Hurry up and weight: UAE's Youseff Al Fardan recounts remarkable fitness journey
From health issues to strongman, 19-year-old Emirati is a record breaker
YOUSEFF AL FARDAN only began lifting in 2018, yet as of January counts himself the strongest Emirati man in the UAE and a gym owner. Teaming up with Britain’s strongest man and the current UAE’s strongest man, Mark Boyd, who lives in Dubai, Strong Gym was born out of a shared appreciation of a sport that has exponentially grown in popularity over the last few years.
Famed for its atlas stones, truck pulls and yoke carries, in a short space of time the Strong has managed to attract some of the biggest names in sport such as Hafthor ‘Thor’ Bjornsson and Larry Wheels alongside world class boxer Rob Frampton, MMA and UFC fighters, body builders and high-level CrossFit athletes. However, Al Fardan’s endeavour is not merely aimed at the athletic crème de la crème. The facility is open to anyone who is interested in improving their functional fitness.
We caught up with the young entrepreneur to find out more.
You’re currently the strongest Emirati man: how did you manage to claim that title? Why did you decide to focus on muscle-building?
I had to work extremely hard with my coach Mark Boyd and nutritionist Nathan Payton. I have been consistently training since I started a couple of years ago, without stopping once even during the lockdown and have been following a certain diet plan.
All my life I’ve been forced to do cardio, run or do other things I always hated. Being very heavy for my age as I’ve had hyperinsulinemia and cholesterol issues since I was four years old, I was never able to consistently stay on track. At 17 my brother decided to take me to lift weights with him for the first time. He was shocked with the numbers I could lift without any training.
My first time deadlifting I was doing sets of three to four reps with 184kg and in one week I was already lifting over 200kg. I also was able to clean and press the 83kg Emirates strength log without any practice or coaching before hand. I quickly fell in love with the sport and reached the level I am at today.
Describe a typical day of training. What do you do and what do you eat?
While I am preparing for a heavy lift or competition I start off with a warmup and mobilisation before moving on to one of my compounds such as deadlift, squats, or overhead presses and then move on to my accessory movements to work on muscle groups more individually. A strongman event day’s training is a lot longer because everything is made of compound movements. We usually start with deadlifts or the log first, depending on the layout of the competition, then a farmer’s walk or sandbags and usually we end with the atlas stones. I usually eat five meals a day, each meal has a protein source: either meat, chicken, or fish and three meals of the day have a carb source as well such as rice, potato, or granola bar. I also start my day with fruit and end it with fruit.
How did you decide to open a business with Mark? How well do you two work together and do you have a similar vision for the gym?
I met Mark at a gym I was training at with minimal strongman equipment and I asked a few of the strongman athletes there if they knew a coach. They told me Mark was the best. We got along very well and became good friends. During the lockdown I was talking with my brother, who is also one of our partners in the gym, about opening a strength and conditioning centre. He had always wanted to open a gym from when we was at a competitive level in MMA. After the lockdown when I first met up with Mark he told me of his plans to open a strength and conditioning gym as well, so I told him my plans and we partnered together and began planning it out. Mark and I work very well together as we are both very open minded and don’t have communication issues. Our vision for the gym is the same: we both want to make Strong the gold standard of strength and conditioning world wide.
What does your gym offer where others fall short?
Strong Gym is special because we cater to everybody. We have the speciality equipment for the top level athletes to come and train for their competitions on a global scale, but we also have equipment for the everyday person at any level to begin training. An example of this would be the atlas stones. We have stones from 10-225kg in increments of 10-20kg. We have wooden logs from 20kg starting weight up to an 83kg log.
How do you create the perfect gym atmosphere?
We are very proud of creating a community with the Emirates strength group which in turn has made the environment very supportive. What our clients love most about our gym is the friendliness of the environment and the support that’s always available. Everyone is there to better themselves and the people around them. Contrary to what it looks like, becoming a strongman is a team sport. It needs everyone to help each other. Unlike in many commercial gyms where there is a lot of intimidation or fear, especially with lesser experienced attendees, Strong Gym has a very welcoming environment to everybody, newbies included.
Tell us about your celebrity visitors?
Some of the celebrity athletes who have came to the gym are Larry Wheels, Thor Bjornsson, Michael Todd, Matt Morsia, and Mike Thurston to name a few. What most impresses them with the gym is how we have equipment to cater for all of their needs even with them being from different strength sports. Michael Todd is a world champion arm wrestler, Larry Wheels a world record holding powerlifter, and Thor Bjornsson is the World’s Strongest Man and the holder of the deadlift world record.
How important do you think fitness is to people in Dubai?
Fitness is extremely important in Dubai because we have some of the highest obesity and diabetes rates in the world especially in the younger generations, so there can always be more done to encourage a healthier lifestyle among the younger generation in the country.
When you’re not in the gym, what do you like to do?
I am also a full time university student so with the spare time I do have I usually spend it with friends and family.
Who is your fitness and business inspiration?
My business inspiration is my father because he did not enter the family businesses and instead created his own and became successful by himself. My fitness inspiration is Eddie Hall because he didn’t listen to people putting limits on him and instead focused on what he knew he could do.
What are your future plans in this industry?
My future plans for the industry is for it to grow to the extent where it becomes a mainstream sport. I want it to be normal for the general public to be able to train like a strongman or even just for them to do some kind of strength and conditioning because it’s vital in everyday life. Being taught how to properly pick stuff up from the floor and reducing the risk of injury, as well as moving heavy items, these are all things that we all have to do.