From crawling and grappling to duck-walking and kettleball swinging, a series of unconventional workouts are gaining currency among the health-conscious in the country. We take a look at what is the current rage and how it’s helping fitness enthusiasts...
Aarti Pandey was a sales and marketing professional by training, but her passion was dance, especially folk dance. And the only way the 36-year-old could think of combining the two was to teach dance to people.
But teaching it the traditional way wasn’t an exciting proposition for Pandey, who had spent a successful decade in a corporate job. So the Pune resident decided to teach dance in the form of fitness capsules to attract fitness freaks, as well as dance lovers. She teamed up with her brother and a close friend, and together they founded Folk Fitness in 2017. Folk Fitness, fashioned as India’s first holistic dance-based fitness regime centre, is inspired by 122 registered folk dances from across India and has centres in 19 cities.
“There’s great variety in the fitness industry today, but everything is an import… nothing is purely Indian, which people can relate to. And that’s how the idea of Folk Fitness came into being,” says Pandey, adding, “There’s a huge market potential for fitness formats that aren’t run of the mill.”
Pandey has a point. In the world of fitness, the emergence of a new diet or exercise regimen is nothing new. Once seen as a luxury, fitness has today become a way of life for many. The Indian fitness industry, in fact, is undergoing a revolution of sorts thanks to practitioners like Pandey who are offering unconventional formats of fitness training to the health-conscious. So if it is folk dance in Pune, in Kolkata, it’s the Nirvana workout (a respiratory training exercise, with great benefits for anyone with respiratory problems) that is creating a splash. “By lowering your cortisol levels, a hormone that makes you want to eat, Nirvana helps you lose and control weight, while additionally boosting fat metabolism through extra cell oxygen delivery since fat only metabolises in the presence of oxygen,” says Natalie Pote Shaw, a Kolkata-based certified Nirvana coach.
According to a 2017 Deloitte India report, the fitness industry in India is worth $1.1 billion. And it’s no more Zumba or kickboxing that are making the fat melt. The new fitness fads in town include Katami (based on the science of one-minute interval training), Bokwa (intense cardio exercise done with music, somewhat similar to Zumba), Animal Flow (animal-style movements), aerial yoga (amalgamation of conventional yoga poses, pilates and dance done using a hammock), grappling (includes climbing up ropes and workouts with tyres, sandbags, etc), mixed martial arts, etc. Another very popular fitness fad is crawling, a workout that takes after man’s primal movement and has a person crawling on his/her knees and arms, increasing body strength and agility.
According to a 2017 Reebok Fit India Survey, over 60% of the surveyed respondents—1,500 people from across eight cities in India aged 20-35 years—said they spend more than four hours a week on fitness. Though running and yoga were the predominant favourites among a majority of the respondents, the survey also highlighted that people are now being exposed to newer forms of training—like mixed martial arts and combat training—which have made workouts interesting, as well as motivating.
According to Vikas Jain, managing director of the gym chain Anytime Fitness, gym-goers are now knowledgeable and know what works best for them. “Earlier, the focus was primarily on strength training exercises in gyms. But now, both gym trainers and consumers have realised that weight training can lead to muscle loss, which could prove dangerous. So now, we focus more on endurance exercises that not only help people burn fat, but also keep them engaged,” explains Jain. The US-headquartered gym chain entered India with multiple gyms in February 2013. Today, Anytime Fitness has 57 gyms across India. “By 2019, we are going to open 50 more gyms across India… our USP continues to be new workout modules,” says Jain.
In the past two years, there has been a colossal shift in gym workout sessions. The idea of working out on a treadmill in a machine-cramped gym has become boring for many. The new formats of training are helping people shed the pounds in innovative ways. And most of the new exercise formats work with a variety of locomotion patterns, leading to faster and better results. Take, for instance, Animal Flow workouts, which are essentially a chain of animal-style movements that can be put together to form ‘flows’ that are like yoga asanas, except that these moves are more primitive and athletic in nature. “It’s an ideal exercise pattern for building agility, strength and also aids in developing good motor control. A lot of the movements in animal workouts emulate the locomotive patterns of animals, hence, the name,” says Shalini Bhargava, director of Mumbai-based JG’s Fitness Centre. Some of the animal movements that are popular are ‘duck walk’, ‘gorilla shuffle forward’ and ‘crab walk’, with all the exercises imitating the animal movements. The exercise improves body stability from the core and also helps protect against injuries. “It makes the heart sturdier and reduces the risk of cardiovascular ailments,” Bhargava explains.
