The fitness mantra of Sohrab Khushrushahi
The lawyer-turned-fitness coach talks about his firm’s popular at-home workouts during lockdown, as well as his own fitness motivations
Sohrab Khushrushahi was at the Four Seasons hotel in Mumbai in January when he happened to run into some former colleagues. The lawyers, dressed in their power suits, and Khushrushahi, in his sweatshirt and track pants, exchanged smiles that turned into laughter when they considered the contrast in appearances.
The 37-year-old, who quit his career as a corporate lawyer less than three years ago, finds some joy in reliving that memory. He is happy he does not have to shave every day, keep his hair neatly trimmed or wear a suit to work. For the founder of fitness firm SOHFIT, sweat is a proud and literal symbol of hard work.
Started in October 2017, SOHFIT’s popularity has got a fillip in recent months. The pandemic-induced lockdown has forced people indoors—and looking online for fitness options. So while gyms are struggling to stay afloat, fitness startups and digital programmes, like the ones SOHFIT offers, have seen a surge.
SOHFIT’s popular 40-day fitness challenge (users get a curated workout and nutrition guide for this period) also got a boost after actor Alia Bhatt endorsed it. Planned as a programme that would be conducted four-five times through the year, it has had four runs in three months. Once the lockdown was announced, the challenge was revamped, so it could be done from home instead of a gym, he says. The 300-400 candidates it used to get has grown to thousands—with a long wait list for the next 40-day challenge.
The numbers, the attention and the popularity are the culmination of a daring dive into the unknown that Khushrushahi took when he gave up the bar for a barbell.
He has been interested in fitness from the time he first stepped on to a cricket field as a 10-year-old. In school, when asked about his career ambitions, he never wavered: cricket or law. When cricket didn’t work out, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his mother, Armaity Khushrushahi, who is a matrimonial lawyer.
But for many years he had been conflicted—law was not as satisfying as he had hoped it would be. The time he needed to put in, and the unrealistic client expectations, were sapping. He had worked for over a decade and a half with prestigious law firms likeAmarchand Mangaldas, and Linklaters in Singapore, and was in line to be made partner at Trilegal.
Switching careers was not simple, with doubts about financial independence and fear of the unknown. “I will always remember what Ajay (Piramal, chairman of Piramal Group) uncle told me: The path with the most risk is the most rewarding," says Khushrushahi. “He also said I need to burn the bridge with the practice of law. If I have that as backup, I would not be successful (in the new venture) because I would have a safety net."
Having helped a friend reach her fitness goals in the meantime gave him the impetus to shed the black robe. “You have to be passionate about training others, not just yourself," he says over a Zoom call. “Can you manage their expectations, their frustrations…it takes a massive toll on you, dealing with others’ feelings, especially now when people’s emotions are off the charts because of the pandemic."
People close to him supported him, though they did not understand why he would quit a lucrative career in law to become a trainer. Khushrushahi explains that “trainer" is a generic term used for everyone who assists in a gym, though what he wanted to be was a coach, overseeing the complete well-being of a client.
To prepare for his new vocation, Khushrushahi worked with or followed people he admires, like physical therapist Kelly Starrett, functional exercise coach Joseph Sakoda aka Da Rulk and “movement" trainer Ido Portal, before forming his own fitness philosophy. He stresses the need to enjoy whatever one does to become fit. “I feel people complicate fitness too much. It’s simple: Fitness is not (about) a six-pack. That’s vanity. My thing is to make people fall in love with training. People with similar interests working in the same direction should have a bond, get together as a community.
“It’s not about how many burpees or push-ups you do. Fitness is the ability to move, to do things you want to do without second-guessing," says Khushrushahi, whose team includes five coaches. “I got my first recognition in 2019 when I won Vogue’s award for fitness person of the year," he recalls when asked about his career turning point. “I had never won an award in life. That’s when I felt I may be in the right space. Made me feel confident about what I was doing."
“Sohrab is brilliant, always adding new aspects with a holistic, well-rounded approach," says Mustafa Ghouse, former Davis Cup tennis player and chief executive of JSW Sports Pvt. Ltd. Ghouse, who has completed SOHFIT’s 40-day challenge and other programmes, adds: “He is hands on and emotionally invested in groups. That personal touch helps. It kept us focused and the fun part is that a bunch of us were doing it (together)."
Khushrushahi believes 15 minutes of exercise a day six days a week is better than one hour on one day and nothing for four days after. “It’s more than the time spent in a gym, which is at the most 6 hours a week? The other 160 hours are way more important. You have to eat right, sleep well, be happy—all add up to make you what you want to be."
The biggest reason people work out, he says, is to lose weight. They look at film stars, models and social media to set unrealistic expectations for themselves. “There is supplementation and photoshopping…there is a lot going on behind what you see as that perfect body. People don’t realize that. As someone spending 12-16 hours a day working, you don’t have the time they do for recovery and rest. Maybe you don’t have the resources they have. Be realistic about what you are aiming for.
“Fitness is not just (working out) an hour in the day, or killing yourself every day, saying I can’t move any more. That’s not you getting fit—that’s just you getting better at suffering," says Khushrushahi. Amid all the squats and lunges, his own ambition is fairly simple. “When my son is 15 and I am 50," he says, “I should be able to play cricket with him when he wants to. And I should be able to kick his ass."