Sahara smiling in front of green tree - white nike hijab with blue starry mask pulled under her chin. Wearing green adidas sweatshirt
would you look at that I match the trees

I've recently started changing some things around in my workout schedule. For a good reason -  I was getting too used to my routine, the ab workouts I was doing didn't feel like I was putting in much effort. That's not to say they haven't been a gift that kept giving, though. I've been doing Chari Hawkins 10 Day Challenge on loop - I started doing them 1 each day, then each video 2 times in a row, and then once I made it to the 10th video I'd take it from the top again but add an extra rep to do the video over. I did that until I got to doing each video 8 times in a row for an ab workout. Then I started to make my way to doing all 10 videos in a row for 1 ab workout.

I got stronger. I could hold a plank for longer, I learned how to do V-ups with better form. But I wasn't being challenged anymore.

I knew what was coming next for each workout. There wasn't an element of a surprise as there used to be in the beginning - and I felt like I wasn't gaining much from the workouts any more because I was moving the same muscles over and over again. And even for those muscles, I no longer felt the twang of them being worked out in crunches anymore. So I started trying to think of something new to sprinkle in that would challenge those same muscles and also wake up the muscles that I haven't been focusing on.

I started thinking should I search for other Olympian 10 minute ab workouts but that also meant I'd end up at the same spot - not being challenged anymore. Technically speaking Chari Hawkins was the second Olympian I followed workouts for, the very first one was Stacey Irvin Jr. And before anyone asks why I look out for Olympians (or Professional Coach/Trainer) specifically when it comes to workouts rather than I guess fitness personalities (is this the right phrasing? probably not but we're rolling with it.) it's because I feel that with Olympians the form they have is obviously top tier as this is their bread and butter since they are a professional athlete™/ this is their field so they know what they're doing. Another reason that ties into them being professional athletes with top coaches is that the workouts they are showing us are probably something they themselves mix and match in their own training or have done in the past.

I did come across a fitness personality (hi I'm still rolling with this term) aka someone who does not have a certification in personal training/no professional background in it and found that an actual coach had pointed out how their workouts could actually harm people in their fitness journey. From incorrect form to just a harmful exercise in general - so long winded train of thought to say I try to stick with professional athletes when it comes to exercising.

Sahara looking away from camera in front of green tree - white nike hijab with blue starry mask pulled under her chin. Wearing green adidas sweatshirt
would you look at that - me not knowing at all how to pose for a photo. as per usual.

ANYWAYS, as I was saying before I rambled on, I was trying to figure out what to do to add a bit of something new to challenge and strengthen my body.

So I dusted the metaphorical dust off my Nike Training App, and started scrolling through.

There's a massive selection all for free, we love free things, you can target specific muscle groups you want to focus on, or if you want your workout focus goal to be endurance, strength, mobility, or Yoga.

One thing I like now that I've added the Nike Training app into my routine is that I'm not only doing an ab workout/arm workouts that I have been doing - I'm strengthening each part of my body from legs, arms, abs - no body part left behind! I started to mix and match some of their workouts with Chari Hawkin's videos so I got to do something new but also having that I guess cushion of a base workout.

Sahara smiling in front of green tree - white nike hijab with blue starry mask pulled under her chin. Wearing green adidas sweatshirt
*shine bright like a diamond plays in the distance*

And then I decided to take it one step further and start a 6 week training plan called Burn with Kirsty Godso. 

This training plan focuses primarily with body weight which is great because I'm not about to go buy equipment.  So far, my abs are definitely feeling the burn as well as my arms and legs. In each workout I am being challenged, and wondering how long I have left till the time's out rather than just cruising on by. My heart rate definitely goes up, and I feel my body getting stronger too, a different type of strong compared to the 10 day ab challenge I was doing on loop before. And best part is that there's just a general structure to it all for 6 weeks - not me randomly choosing what to do. Also bear crawls are not my friend, just thought you should know that. And burpees, burpees can go and burpee off a cliff a-thank-you-very-much.

Back to focusing on one muscle group - so I only recently started to think of how wrong I was to do just ab work.

I did do some leg strength workouts but not as much as ab workouts for the past year. I still don't have abs visibly - which side bar any video that tells you you'll have abs in a week is just pure lies! okay thank u for your time! - but I do feel I have gotten stronger over the course of the year of doing those ab workouts. But, something I learned in recovery that I think can also apply here is: By only focusing on only one part of your body, you weaken the rest because it isn't given the same care and focus.

