The biggest carnival of the state is about to begin in less than a month from now. And revellers have already started prepping themselves to make the most of the festivities. Jam-packed scenes at most gyms across the city stand proof to the fact that Kolkatans love to get into shape before the four days of celebration, devotion, fun and frolic. While for some, it’s important to look their best in the freshly-bought Puja wardrobe, others just consider this a way to detox their systems before all the inevitable bingeing rituals begin. But this compelling need to look good while partaking in the myriad celebrations and picture-perfect moments is a fad that tends to wither away even before the hard work begins to bear fruit. Gym owners and fitness trainers have also observed that most of those who sign up for fitness programmes in the run-up to Puja are youngsters, who don’t put their heart and soul into it.
‘Youngsters are raring to go but directionless’
At Anytime Fitness, Salt Lake, there has been a whopping 50% rise in membership since August-end. Prosenjit Saha, the floor in-charge of the 24X7 gym, says most of this new crowd belongs to the 18-26 age bracket. “They don’t really understand what fitness is all about. The guys have only bodybuilding on their mind. Biceps, chest and shoulders are all that they want to work on, as these are what you call mirror muscles. As for the girls, since most of them prefer wearing saris during Puja, they ask for ways to reduce their tummies or get their arms toned in such a limited time. As expected, once Puja begins, we don’t get to see most of these faces ever again. However, a very small fraction of them indeed discover their passion for fitness and stay on.”
Gold’s Gym, Bangur, is already seeing a nearly 20% jump in admissions and expects more to join soon. “Till Saptami, members are very serious and regular. Some would even want to work out past our closing time. Everyone wants to look their best in the festive season. They want to perfectly fit into all kinds of clothes. Though most of our regular members are youngsters, a lot of the new crowd is also young. They are inactive rest of the year but wish to groom themselves especially for the festival. Not just hardcore gymming, these members are also into yoga, Zumba, Pilates et al,” says owner Reshmi Bagchi, who believes the constant pressure of looking good is felt by people of all ages. Some of these members fall in love with gymming and continue to stay with us, while others leave once their target is complete. For those looking for instant results, we offer special packages too. But then, in order to achieve desirable results, they must follow our trainers’ instructions seriously,” adds Reshmi.
Special membership discounts are also offered at Karma – The Fitness Studio every year before Puja. So, the crowd naturally thickens. And this time around, it’s up by 30-40%. “Most of these so-called fitness enthusiasts are not serious about workout. They are looking for quick results like bigger muscles or toned abs. But once it’s done, they would start indulging in biryani or junk food during the festival and bid adieu to the gym. Hardly 1% of them would continue to come afterwards. Most women would ask for reduction of fat around their face, lower back and arms. Everyone wants a chiselled look,” says an official from the gym, who didn’t want to be named.
All is not lost
However, the scenario is not equally bad at all places. From August onwards, Rush Fitness Clubs starts offering discounts and experiences a spurt in memberships. This year, the increase is around 20-25%. While for some it’s the beginning of a new resolution, others come with short-term goals. “A lot of them, say, more than 40%, tend to stick around longer once they start seeing positive results. Ours is a premium chain of gyms and anybody spending so much would not think of dropping out soon. Also, we ensure our facilities, trainers and overall experience make people fall in love with the idea of gymming,” says Neeraj Surana, the head of operations and training.
He says though this is a trend they see year in and year out, the interesting part is that these numbers are only getting bigger by the year. “More and more people in Kolkata are going the extra mile to take care of their lifestyle and fitness, which is a very positive sign,” adds Neeraj.
A closer look at the Puja-special crowd
Members who enrol themselves in gyms across the city are mostly young and at the beginner’s level. So naturally, their primary concern is looking good and not fitness. “The crowd that joins before Puja is mostly young, below 35 years of age. The majority is between 25 and 35. Those who are overweight would basically want to lose some kilos and look good in their newly-bought Puja clothes. Somebody who’s on the leaner side would want to build some muscles, so that they can wear body-hugging T-shirts with their biceps showing. These are the most common goals of people who are just starting off,” says Neeraj.
