Pain gain

Sport is becoming an essential part of life for many Egyptians, with an increasing number of people, young men in particular, now lifting weights and bodybuilding in the gym. They pour a lot of time, money and effort into pumping iron, often putting themselves in agonizing pain for the sake of physical gain.

In this photo series, photographer Hesham Elsherif takes a graceful approach to photographing bodybuilders in the local gyms of his hometown, Fayoum. He speaks with each of them about their relationship to the gym, what drives their dedication and the reasons behind their extreme efforts to gain muscle and bulk up their physique.

Mahmoud al-Dakroury, 23, first started going to the gym five years ago. “I loved this sport from the first time I tried it. I’ve been training for the last five years, but sometimes I stop and don’t train regularly because of work. Playing sport earns you respect wherever you go. I recently got married, but I didn’t stop training and started hitting the gym again only five days after my wedding. I just love it.”
Ahmed Eweis, 21. "It’s like cigarettes for smokers or prayers for believers. When I don't train for a while, I feel like there's something missing in my life. The gym has become a core part of my life. I used to be in much better shape before joining the military about a year and half ago to complete my service. I’ve lost a lot of muscle since I was enlisted, because I don't have the chance to train as often. But hopefully my service will end in four months and I'll be able to train regularly again."
Mohamed Mansour, 24, works as a guard at a Cairo mall. "When I was younger, I loved watching wrestling and martial arts — that's why I became interested in these kinds of sports. I also tried boxing for a while. I remember when I used to work on a farm in the countryside and I built my own gym there, with very simple equipment, to keep training. My workmates loved the idea and joined me in training. I just completed my military service a few months ago. I gained some fat in the military because I couldn't train regularly, but now I'm working really hard to lose it again."
Islam Rabie, 23, is a carpenter who started working out at the gym around six years ago. “I'm addicted to this sport. Although I always come back from work exhausted, I still go to the gym. I can't do without it. This sport changed me profoundly, in many ways. It helped me become closer to God, respect those who are older than me, help those who need help and think in a much better way.”
Ahmed Zizo, 26, is a personal trainer and bodybuilder who started working out when he was 16 years old. "This sport is the love of my life. Most young men today turn to drugs when they feel sad or upset about something. For me, I turn to the gym as a way to overcome the pressure and negative feelings."
Bassam, 22. "When I was younger, I was very short and skinny. I used to get bullied in the street and at school. Nobody wanted to be friends with me. I got fed up with that and I decided to hit the gym. Training hard and regularly, I gradually gained muscles and weight and became much healthier. Being that new person, I found I was more respected wherever I went and more people wanted to be friends with me. Currently, I can't train regularly, because I'm now doing my military service. I’ve already lost a lot of muscle because of this, but I still try to train as much as I can on my days off."
Islam Ramadan, 20, is a university student. He started training at the gym two years ago, and studies Kung Fu. He aspires to have the same skills and body as his role model, Jean Claude Van Damme. “Practicing sport has changed me a lot. Not only the physical part of it — it’s also influenced my personality. I can think clearer and act more quickly.”
Abdel Rahman, 21, is a university student who started working out a few months ago. “It isn’t always easy to find time for training while I’m studying at university. I do my best to effectively manage my time so that I can go to the gym. Working out has helped me a lot, though. It increases your self-confidence and makes you believe that you can achieve whatever you want if you work hard.”
Mohamed al-Shemy or Abu Habiba, 30, is a barber and a father. “Training at the gym is really good for me. I used to get quite tired while working at my shop, but I feel much healthier and less tired these days.”
Islam al-Anbeshawy, 22, is a university student who started working out about a year ago. “I hit the gym because I wanted to get fit, and be healthier. I didn’t want to get into drugs and other bad habits that I see many other young men turning to. When I look at pictures of myself before I started going to the gym, I can’t believe it’s me! I even laugh at those photos because I used to be so skinny. I’m happy to be this new person who cares about sports.”
Ahmed Salah, 22, is a university student who started going to the gym when he was in high school. “When you practice a sport and see progress, you can’t stop. You become eager to train more and more and move to the next level.”
Mohamed Eweis, 23, started training about five years ago. “I love this sport. It’s helped me overcome a lot of the difficulties I’ve faced in life. It actually makes life easier for me.”
Mohamed Abu Taleb, 31, works as a bodyguard. “I love training, not only because my work requires me to be in good shape, but because training at the gym makes me feel better.”
Hesham Elsherif 
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