Not any more, though. Now Esha Deol builds her entire career on her buff avatar in Dhoom; Shahrukh Khan defends his 'Bollywood King' title from younger challengers by looking more toned than ever before; hell, even a voluptuous Bipasha Basu sheds her femme fatale image, along with those extra pounds. These days, it's all about lats, quads, glutes and pecs—and a hip new set of personal trainers who can make you look like a million bucks. People like Prashant Sawant, the man behind srk's six-pack abs, or Satyajit Chaurasia, who helps Hrithik Roshan maintain his sinuous allure.
Satyajit Chaurasia has quite a client list: Ajay Devgan, Aamir Khan, Esha Deol and Hrithik
And like every other Bollywood fad, this one has got enough takers outside the filmi world. Take artist Lily Menon. Her house in Mumbai usually has a few canvases propped up against the walls. But three mornings a week—on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays—this small artist's pad takes on the appearance of a fitness studio. Electronic music pumps away in the background as Lily does her stretches using the dining-room chairs for support. Her dog Taco runs around, ball in mouth, mistaking all the excitement for an invitation to play. Then, under the watchful eyes of personal trainer Harish, Lily kicks off a 30-45-minute cardio workout that compensates for her largely sedentary lifestyle the rest of the week. "My trainer has understood what my body needs," says Lily.
In keeping with an emerging trend in the fitness industry, scores of people are dropping out of gyms to explore a more attractive alternative: having their own personal trainer put them through the paces. And with the growing demand for customised workouts that can be fitted into increasingly tighter work schedules, personal trainers are now making home visits. Homes, it seems, are the gyms of the future.
It's a win-win situation for clients like Lily. "For me, discipline is a problem," she says. "But when you get a text message saying 'See you at 9:30 a.m.' you can't make excuses." And Harish, her trainer, who charges her Rs 500 per session, knows just how hard he should push her. He gives her plenty of "chatting breaks" in between so that the workout seems less punishing.
"Forty per cent of people joining gyms leave in the first three to four months," says Rajeev Goenka, founder of BFY, an organisation that offers training to personal trainers for anywhere from Rs 15,000 to Rs 40,000. "Having a trainer helps you to stay motivated and trainers keep a record of your results so you can actually see how far you've come." Gyms, on the other hand, have a one-size-fits-all programme. Goenka goes on to say, "The needs of every client are different. A personal trainer assesses you and on that basis designs a programme."
Home visits make sense for personal trainers too—at gyms, trainers are typically kept on a retainer basis where they are expected to hand over a cut of their individual earnings as well. Besides, home-training is where the money is. Personal trainers can easily earn up to Rs 30,000 a month, and many in fact earn far more.
Abhijeet Kotak, a fitness trainer who used to work in a gym, branched into personal training because he wanted more freedom than a gym could offer. With only 2 1/2 years of experience with personal training, he still manages to pull in about Rs 4,000-5,000 per month per client, enough to make this his full-time profession.
But it isn't as lucrative for female personal trainers. Ask Shilpa Rane, who has been in the fitness industry for 10 years. Rane offers personalised training to clients in their homes, but she has to supplement her income by conducting group classes too.
The field is getting very competitive. This can't be your only job," says Shilpa, who charges Rs 800 to Rs 1,200 per hour. "It takes a lot of time and effort to build up a good client list, and only if you're lucky do you get some regular clients."
In a city that's home to Bollywood, it's tempting to assume that the more famous personal trainers can boast of at least one star name on their client list. And there are a few fairy-tale success stories, like Leena Mogre's. Mogre started out in the fitness industry about 19 years ago. One of her very first clients was Madhuri Dixit, then shooting for Hum Aapke Hain Koun. Over the years, Mogre became the CEO of a chain of gyms and then about a year-and-a-half ago, she started her own chain—Leena Mogre's Fitness. Does she still take clients? "Yes, but only one or two," she tells us, "Because I charge about a lakh a month." Among her present clients are Katrina Kaif and Sameera Reddy. "But movie stars are not regular clients," she says. "They come, they train for one film and then they're off shooting somewhere else, so by the time they get back, they have to find another trainer."
Shilpa, who is on the BFY faculty, can rattle off a whole list of professionals—doctors, engineers, software developers—who have a more glamorous view of what personal training is all about. They all want to quit their regular jobs and become trainers, she says, laughing, but "I tell them to hang on to their day jobs."
While more women are attracted to the prospect of becoming personal trainers these days because of the flexi-hours, personal training is still, largely speaking, a man's world. Most clients, both male and female, prefer being trained by men. "Clients prefer male trainers 80 per cent of the time," says Kotak. "Men are just visibly more impressive, with their muscles and so on." For female trainers, visiting a male client's house can be a safety issue and for female clients, validation from a man—albeit a trainer—means a lot.
Validation is particularly important because the trainer slowly metamorphoses into a confidant(e) and friend. To that extent, says Shilpa, personal training is about people skills, about striking up a client-trainer rapport.
Lily speaks of her trainer, Harish, as though he were an old friend. "I can tell him stuff like, 'I'm tired today' and he understands," she says. "And the first question he asks me when he meets me is 'What did you eat yesterday?'"
What could be more needed than a 'friend' who helps ensure you look good and feel even better? As more and more fitness trainers are cashing in on the personal training boom, and some trainers' fees are beginning to drop as low as Rs 200 per session, the day isn't far off when gyms will become obsolete, and fitness becomes an ideal that you pursue in the privacy of your home.