Exercise evangelists

Written by Kunal Doley | Updated: Jul 27 2014, 14:35pm hrs
TightropeA slacklining session in progress at Cubbon Park, Bangalore.
Conventional workout regimes like weight training and cardio are passe. Fitness gurus are doling out offbeat fitness programmes to help enthusiasts tone up, lose weight and meet new people

AALOK BHARADWAJ doesnt call himself a fitness instructor. Hes a slacklining evangelist, who has been promoting the lesser-known sporting activity in Bangalore for close to two years now. I have been trying to build a community of people who love slacklining and we are actively involved in its promotion. So, there are no students or classes here, says the 33-year-old adrenaline junkie, who helps enthusiasts of slacklining try their hands (in this case, legs) at the citys landmark Cubbon Park every Sunday morning. Slacklining is a balance sport that involves walking on a one-inch- or two-inch-wide tightrope-like nylon webbing tied between two anchors.

Bharadwaj is one of several fitness gurus in the country who are trying to offer offbeat and fun activities to help enthusiasts tone up, lose weight and meet new people in the process. His adventure store, Feet Off Ground in Bangalores Church Street, comes alive everyday with fitness enthusiasts who get on to the slacklining set-ups in a bid to know their body better. As a group, we meet at Cubbon Park once a week where we have multiple slacklines tied between treesshort ones, long ones and high ones, says Bharadwaj, an engineer with a masters degree in biomedical engineering from Australia. While the sessions at his store come for a price (R1,000 for 10 sessions valid over two months), anybody can join us at Cubbon Park free of cost, he adds.

Its a coincidence that another engineer (electronics and electrical) by education, Sucheta Pal, decided to pursue her true calling after having worked in the IT industry for close to five years. This took her to the US, where she was exposed to the zumba phenomenon for the first time in 2009. I was hooked on to it from day one and soon decided to take up training for a licensed instructor. I taught in the US for two years before the company, Zumba Fitness, decided to make me a zumba education specialist or master trainer. My obvious next step was to bring it back to my own country, says Pal, 32, who operates out of Mumbai and Chennai, but holds classes across various cities, including Hyderabad, Bangalore and Pune.

Zumba, explains Pal, is a fun workout inspired by international dance forms such as salsa, merengue, belly dance, samba, soca and tango. Its simple and easy to follow. Anyone, irrespective of their age or fitness level, can do it. One can burn between 500 and 800 calories per session and, as it is based on intermittent training, it increases both your cardiovascular and muscular strength, as well as endurance over a period of time, elaborates Pal.

Initially, it was tough for Pal to educate people about zumba, as they had a misconception that its another dance form. Its a hardcore workout, but at the same time, its fun and simple. Today, after two years since it took off in India in 2012 and after consistent efforts from everyone concerned, zumba has reached a level where over 1,000 licensed instructors are with me, via Zumba International, rocking the country, says Pal.

Pals predicament was faced by Amit Lalwani too. When the Mumbai-based martial arts guru promoted his Muay Thai Academy, he received calls asking whether it was another Thai restaurant he was opening in the city. But over time and thanks to media reportage, among other things, people have become aware about muay thai, the national sport of Thailand, says the 36-year-old martial arts exponent, who has trained extensively in many muay thai centres across Thailand.

Muay thai is known as the art of eight limbs (two fists, two knees, two elbows and two shins). It is the national sport of Thailand, as popular in the country as cricket is in India, explains Lalwani. Muay thai helps in conditioning, concentration, fitness, leg strength, stress relief and flexibility, besides, of course, being a self-defence technique.

In recent times, people have become health-conscious, they look for different forms of workout. Some like group classes and we see to it that workouts are not repeated soon enough and dont get monotonous, says Lalwani, who started learning karate at the tender age of eight years as a student in Juhu. He later started to learn kickboxing under well-known masters from all over the world before going to Thailand in search of muay thai.

