2020 toppled, among other things, our fitness routines. The first few days into the lockdown, we took it easy. Slept in, lazed around and revelled in the prospect of not having to rush to work, the gym or the grocery store …. As days progressed, however, the charm waned. “I missed going to the gym. I needed that environment to get my day started,” says Jamshed S P, a Kochi-based businessman, whose pre-COVID days started with a one-and-a-half hour workout in the gym.
Though gyms and yoga centres threw open their doors in August as part of ‘Unlock Phase 3’, not everyone wanted to risk it. “The safety protocols were in place, but I didn’t want to take that risk,” says Jamshed. Instead, he started working out at home. “Initially, it was difficult to motivate myself. But gradually, it began to work for me,” he says.
From ‘One Mile Walks’ on YouTube to meditation and yoga, a number of people have rediscovered different aspects of fitness over the past nine months.
However, most gyms and fitness centres have transitioned online to great results. The Quad, Chennai, has been training over 600 people online from different parts of the country and outside. Over 200 people signed up with The Quad during the pandemic. One among the first gyms to shut down (before the lockdown was announced), The Quad has built an online community over the past nine months. It organised virtual boot camps that participants enjoyed. The sessions were live, where people could train just as they would in the gym. Through fitness challenges and Whatsapp/ Zoom calls, the team kept developing fun ways to engage with clients.
“I, personally, would have dismissed coaching online two years ago. But now, the perspective has changed completely. We learn that coaching in-person is not the only way. Virtual has its advantages as it is less intimidating, for one. You are in your own space, to start with,” says Arvind Ashok, co-founder of The Quad. The opportunity has also helped reach out to more people. “Now, expansion does not mean in the physical space alone. It opens up the whole world,” he says. The Quad is set to reopen on January 4, but at least for a year, it will be in the virtual space as well. “We are in it for the long haul,” adds Arvind.
Even those who were apprehensive of virtual fitness programmes have now started signing up, especially in Tier II and Tier III cities, says Rajiv Ambat, founder of NuvoVivo, an online centre for obesity, lifestyle disorders and research. “Unlike in a large city such as Mumbai, where virtual sessions are a practical choice, people in smaller cities always preferred to drive to their gyms. Now, that has changed,” says Rajiv, who has seen an increase in the number of new admissions. “Psychologically, too, the pandemic has put everyone under stress. Staying healthy has become all the more important now,” he adds.
Rahib Mohammed also known as Bheegaran
Yoga practitioner Sudakshna Thampi is not sure she would go back to her studio in Kochi even after the pandemic. “Online classes have worked out surprisingly well for us. And the feedback I get from my students has been very encouraging,” she says. She has got a number of new students in the past nine months and she takes care to see that they are coping well. “I do repetitions with them, give corrections and I do the asanas along with them,” says Sudakshna. “The best thing is that you can get the same experience of being in the studio while in the comfort of your home.”
Even those who were averse to doing yoga online have taken to it well, she observes. It has become a more participative experience, says Sudakshna. “I have students who take the classes with their pets or children,” she says. They have a Whatsapp group, which is very active, too. “This is where we have discussions on yoga and wellness. Even though we are not meeting at the studio, we motivate each other and exchange notes. This is a kind of community building that transcends geographical borders,” she says.
Rahib Mohammed, who is better known as Bheegaran, has close to 15,000 followers on Instagram. A lifestyle coach, Bheegaran through his ongoing #my21withbheegaran on Instagram has built ‘The Bhee Fit’ community, which helps people achieve their fitness goals. Through an assortment of routines including push-ups, pilates, planks, plunges, lifts, runs and kicks, spaced out across 21 days, the idea is to help people push their own boundaries.
“I started coaching online even before the pandemic, but my client conversions doubled after it. “COVID-19 made us realise the importance of immunity and the need to be fit,” Rahib says. The Bhee Fit community has people from all over the world across age groups. It has crossed 400 members and by New Year’s it plans to cross the 500 mark.
Rahib observes that more women have started to prioritise fitness. “I am proud to say that there are more women now who are making self-care a habit. For me, when I know that someone’s life has changed for the better, I am happy,” he adds.