Indulge 14th Anniversary Special: Your workout translates to bigger gains than just fitness
We talk to fitness experts in the city, to scope out the trends post-pandemic, and about the perception that your workout routine offers bigger benefits than just fitness, budgets or weight loss
A few years ago, we were all celebrating being strong as the new sexy. Now, as we stagger back to gyms and fitness spaces, the pandemic has definitely impacted our perception of being fit and healthy. With lung capacity being a vulnerable point for those inflicted with COVID-19, one is left wondering how are the chiseled muscles and six-pack going to help with fighting this disease? Of course, any movement is good and better than no movement at all, but experts in the field concede that postpandemic the average gym-member is far more discerning today than ever.
Balance is key
In fact, the general consensus is that working out is an essential part of everyone’s lifestyle now. Ajit Sigamani, the founder of Combat Kinetics (Mixed Martial Arts centres) says that it goes beyond that and that there are a lot more people who are educating themselves today, before enrolling into a session. “They are now training smartly — they are well informed about their own needs and issues. And this goes beyond just online training and remote fitness sessions. Previously, there was a lot of trend-following and influencer generated materials. Now people have started looking for more evidence based routines. They ask my trainers about their qualifications. And that’s a good thing. Before there were random routines and fads followed blindly. Most people used to think that ‘if I work out I am sorted’. But now they are looking beyond — they are looking at mental health, diets, and the need for recovery — so their approach is more holistic. This is what our ancient teachings of ayurveda, siddha and yoga propagated. We cannot say it is a comeback — the material has always been here. Since we are practicing Mixed Martial Arts, we have incorporated many of these forms in our routines — and we are constantly learning and evolving.” Another aspect that Ajit’s school of thought has been propagating and now many are following is choosing to workout in open spaces, in fresh air — instead of temperature controlled interiors.
Rookies on the rise
Meanwhile, Ajit Shetty of Score gyms agrees that there was hesitation initially about getting into a closed space. “Many of us are unclear about the COVID-19 situation and hence were actually scared to enter a closed space like a gym. Now many have started coming back after the vaccination drives — and they are focussing on the usual — cardiovascular and strength. There is a strong interest in fitness — in fact we have many new members.” Nearly 150 new members have joined them since reopening! “We are also offering fitness packages that are running through the year — instead of targeting only New Year resolutions. Anytime is a good time for getting fit,” says Ajit Shetty. He further continues by saying that there is a marked shift in how much an individual was willing to spend on being healthy. “There is more value attached to staying fit and healthy. The focus is on wellness and not a budget,” he says.
Mind in the game
Shitija Uppal, fitness coach and nutritionist, says, “People are definitely prioritising fitness post-lockdown. I feel that earlier the perspective was more superficial. Many were in it recreationally or just because they were following some trend. However, now many are getting out of their comfort zone and making it their priority. And it’s not just about the workout — there is a clear sense of interest about all aspects of fitness — including nutrition, diet and mental health, besides spending time for physical fitness.” She recalls how pre-pandemic, when her clients n e e d e d t o e a t healthy, it was impossible to get them off the convenience of ordering in an unhealthy meal from Swiggy! “So, I thought getting them to eat healthy when stuck at home and with all the restaurant options available was going to be impossible. But oddly enough, they worked harder to maintain a structure as far as health and fitness is concerned.” During lockdown, a client had called Shitija literally from her bed. She was going through a tough time and was unable to get out of bed. It was remarkable how she recuperated and put in the effort. “As you know, food, emotions and our physical activities are all interconnected.” And once she started clean eating it was amazing how much she achieved in just three months. “We started with something as basic as eating clean and step counting. Now she does my heavy-duty workouts, has incidentally lost some inches and has a great attitude towards life!”
Variety is the spice
“There has been a huge surge. People who were just walking on the roads have now come into gyms. Usually, walkers are of the age 35 to 45, and of course there are the elderly who are 60 plus. Now, the mid-range is conscious. Those who are in their 40s and youngsters, college students — the influx are from these two age groups,” explains Jeffery Vardon. Many are coming to the gym for the first time and are pleasantly surprised to find that the gym is not just about weights and machines. “There is so muchhappening in terms of routines. Right from Animal Flow to Tabata — we found that they had a misconception that these options were available only overseas and they had no clue about how much the gym has evolved in the past couple of years in our city!” says Jeffery, who founded the O2 chain of gyms. There is so much variety — and they have understood that they can do whatever suits them. “Our Thoraipakkam branch has an entire floor for just body weight training. And only now, after the pandemic, it is filling up! It was never valued before.”
“Otherwise, folks had this monotonous impression of what happens in a gym.” Jeffery feels that what has woken them up is digital content — where gyms are putting up reels and posts. Also, gyms have upgraded and created spaces in their property to accommodate various options. “Even group fitness has seen an upsurge. Though, it took a long time and a pandemic for this awareness to happen — it is still worth the growth,” he says. It seems like the vaccination drives gave some confidence and security to many to come out of their homes. Jeffery tells us that now, “Everyone knows everything. Most come in with a workout in their mind. They rarely take that much help from the trainers. And they are on the right track — they are careful and balanced in their approach.”
There has been a definite and rather interesting shift in the perceptions. Previously fitness was looked at only as something you did for your physique. However, because of the pandemic, now people are giving serious thought to immunity and lifestyle changes. Obviously with the numbers (of COVID-19 cases in the city) being pretty low, many have got back to their regular routine. “But what is interesting to note is the impact it has had on the digital space. The virtual training spaces have shown many an option that pre-pandemic, was not even considered. And now, even though our physical spaces are open, there are many who want to continue in the virtual space,” says Raj Ganpath, co-founder of The Quad. Many prefer the convenience of not having to step out and probably saving time in commute. “But at The Quad we also noticed another interesting feature — that the percentage of women shot up when the virtual space was offered and also, they want to continue the programme remotely even now after we have opened up out in-person sessions. With our physical classes, the ratio was often approximately 65 per cent men and 35 per cent women — with virtual the numbers flipped! We have nearly 70 per cent women in our online sessions,” says Raj, adding that this could be because women have always had more responsibilities to deal with at home — especially in the mornings and this gave them a way out. “This is fantastic! Because our goal at The Quad has always been strength: specifically, strength and women.”
Stay safe, stay consistent
Post pandemic there is a clear preference for open air setups. Also, giving members confidence in the sanitising processes and social distancing is very important in today’s environment. “We disinfect every surface we touch and besides using alcohol-based sanitisers, we use a coating using graphene nano-technology.” Raj concedes that we are living in interesting times — some of these trends could be pandemic induced and inspired. And there is a possibility that like most trends some of these changes might not be long term. “But in some aspects the impact is longterm — like our productivity even when stuck at home has changed. Even though options like Zoom have always been there, it’s only after the pandemic that awareness has happened where you actually prioritise and take a call, if you want to travel physically for an interaction. The future will be the hybrid concept, that perfect balance between remote options and in-person requirements to produce optimum efficiency and effectiveness,” concludes Raj.