Piloxing is another popular option. A non-stop, high-energy workout, it’s a creative mix of Pilates, boxing and dance. Then there’s Bokwa, a South African-style aerobic dance workout, which is choreographed to mimic the action of writing the letters of the alphabet (A, B, C, etc). Bokwa is the brainchild of Los Angeles-based fitness instructor Paul Mavi and fitness entrepreneur Johann Verheem. The duo launched the new dance concept in the UK in 2012 and soon it became a global rage. The name is derived from ‘bo’ (meaning boxing) and ‘kwaito’ (an African word for a style of South African music and dance). “This kind of training also generates more creativity in programme designing. It is fun, helps one get stronger and is very mobile,” says Anwar Wahhab, founder of Kolkata-based AWE Fitness Academy, and a BioPrint practitioner—a BioPrint practitioner gives the accurate body fat percentage, lean mass and area of priority you need to work on to optimise your performance and results. As a BioPrint practitioner, Wahhab chalks out specialised programmes that focus on fat loss based on the epigenome and hormone profile of a person. Some unconventional routines that Wahhab recommends include Sandbag Cleans & Slams Lift (which involves lifting a bag from the ground till the shoulder and slamming it back on the ground) and Cones Linear High Knee Runs (running over cones placed in a straight line). “My routines are part of MMA (mixed martial arts), which has had a great deal to do with the rapid growth of unconventional strength and conditioning,” he adds.
Another popular high-intensity workout is Katami in which each move (one high-intensity cardio, one lower-body exercise, one upper-body and one core exercise) is repeated for one minute. A 30-second rest follows before repeating the round four more times. The exercises are basic—push-ups, lunges, burpees—and can be done with body weights, as well as light dumbbells and kettlebells.
Fitness experts maintain that all movement patterns, bio-mechanical and functional, are based on seven primal human patterns—squat, lunge, bend, twist, push, pull and gait. Every form of movement is, in fact, one of these or a combination of them. “These (new-age) exercises are definitely more beneficial than conventional exercises because they not only increase your cardiovascular and neurovascular endurance, but also help the brain work faster,” says Jain of Anytime Fitness.
Bhargava of JG’s Fitness, which offers group sessions in Masala Bhangra (an intense cardio workout based on the traditional Punjabi dance bhangra), Spinning (indoor cycling done at a fast pace on a bike made specifically for the exercise) and Bootcamp (an intense physical exercise, with stretching and running followed by interval training, including lifting weights/objects, and other types of routines), says, “The retail market for fitness and wellness in India is likely to touch `7,000 crore by the year-end… the projected development in the coming years is between 16% and 18%. So it’s only natural that new forms will keep coming up to attract newer audiences.”
It’s no wonder then that the freshness attached to such exercises is attracting the health-conscious. “The young are more receptive to change,” feels Ranadeep Moitra, founder of Kolkata-based Endorphins, which has a 15- to 20-m running track inside the gym along with monkey bars and walls that people can climb. “At Endorphins, however, we encourage people of all ages to believe that there is a potential athlete hiding in them. The same dead-lift pattern that helps the young athlete develop strength may help a grandmother pick up a shopping basket without hurting her back,” asserts Moitra.
Besides the newness, there’s also a “thrill factor” associated with such exercises, believes coach Wahhab, who has, in the past, trained the likes of actor Dev Patel and sportspersons Rohan Gavaskar and Lakshmi Ratan Shukla. “Moving like animals, combined with gymnastics/bodyweight/traditional strength training, may not be entirely new, but since it has been repackaged, people are seeing incredible results. This is definitely creating a paradigm shift in fitness,” he says.
Interestingly, most of these workouts have already won over the global fitness community. Take, for instance, Nirvana, which first originated in Slovakia and was created by fitness expert Katja Zupan. It was introduced in India in 2016 by Singapore-based Nirvana education specialist Meera Nair, but started scaling the fitness popularity charts only last year. Today, India has 50 certified Nirvana instructors. “Most ailments occur due to incorrect breathing. Chronic oxygen deprivation leads to a number of diseases. So Nirvana is a perfect solution for everyone since breathing is at the core of metabolism,” says Nirvana coach Shaw. Nirvana—which is inspired by yoga, Pilates and tai chi—is extremely popular in Bengaluru and also has a presence in several cities in Gujarat and Goa. “Classes in Kolkata and Visakhapatnam are also gaining popularity, and Delhi has a steadily growing clientele as well,” she adds.
These new-age exercises are also extremely popular owing to their high success rate. According to experts, a 40-minute Bokwa workout can help one burn around 1,000 calories. Kettlebell training, too, ups the fitness level by building and enhancing strength, endurance, mobility and cardiovascular fitness—a kettlebell has the shape of a cannon ball with a handle and is generally available in four-kg increments (8 kg, 12 kg, 20 kg and so). According to a 2010 study by the American Council on Exercise, an average person can burn 400 calories in 20 minutes with a kettlebell. “Kettlebell training is perfect for people who are reluctant to use heavy weights and think their body isn’t flexible enough for all kinds of exercises,” says Jain of Anytime Fitness, which teaches spider walk, isometric hold (isometric exercises are contractions of a particular muscle or group of muscles; isometric hold means isometric pull-ups), frog jump, kettlebell swing, tyre push (pushing a heavy tyre), mountain climber, etc, exercises to people. “Unusual exercises like spider walk, frog jump and kettlebell swing help the human brain work smoother and faster not just while working out in the gym, but otherwise too,” he adds.
Clearly, it’s no longer treadmills and cross-trainers, but kettleballs, tyres and hammocks that are the new fitness equipment today.