We play the latest music in the background and try to keep the environment as peppy as possible. We also use a lot of different equipment like punching bags, kicking shields and speed balls, among others. We even use hand wraps that are done in different colours, adds Lalwani.

There is clearly a shift towards alternative forms of physical well-being other than conventional regimes like gymming and jogging, says Namita Agarwal, who has been running the Fitness Fusion studio in the upscale Vasant Kunj locality of New Delhi for the past 12 years. One of the training programmes offered by Agarwal incudes pilates, which, she claims, is a safe and result-oriented body workout compared to other forms of exercise.

Agarwal narrates the case of one 60-plus-year-old lady who had came to her studio with multiple physical problems like severe joint pain due to postural problems, muscular weakness and breathing trouble, among others. She wanted to try out pilates despite the apprehension about her ability to do so. To her surprise, she felt very relaxed and she joined us. Within a month, her condition improved drastically. Today, she is a much fitter person, adds Agarwal, a trained aerobics instructor.

Agarwal got to know about pilatesa specialised form of dynamic yoga exercise, which takes one through stages of stretching, relaxing, strengthening and toning of the abdominal musclesaround 2001, when some of her clients, who had been to the US, told her about the new fitness regime. I got curious and looked for more information from various sources (we had no Internet access then). I came across a training advertisement in a major national newspaper for pilates by a South African master trainer. That training initiated me into thinking differently for fitness and learn more of pilates techniques, she adds.

Zumba instructor Pal, too, has several memorable moments to share. The best have been amazing transformations of the body and mind. There have been several successful corporate executives who found their true passion just like me and quit their 9-5 jobs to pursue fitness programmes like zumba full-time, she adds.

FUN FITNESS FORMULA

PILATES

What it is: A specialised form of dynamic yoga exercise, which takes one through stages of stretching, relaxing, strengthening and toning of abdominal muscles.

What are its health benefits: The floor exercise offers one a gentle, but powerful pathway to achieve ones natural potential for health, strength, flexibility and stamina. Pilates also corrects structural imbalances, thus making it beneficial for everyday movement. Over a committed period of time, pilates can change the shape of the body and improve posture.

Where you can learn: Fitness Fusion, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, among other places.

What are the costs involved: R5,000-R8,000 per month.

SLACKLINING

What it is: A balance sport that involves walking on a one-inch- or two-inch-wide webbing (not rope) tied between two anchors. The difference between a slackline and a tightrope is that the former doesnt involve any prop to help one balance and it is slack. A tightrope, on the other hand, isusually taught. One can perform tricks or yoga on a slackline.

What are its health benefits: When someone slacklines, the smaller musculature around the knees and ankles gets developed, thus strengthening them. One also needs to engage ones core (abs and back) to be able to keep ones torso as steady as possible. Slacklining involves a lot of concentration, as one pushes ones limits of walking or performing tricks on the slackline.

Where you can learn: Feet Off Ground, Church Street; and Cubbon Park, Bangalore.

What are the costs involved: R1,000 for 10 sessions valid over two months.

MUAY THAI

What it is: The art of eight limbstwo fists, two knees, two elbows and two shins. It is the national sport of Thailand.

What are its health benefits: Muay thai helps in the conditioning of muscles, concentration, overall fitness, leg strength, relieving of stress and self-defence.

Where you can learn: Amit Lalwanis Kick Boxing and Muay Thai Academy and at several classes conducted by Lalwani across Mumbai.

What are the costs involved: R1,650 per month (R4,000 for three months).

ZUMBA

What it is: It is a fun workout inspired by international dance forms like salsa, merengue, belly dance, samba, soca and tango. It is simple and easy to follow. Anyone, irrespective of age and fitness level, can do it.

What are its health benefits: One can burn between 500 and 800 calories per session and, as its based on intermittent training, it increases both cardiovascular and muscular strength and endurance over a period of time.

Where you can learn: Zumba Fitness with Sucheta Pal centres in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Pune, among others.

What are the costs involved: R2,500-R3,500 per month for eight to 12 classes.