August 05, 2020
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Go The Whole Tabata

Alternative regimens, health foods, fitness trackers and apps—a wellness revolution is kicking butt

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Go The Whole Tabata
Jogger’s Park
A band of runners get their cardio dose in Gurgaon
Photo by Tribhuvan Tiwari
Go The Whole Tabata

It’s a Sunday morning and Kartik Varma, 23, is fastening part of his luggage from his years at Manipal University onto his cycle, ready to set out. In Guwahati, Azam Siddiqui is ready to set out too, training shoes on, baby carefully buckled around his chest, water and other essentials in a bag in front. No, they aren’t fleeing. They are fitness freaks testing their limits. Over in Delhi, Sukhmani Dhupia has woken up to 30 ml of aloe vera juice and Abh­ilasha Chattopadhyay to a nice warm glass of lemon ’n cinnamon wat­er with honey. They too are looking to start a fit day, and “these detox drinks are great day-beginners”, says Dhupia.

Fitness is suddenly all the rage. A Ficci-PWC report puts the industry at about Rs 1 lakh-crore. Gyms are said to have grown by over 80 per cent last year. “We had 36 new outlets last year, including in towns like Bilaspur, Phagwara, Haldwani and Siliguri,” says Shraddha Sheth, a VP at Gold’s Gym.

But it’s no longer about gyms alone. Delhi Rock offers climbing, aerial silk, RushFit, krav maga and acroyoga. “The idea is to have indoor training in activities you can take out,” says Anurag Tiwari, 26, founder of Delhi Rock. Many are getting outdoors, with bodyweight routines for strength and conditioning followed by cardio. “It’s a get-rid-of-machines-and-bring-fitness-to-yourself initiative,” says Jatin Arora, founder and head coach at Bootcamp Yellow, an outdoor fitness centre.

Then there is zumba, pilates, kick-boxing and good old yoga. Most gyms offer alternatives to weights in the name of a holistic approach to fitness. “Your body needs different kinds of exercises. If you keep at one regimen, your body is likely to become immune to it,” says Anil Chhatr­iyan, a trainer at Gold’s Gym. But even if leaving home for a workout is a chore, there’s always YouTube. Workout tutorials on the internet are so many that deciding which one to follow can be tough; ToneItUp and AceFitness are the most popular. Then there are apps like Sworkit, Workout Trainer, JEFIT and Pocket Yoga, which give access to tutorials and full routines on your smartphones. If it is an overall coach that you want, Indian start-ups like HealthifyMe and Orobind come for between Rs 700 to Rs 7,000 a month,  depending on the level of interaction.

But do fitness apps really work? “An app cannot understand you like a personal trainer can. Trainers know your fitness needs and what will work,” says Sanaa Vidyalankar of Soul to Sole, an alternative fitness start-up which specialises in zumba, pilates, yoga and Desijam cardio. Satya Vyas of Orobind agrees, and is quick to add how anti-virtual training their app is. “The app enables you to connect with coaches who will be available to you 24x7 on the phone, but what you are paying for are personal visits by your coaches to train and oversee what you do,” he says. It is this philosophy that HealthifyMe is built on. “The idea is to give easy access to coaches, who through on-app interaction guide you to achieve your fitness goals,” says Tushar Vashisht, CEO at HealthifyMe.

There’s a high to be had in getting fit and staying fit, and it’s all the rage to work out, eat right, live right and show off those toned, buffed contours.

With so much going for it, getting fit is a cakewalk, right? Well, working out is only a part, 30 per cent to be precise, of the regimen, say experts. The other 60 per cent is what you eat and the rest is sleep and a feeling of well-being. “What is important is eating at home, specifications for which you can supervise,” says Naveen Goel, co-founder of 3F—Fitness Freak Forever. “And everything you buy in the supermarket now has a ‘fit’ option,” he adds. Organic grains, pulses and veggies are only at the bottom. There is a large mix of seeds, lean meats, oils and breads, which ensure a healthy meal. “Last year saw an almost 20 per cent hike in the sales of health food. Our salad counter sales have also increased. Customers are making thoughtful choices, and looking for a nutritious mix,” says Nakul Yadav of Le Marche Superstore. Cold-pressed juices are the new fad. “These are supplements to your diet, an antidote to all the stress, pollution, unhealthy eating and partying that we endure,” says Nadia Singh Bahl, co-owner at Antidote, a nutrition-through-drinks brand.