At Karma, most of the crowd that signs up this time of the year belongs to the 15-28 age bracket. “Nowadays, even a 10-year-old has unhealthy eating habits that land them in gyms as suggested by doctors. So, we see a lot of youngsters,” says the official, explaining why they don’t have a specified minimum age for enrolment.
Apart from the young guns, Reshmi says they also see many members in the 30-40 age category. “These people might be out of shape and working on their fitness gives them a moral boost. They feel more accepted by society once they start looking after their health,” she says.
Durga Puja vs New Year
While traditionally these are two of the busiest times for gyms in Kolkata, going by the officials’ accounts, the Puja craze beats New Year resolutions hands down. “Compared to Puja time, the number of people joining us around New Year is far less. That trend is yet to set in here. However, we do have some new members towards the end of January when the New Year fever finally wears off. That is when people look to get back into shape after all the overeating, overdrinking in the recently concluded party season,” says Neeraj.
Reshmi too feels that in Kolkata, Durga Puja beats all other occasions in terms of popularity. “So, though a lot of people do make efforts to prepare their bodies for the party season in December, we don’t see as many new faces in the New Year,” she says.
According to Prosenjit, despite a lot of new members coming around New Year, who are far more dedicated, the Puja craze is undoubtedly bigger. “Yes, New Year is another time when many would join gyms to stay in tune with their newly-made fitness resolutions. But talking about numbers, that is much lower than what we experience before Puja. But those who come to us in January are certainly more serious about their workout than the ones joining now.”
Distinguishing between the Puja and New Year crowds, the Karma official says that those who come in January with certain resolutions in mind are not in a hurry unlike the ones who join two-three months before Mahalaya. “If we were to compare the surge, then Puja is the clear winner in terms of members. The festive season crowd knows they have limited time to achieve their goals vis-a-vis those who have their goals spread out for the year ahead,” he adds.
However, at some places, New Year is the time when most new faces jump on the fitness bandwagon. Says Rishabh Gupta, partner at Endorphins, “At our gym, no one comes with the agenda of losing or gaining weight specifically for Pujas. However, we see a surge in memberships in January. After a rather dull season from October to December, when people are in the festive mood and tend to ignore their workout, things start looking up after the first day of the year. That is the time most of us start making resolutions to get fit and healthy after months of festivities and year-end parties. Thus, gym is the first place that comes to our mind.”
Gyms’ gain is regulars’ woes
While it’s the best time for gyms to see their cash registers ringing, the mad rush seems to annoy regulars to no end. Their struggle to get adequate space and free machines is real. “I think both New Year’s and pre-Pujas happen to be the time when a large section of people wield some will power to get in shape. While the influx of such crowd makes me happy to see a growth in fitness, it also becomes a tad annoying to wait in the queue for machines or weights. I prefer to shift gym timings to night during such months,” says Aditya Kashyap, 29, who works out at a 24X7 gym. However, he says, this causes him to miss out on working out with his girlfriend, for whom it’s difficult to change her gym timings.
Echoing almost similar sentiments, Pratim Basak, 32, who mostly gyms with his buddies, says, “I’m someone who is at the gym throughout the year. So frankly, this sudden rush spoils my workout experience. The wait for equipment gets to me. Gyms should work on their infrastructure before letting so many people in at once.”
However, 34-year-old entrepreneur Kamal Saha, who works out regularly, has a slightly different take. He feels everyone deserves to look good, especially during the festive season, and that should be respected. “Between September and November, my gym is filled with the festive crowd. And then comes the time for New Year resolutions, when it again gets pretty overcrowded. So basically, we’re used to working out in packed gyms. It’s difficult but not impossible. So, I think we should accept it and live in harmony and prosper,” he says, adding, “The problem is most of the members blindly follow their workout charts without using their mind. Overcrowding is not an issue as long as people on the floor know what to do and how. It’s easier to share the space with like-minded folks.”
