An air-conditioned room is dimly lit with neon purple strips along the ceiling. A heart thumping EDM track is played loud enough to drown out all other noise in its vicinity. Doesn’t this sound like the inside of a nightclub? The reality is far from it. There is no dance floor and certainly no bar counter here. The sun shines bright at 8 am and the high is endorphin driven. The instructor leading the spin class winds down the hour-long session that is packed with 20 and 30-somethings working up a sweat on a weekday morning - “The goal is not perfection, it’s a better you. It’s a commitment you make to nobody but yourself. There are no losers here, only winners committed to showing up every single day!” Loud applause and cheers follow.
The world of fitness has gone beyond the weighing scale, measuring tapes and the desire to wear clothes a size smaller. Those in the business of fitness have a widespread belief that the journey to becoming your fittest self goes beyond machine-led workouts and low carb diets – a cookie-cutter approach that nearly every gymnasium and fitness trainer advocated only a few years ago. Today the cornerstone of health has gone beyond calorie counting and exercising in isolation. Workouts are now synonymous with functional mobility, mental wellbeing and meaningful connections built through shared synergies.
Regardless of age, the desire to step out, play and connect purposefully with like-minded folks is innate to human nature. According to Mindbody’s Wellness Index of 2022, post the pandemic, “wellness” encompasses a lot more than just being in shape. It’s reducing stress. It’s finding a sense of community and belonging. It spans mental, physical, and spiritual dimensions—and consumers actually prioritised mental wellness above them all.
Getting fit through fun is no novel concept but it has certainly come to the fore and is here to stay. “Movement, mind set and music are integral to our workouts”, says Sheena Hinduja, founder of BlackBx, an interval cardio and strength training studio in Bengaluru. “Most of our clientele incorporates fitness as a lifestyle choice and is looking to build real connections. We have high energy, zumba-inspired, strength training drills that bring people together and leave them with a sense of accomplishment. Members regularly stay back after a workout to play a round of Jenga at the studio or grab a bite from the in-house café that offers nutritious foods, tailored to their requirements,” Hinduja shares.
“A fabulous music system and a dark room are must-haves for spinning studios. They are the key to creating a magical experience for the riders. The high-quality music systems allow the rider to groove to and experience the music, creating a nightclub-like atmosphere. It allows you to let your hair down and enjoy yourself”, writes Nastassja Suri, founder of Chakra Athletica, in an article published on Your Story on November 26, 2000.
Aiusha Longren, a spin instructor at Chakra Athletica says, “Each of us spends several hours putting together the perfect playlist for our classes. These are also made public and many a time we have clients who save our music for their parties.”
“Group workouts simply keep me more accountable and consistent”, says Divya Maben, a branding consultant who works out regularly at
BlackBx. “The combination of cardio endurance and strength training is a big draw – conventional training spaces tend to treat them in silos which can get monotonous,” she adds.
Play-based workouts offer non-intimidating spaces where newcomers to the city can interact on common ground and move on to build lasting friendships. And unlike traditional workout centres, playing on a team offers shared purpose, motivational spirit and easy-going competition. There is little room for one-upmanship which takes the pressure off of having to excel at every given circumstance.
Sisters in Sweat, a community-centric recreational football club for women was founded in Bengaluru with 17 members in 2017. Six years later, the member count is beyond 4,000 – all women aligned by a common love for sports. “Sisters in Sweat is forever evolving. At the core, we are a warm, welcoming and free from judgement space for women to be their sporty and daring selves. Beyond football, we have cycling events, run clubs, basketball and swimming clubs among others,” says Athmika George, one of the earliest members of Sisters in Sweat who is now a state-level A division football player. “We also have locally organised meet-ups to keep the community strong – pizza nights, karaoke sessions and festive get-togethers to name a few,” she adds.
Tagda Raho is a Bengaluru-based fitness centre with training dugouts that use traditional Indian fitness equipment to create an akhada-like atmosphere. “Gyms are lonely spaces. With workouts here, I have bid goodbye to my chronic knee pain induced by years of playing badminton. I have also developed bodily awareness through movement,” says Sreeram Gangadharan, an entrepreneur and early adopter of the Tagda Raho programme. “Being in a sandpit, soaking up the morning sunshine and challenging myself with a relaxed mindset is addictive,” Gangadharan says. While outdoor fitness may have returned in a new avatar, people continue to actively engage with virtual fitness sessions too, albeit in a blended format.
Umar Farooq, a fitness entrepreneur for over 12 years, moved his training online during the pandemic. He now manages an active community of over 200 participants who continue to do the online workouts along with fortnightly meet-ups for boot camps, community runs, treks, brunches and potlucks.
“This is a group that came together under unique circumstances. The impact of that shared connection can be pretty surreal. My clients are across the globe and through micro-communities, they get together and have a good time where they are. Though the training primarily happens online, it brings so many people together outdoors to connect authentically”, he says.
Whether online or offline, it’s clear that on the path to becoming the best versions of ourselves, incorporating fitness as a source of joy, pleasure and even friendship trumps viewing it as a chore to strike off the checklist. Maybe the adage of enjoying the process without worrying about the outcome is true after all.
Medha Rao is a brand marketer and a wellness enthusiast who believes that consistency is the only reliable life hack there is.