Can food that is good for you ever taste good too? “Eating healthy out of the house has been extremely difficult...most of the time, you tell yourself it is a cheat meal,” says Chattopadhyay. All eateries, restaurants and takeaways, big or small, are determined now to break this notion. “We’re aiming at fitness freaks who don’t always want to cook at home, who want to dine out too,” says Kastubh Khanger of Fit Kitchen, a delivery outlet for health food. There are many more across all cities—like Lean Chef, Salad Days, Nutrition Nation, Carrots, and Just Un-junk. Even burger chains like Johnny Rockets or Burger King have exp­anded their “junk food” menus to include healthier options. “The bun-less burger is quite a favourite with the ladies, along with the Chunky Salad,” says Bakshish Dean, chef and a franchisee of Johnny Rockets. “Taste in health food is a big business opportunity,” he adds. Even Lays and Haldiram are exploring light options like baked chips and roasted chiwda. “The rising demand for healthy snacking has compelled us to come up with our ‘lite’ range,” says Vaibhav Inguli, an official at Haldiram. “And it has been quite a hot seller.”

Scale It Hand- and foot-holds turn a wall into a fitness rockface

With exercise and food in check, the next target is a relaxed mind. Vashisht of HealthifyMe recalls an incident where a trainer recorded unusual activity with one of his clients—he was running only seven kilometres as opposed to the earlier 10. Checks showed a higher heart rate and discussions with the client narrowed it to work pressures. He was advised to meditate before his runs and soon he was back on track. Then there are gadgets that do the job of tracking your sleep for you. “I first bought a Fitbit fitness tracker to track my sleep, of which I was not getting enough. I realised my sleep was erratic and changed a few things to see it get better. The other uses followed after,” says Siddiqui. Trackers like Fitbit and Jawbone monitor the number of steps taken, calories burnt, heart rate, steps climbed, and other specs. “What Fitbit does is gives you data of your movements, and therefore control over your life,” says Manisha Sood of Fitbit.

Trackers do not necessarily promote fitness, but do facilitate a healthier lifestyle. So do the communities and meet-ups. “Group fitness stimulates healthy competition. The team pulls you up every time you slack,” says Mahasweta Ghosh, a marketing executive and Bootcamp Yellow member. Other meets like Ultimate Frisbey, Raahgiri, 3F all do the same. Forever Fit, a Facebook page, is a fitness collective where you take part in challenges, and share fitness tips, tricks and queries.

And all this is only little to describe the fervour that is the fitness industry. The growth figures of all the fitness segments—whether it’s gyms, apps or gadgets—are stunning. Decathlon, the international sportswear and fitness gear store, had ten outlets two years ago. Now, it’s over 40. “We have seen great sales, with people from neighbouring towns visi­ting Dec­a­t­hlon to purchase sports gear,” says Annie George, communication head at Decathlon. Health food start-ups like Antidote and Fit Kitchen too are getting financially muscular.

“Social media generates great traffic. People see pictures of celebrities and want to look like them. We have had many req­uests for pilates after news about Nargis Fakri and Priyanka Chopra doing it broke,” says Vidyalankar. Another reason, adds Vashisht, is the effect of globalisation. “This kind of exceptional growth in the fitness industry was seen in the US in the 1980-90s. It went beyond the men-in-gyms concept, and business picked up,” says Vashisht. According to him, what is happening in India is a replay of the same phenomenon, which increasing income levels and lowering costs are enabling. It is perhaps all the above factors which has led to women and men across ages coming together in the race to be fit. “Our youngest member is just 11, and the oldest is 60,” says Goel.

According to experts, it is only a year or so into what is the fitness decade. Everyone in the fitness world agrees to the infancy of the industry, which they say is likely to see high growth in the coming years. “I see a boom for the next five years at least,” says Vidyalankar. Perhaps it is this likely growth which has led to the increase even in people taking up fitness as a career. Dhupia is training to be a fitness instructor, and is set to make her own entrepreneurial debut soon. “The industry is a gold mine of opportunities,” she says. Gold’s Gym, which has a 100-hour certification course, has seen a 50 per cent growth in students in the last two years. This is an indication of what a long haul the industry is in for—if these youngsters even stick to their workout regimen for a few years, the fitness industry can only get fatter. 


We’ve Got Everything The Fit You Needs...

Entrepreneurs, fitness mavens, corporates are all targeting the fitness buff

  • Sanaa Vidyalankar The Soul to Sole founder offers workouts and fitness food
  • App-osite Count Pulse rate, push-ups done—they’ll count it all for you
  • Simple Does It A healthy home meal doesn’t take much—here, it’s eggs & salad
  • On The Wrist Jawbone and other trackers monitor all you do, all day long
  • Juicy Goodness Cold-pressed juices keep the vitamins and the fibre

...Even What You Didn’t Know You Might Need!

  • Home Food Only health foods—that’s the mantra of some delivery joints
  • Light Delight Restaurants too have realised the business ops in healthy menus
  • Beyond The Vitamin Pill A cornucopia of supplements adds vitality
  • Well Equipped The right gear for all get-fit acts is now available readily
  • Top Seeded Seed mixes help in cutting cholesterol
  • Manisha Sood The country GM for Fitbit uses it to track her activity levels
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