Here's how I think of it: Let's say my knee starts to feel a little tingly pain feeling (I am literally praying I am not about to jinx my running self with this imaginary scenario - hi future me editing this to say ya girl really went jinxed herself more on this in a future post) and I decide okay okay time to ice and elevate only my knee, and foam roll and start googling knee strengthening exercises. 

Is that the only thing I need to do? 

You would think but no - what's at the top part of your leg? Your hamstrings, glutes, and hips. You should also be foam rolling your glutes, and working on strengthening your hips too. Your whole body is connected, focusing on one part means you're leaving the rest of you behind. Focus on all of you and you bring all of you to that better version-non-injury self. 

In my scenario of only focusing on abs - well what's the one thing that leads me in my runs? My arms. So, that means I should also be focusing on strengthening my arms too. And what part of my body is the literal main function of running? My legs. I need my arms to drive strong back and forth, I need my core to be strong and tight as I balance from one leg to the other as I run to maintain a pace, and I need my legs to be strong to push my feet off the ground.

Sahara smiling in front of green tree, thumbs up - white nike hijab with blue starry mask pulled under her chin. Wearing green adidas sweatshirt
who would I be if I did not have a thumbs up photo

Focus on all of you not just part of you.

I am strong (and that's not be tooting my own horn, okay well I guess I sort of am), but I can be stronger in my running to maintain a fast but fun pace. If there's one thing the Nike trainers on the Nike Run App say it's that when you run fast you should be having the most fun - and it's true, when running my fastest I'm just like LOOK AT ME GO! THE PACE! THE FORM! but that's not to say I don't value my recovery-run-regular-I-just-wanna-go-on-a-run-and-not-think-of-pace type of runs.

Forward lean, arms drive, legs flying - that's my version of happy place.  And this Nike Training App Burn with Kirsty Godso 6 week training plan will no doubt get me to feeling stronger, even if I am a little out of breath after her workouts.

How's everyone's workout life going? Do you also only focus on core work and forget about strengthening the rest of you? Do you use the Nike Training App? Let's get chatting!

sahara end logo

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

So I've seen this book mentioned several times by one of my friends Rameela - or as you most likely already know her as or as her twitter @starshynebrite. (oh also if we're mutuals on any social media we're already friends in my mind hi Rameela if you're reading!). And after seeing her mention it last month on my Twitter timeline, I moved it up in my to-read list and made it my next book to jump into. 

One thing I love the most of books is the lessons I learn from the adventure between pages - and sometimes that lesson isn't really the lesson from the book but rather it's the way the characters carry themselves between the pages - whether it be the curious one who observes rather than speaks, or the one who handles stress by rolling a joke off their tongue being relaxed in the face of the storm. The thing with fictional characters that I think many readers can relate to is that sometimes the characteristics of characters become our own characteristics by the end of the book.

I know there's the saying that readers live a thousand lives, and it is true, really.

There's pre-reading-a-specific-book-us and then there's after-reading-specific-book-us. And personally, those two are completely different people. An example I can give would have to be The Hunger Games. After the series, there was increased interest in archery for young girls . And that's not me just handing a statistic on a silver platter, I was one of those young girls who took up archery because of The Hunger Games. Granted, I am not the best at it. Like if Katniss ever needed back up she should really never call me unless I am the last person on earth and there is no other option. The amount of focus needed to hit the bullseye is a lot - hi I would like to mention I hit a bullseye with a balloon and I'd like the applause - and as effortless as Katniss made it seem in the books and the movies, my arms weren't looking so cute after aiming at the target circle for an hour. But I will say it's also so gratifying to do something that a fictional character I admired did.

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
can we all appreciate how great my mustard hijab WORKS with the gold lettering, this photo is *chefs kiss* a diamond in the ashes. ashes being the 50 photos I took for this blog post

So let's get chatting about We Hunt the Flame.

This has to be the first time I actually went out of my way to order the physical book online after reading a library copy and pre-ordering the next book in the series. Hi yes you read right, this is the first time in my existence that I've ever preordered a book. I am team library till the end of my days but I knew this book had to be permanently mine. If you'd like to take a look at the summary before I get started here is the goodreads link for it!

The book itself is set in Arawiya which the author mentions is inspired by Ancient Arabia. What I loved most about this book was that there was no white European/American vibe for the protagonists, or even a side character. In one phrase: this book had flavor that not a lot of books I've read have. In a few more words beyond a phrase: the books I've previously read were bland tasteless bricks of bread compared to this tasty hearty loaf of a book that is We Hunt the Flame.

I don't think you understand how happy I was to not see some white savior entering stage left.

