plan, they respond very well.”

One of her clients, Haroon Jillani had nothing but good things to say about the fitness expert.

“My time with Mantahaa resulted in me losing 8 kgs in 4 weeks! She’s by far the only trainer that focuses on understanding her trainee on a personal level.”

Lahore's boot camp ended with loyal clients committed to staying fit —Photo courtesy: Mantaha Maqsood's Facebook pageLahore’s boot camp ended with loyal clients committed to staying fit —Photo courtesy: Mantaha Maqsood’s Facebook page

Her clientele is diverse in age, gender and proportions and there’s a reason why even celebrities such as fashion designer Shamaeel Ansari and actress Aamina Sheikh are endorsing her action-packed classes.

“A change in lifestyle and the importance of a healthy routine is a battle that we must face each day and there are no cheat days,” said Asim Farooqui, another dedicated fitness follower.

What lies ahead?

Planning to create maintenance guides for her customers of Mantaha’s bikini body guide plans and videos she has only one message to give that no matter who we are, we all should be exercising and engage in some form of regular physical activity in order to maintain a healthy mind and body. Finding solace in a way she interacts with people and inspire them, she likes to take each day as it comes and savor each and every moment.