‘Elderly more devoted’
Kolkata’s fitness world is embracing a new culture, as a lot of elderly people are now enrolling in gyms. This healthy trend goes on to show how those above 50 are no longer taking their health for granted. With a rise in health issues that have started to affect even the young generation, everybody is now squeezing out more time to look after their physical health, which leads to mental well-being. The best part is these elderly members take their workout regimen far more seriously than their younger counterparts. Unlike some of the youngsters, who simply treat gyms as a place for bodybuilding and instant results, for the elderly crowd, it’s a part of their lifestyle. For them, it’s not an occasional fad, they are more devoted and tend to continue much longer. While some treat it as the best way to stave off age-related complications, others work out to maintain their stamina, flexibility, bone strength etc that tend to weaken as we grow older. It’s great to see how they prioritise their health and manage to take time out despite hectic schedules.
— Soumya Dash, technical head at Core Gym and winner of Mr Universe 2019 at WFF, Korea
Trainers rue the distorted idea about fitness
Prosenjit, who has been a personal trainer for years, tells all his students that diet, rest and workout are the three basic necessities to reach their fitness goals. “But sadly, for most of them, the meaning of fitness is confined to weight loss/gain. So many of my female students would reduce inches by doing intense cardio but still complain about not losing weight. People need to realise that fitness and bodybuilding or weight loss are not one and the same.”
Sharing a personal incident with us, he says, “Last year, a rather unfit guy came up to me 25 days before Puja. Despite being a member, he had not showed up ever before. But he asked me to get him into good shape so that he could wear his favourite dhuti-pyjama (it is either dhuti-punjabi or pyjama-punjabi) on Ashtami. He showed me a photo of Vidyut Jammwal and asked me to make him achieve at least 25% of the actor’s fitness. Considering the limited time, I told him he would have to follow my instructions religiously to achieve his goal. I prepared a detailed workout regimen for him and told him what to eat. After that day he again went missing for five days, citing work pressure. Such people don’t fail to amaze me.”
Neel Kamal Paul, a personal trainer at Gold’s Gym, has observed that those who join right before festivals, are the ones who drop out soon after it’s over. “Their enthusiasm is often short-lived. Looking good during the Pujas is the only factor that prompts them to join. They would take membership one month prior to the festival and then stuff themselves with all kinds of unhealthy food while celebrating Puja. They don’t even understand that for anyone to see positive results, they need to spend at least three months at the gym. Also, when it comes to diet, they lack any knowledge about how much protein, carbs and healthy fat their bodies need,” he says.
Say no to fad diets, keep calorie intake in check
With the festive season round the corner, here are a few tips that one should follow to look fit and fight that bulge:
Say no to fad diets: Stay away from fad diets in that desperate attempt to lose weight. It’s going to do more harm than good and you are going to gain more than you had lost in the wink of an eye.
Plan your workout nutrition: A very important aspect of getting fit is working out and taking care of your pre- and post-workout meals. So, plan your carbs around your workout, preferably post-workout. If you work out in the morning, then your carb consumption can be restricted to the first half of the day and vice-versa. A great pre-workout snack could be beetroot and pomegranate. It keeps you charged during your workout and also works wonders for your skin.
Snack wisely: Snacking between meals can really add up to your daily calorie intake. So, opt for a healthy drink like lemon and chia seeds-infused water. It will keep you hydrated and full between meals. Besides, plan your 5 pm snack in advance. That’s when people tend to feel quite hungry and cheat on their diets. A few healthy options could be spiralled vegetables/veggie sticks with homemade pesto/tahini/ hummus; egg whites — scrambled/omelette; chia seed pudding with sugar-free nut butters; sprouts and veggies raita.
Pay attention to morning regimens: Make sure you start your day with something alkaline. Turmeric and ginger water can help you get rid of bloating and get glowing healthy skin. You can also add apple cider vinegar to it. Another option is to start your day with wheatgrass/moringa/spirulina/alfa alfa grass juice with a tsp of coconut oil.
Say hi to good fats: Including good fats in your diet can help you burn more fat and get that festive glow on your face. Seeds, nuts, avocados, coconut and fresh coconut meat are a few options. Do not go overboard and make sure you keep your total calorie intake in check.
Bid adieu to packaged/processed foods: Do not get fooled by labels that say ‘gluten free’, ‘fat free’, ‘sugar free’, ‘high protein’. Eat real, natural foods.
— Tips shared by Nupur Arya and Neha Patodia, who are consulting nutritionists