If me comparing books to bread is any indication, I very much welcomed this breath of fresh air. There are two protagonists that the book flips and flops between,  Zafira and Nasir. Zafira is the Hunter disguised as a man because of a misogynistic state that devalues anything a woman does. She feeds her village by going into the forest - The Arz - that no one ever comes back from. Meanwhile, Nasir is the son of the Sultan who lives in Sarasin and is a skilled assassin killing those who defy his father - in short: he's the Prince of Death. Most books that have dual point of views can get confusing if the characters don't have an independent voice to distinguish them, but this book did it well enough that I was able to tell which view I was reading in.

Zafira's very existence as a Huntress rather than a Hunter quite frankly threatens the misogynistic caliphate (state) at its core. And the only way for a misogynistic caliphate to be brought to its knees is for the women of that caliphate to no longer let men take the driving seat on the road of their lives. Throughout the book Zafira's strength in confidence in herself grows. By the time she crosses paths with the second protagonist and the yin to his yang, Nasir and Altair, she's already on her way to becoming more confident than when she left her native misogynistic state Demenhur. 

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

And here's the funny thing: all the men in this book need her.

She's the head of the table and as the book goes on, she knows it.  From Zafira, I'd say one of the many things I've taken from her character is to try and try again even if the odds seem impossible or people don't see things in the same way as you do. You don't need a guidebook to learn how to lead, be your own compass.

Most books that I've read with similar characteristics - fantasy genre, quest, we've-gotta-save-the-world-or-else-we're-all-gonna-die - the lead characters are always white. So it was refreshing for a change to see that it wasn't a white savior out to save the Kingdom. The first protagonist, Zafira, is noted to have pale skin due to the lack of sun in her Caliphate (state)- all snow in Demenhur - while our second protagonist Nasir from Sarasin - sun exists here -  is described as having deep olive skin. Also to note again - the characters live in a fantasy world inspired by Ancient Arabia. From the Goodreads QA section, the author mentions that the characters are Arab (not Muslim! just Arab! clear distinction here, Arab does not equal Muslim and vice versa).

The reason I mention how refreshing it is is because how often do we see a lead that's meant to ~save the world~ that is not a white American/European vibe? It's important that the protagonists aren't white people. Or even the side characters. What a person reads is what they ingest, and a topic that I am sure you may have heard of is the lack of diversity in most popular books. We readers are diverse, but are the books we read diverse too? Not really. Which was why when I started this book I was just like wait a minute! there's some flavor in here! I was not expecting that! Because since I was 12 years old the only protagonists I've read from The Hunger Games to Looking for Alaska were white.

In the same way that movies don't really represent Arabs accurately at all, we are also lacking in representation in the books we read.

And I know we are not the only ones lacking in representation. How often do we see Black leads in books? Those very same books where a character needs to ~save the world~? And why are they so hard to find - most books I get in the recommended section on Goodreads are by white authors, and books that are by Black authors I actually hear about from people on Twitter sharing what they're currently reading. 

So yes, first book I've ever ordered and bought since High School. As I was reading, I noticed that I actually could see myself in these characters, from the way they speak with english and some arabic sprinkled in, to the characters themselves which doesn't happen often.  I will mention that the arabic sprinkled in does include context to know what the word/phrases mean for non-arabic speakers!

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
I call this photo: as moody as our second protagonist, Nasir

Let's talk about Nasir, our second protagonist.

Nasir gives off looks hard as a rock but is actually a must be protected at all costs cupcake vibes. Throughout the book he struggles with being an individual from his father, especially since the safety of those he cares for is on a very thin thread if he doesn't do what his father asks of him. Throughout the book we watch as he struggles with trying to think for himself on what he wants to do rather than what his father tells him/orders him to do. 

The way I think of him is that his heart had a steel cage around it, but on the journey away from his father, the cage begins to weaken until it no longer exits and he is forced with the realization that he doesn't know who he is if not for his father's orders. The longer he is away from his father the more he begins to have his own thoughts clouding his mind, not his father's.

From Nasir, I'd say the one of the many things I took away from his character is that your strength lies in your kind heart - don't allow it to harden, let it bloom. 

You've heard of Katniss Everdeen and Peta Mellark from The Hunger Games, now it's time for you to dive in to learn all about Zafira bint Iskandar and Nasir bin Ghameq bin Talib min Sarasin in We Hunt the Flame - oh and the second book in the series We Free the Stars comes out on January 19 - time for you to get reading!

Add We Hunt the Flame to your Goodreads here.

What books are you starting the new year with? Any recommendations? Let's get chatting!