x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

After a tough day on the construction site, bodybuilding is a real labour of love

There's plenty of sand out there, but none of it was kicked in the faces of bodybuilders from 30 UAE labour camps, vying for the title of Mr Ascon 2013. Nadeem Hanif reports

Labourers from Ascon Marble and Granite company take part in their labour camp's informal Body Building contest held between residents of the labour camp. The competition is in its third year with a curation process for hopefull participants out of the camp's nearly 2,500 residents. Nr 14 Mr Arvind Kumar (L) and Nr 15 Mr Khoji looks back at their
Labourers from Ascon Marble and Granite company take part in their labour camp's informal Body Building contest held between residents of the labour camp. The competition is in its third year with a curation process for hopefull participants out of the camp's nearly 2,500 residents. Nr 14 Mr Arvind Kumar (L) and Nr 15 Mr Khoji looks back at their "trainer" during the first round. ANTONIE ROBERTSON / The National

DUBAI // By day they work gruelling, 10-hour shifts on construction sites across the UAE; by night they hit the gym just as hard.

Contestants in the 2013 Mr Ascon Bodybuilding Championship took to the stage at the Sonapur Labour Camp yesterday, flexing and grimacing their way through their routines to cheers from their audience full of colleagues.

"I train about one and a half hours every day after I finish my work duties," said Yusuf Khan, 23, an air-conditioning system technician from India and last year's runner-up.

"I really enjoy going to the gym and have been doing so since I was 18 years old. "This time I've been doing more work on my abdominals to get a six-pack and I'm hopeful it will impress the judges."

Mr Khan was hoping to go a step farther this time round.

He said he started going the gym to be healthier but decided to take it more seriously after finding out about the competition.

It takes real willpower to hit the weights after a tough day's work.

"All of these bodybuilders are amateurs and they work out solely on their normal daily food at the camp," said B Madhusudanan, senior administrator at the Ascon camp.

The competition is open to labourers in all 30 Ascon camps dotted around the UAE.

"We introduced the gyms a few years ago, because we wanted to get the workers more active and healthy," Mr Madhusudanan said.

The idea for the bodybuilding contest was to encourage workers to have a personal goal, he said. The event has grown in popularity over the years with organisers now limiting the number of contestants.

"We had a lot of workers wanting to take part this year but we had to cut the numbers down to 15," Mr Madhusudanan said.

For those taking part, the event is very serious.

Kotai Samy, 31, a construction worker from India, was the oldest competitor at the event.

"I've been going to the gym seriously for three years now and it's a great way to get rid of stress," Mr Samy said. "I do this because I want to develop the best body I can. "When you see how your body changes over time as you work out, it's a great feeling because you can see your hard work paying off."

Mr Samy, who often works shifts of longer than 10 hours, said he always found time to hit the gym.

"When I lived in Chennai in India I was more interested in weightlifting, and it was only when I came to Dubai that I really started looking into bodybuilding."

Thilakar, 25, a welder, has been working out for the past 12 months and admitted to a few nerves before he stepped onto the podium for the competition.

"Yes, there is a little shyness, because it is the first time I have done anything like this," he said. "I saw other people going to the gym and working out, and that's when I decided to join in. "I have been mostly training by myself but I've learned a lot from other people in the gym, and that has helped me during my workouts."

nhanif@thenational.ae