The Bodybuilders of Kabul

Where in former times Afghan men kept fit in mountain battles, they now pump weights in an ever increasing number of gyms scattered around the country. Bodybuilding is the new craze of postwar Afghanistan, the number of gyms in Kabul have more than doubled in the last year only. Huge billboards with men with iron muscles mark their location from miles away.

Returning refugees from Pakistan and Iran have fuelled its popularity, but its origins stretch back to the sixties. Conditions are often Spartan, lifting left over car parts or cinder blocks. Showers and running water are an unknown luxury, but enthusiasm runs high.

In a national culture that prizes machismo, bodybuilding has become the most popular sport in the country, second only to soccer. A man with no muscles is said not be a man at all. It is so popular, in fact, that Arnold Schwarzenegger is among the most widely recognized Western celebrities in Afghanistan.

© 2006