Taapsee Pannu has always put fitness on top of her to-do list. And, the year of the pandemic just reaffirmed her priority. Last year, the actor tested positive for Covid-19, got operated for varicose veins, suffered a “nerve-wracking” injury while on a shoot and dealt with her sensitivity to dairy products. This year, as she prepares for the release of Rashmi Rocket, Pannu realises that fitness is by no means achieved easily. “It needs exceptionally hard work,” she says. But when one does experience good health, there is no better feeling than that, she adds. And, Pannu’s fitness journey is for all to see. She has regularly posted about her workouts and diet on social media. Her advice to her fans: Work out in the simplest manner using your own weight and prioritise fitness and complete wellbeing over anything else.
This also seems to be the fitness motto for 2021. The pandemic helped us realise that we can work out anywhere and can find time to stretch no matter how busy life gets. “Theoretically, everybody knew this already, but the pandemic made people actually start doing it,” says Namrata Purohit, founder of The Pilates Studio who has trained celebrities like Kareena Kapoor Khan, Malaika Arora and Janhvi Kapoor.
Trainers, gyms and studio spaces, too, are responding to the changing needs and times. “There is no hesitance whatsoever to come to the studio now,” says Purohit, “because the group sizes are smaller, limited to two or three at a time, sessions are more personal with one machine for one student, and hygiene levels have gone up several notches.” An interesting and exciting shift in the new decade will come from the way social media is being leveraged to inspire and motivate the community to get fitter together. With celebrities flaunting their daily exercise regimen and nutritional intake online, the fitness culture on social media is going viral and how, with millions of posts, hashtags and recurring challenges surrounding planks, squats, weights, push-ups and yoga poses. When Pannu shared stories of her transformation journey for Rashmi Rocket on Instagram, she received an average of four lakh likes and close to a thousand comments. “It was literally a war we were fighting,” writes Pannu, who plays an athlete in the film. “Every day, every minute, against my physical limitations, against Covid and against the injury I contracted....” She had physiotherapy sessions to ensure that fatigue did not set in because of all the work that she was putting in. “Fortunately for me, I had done athletics in school so I could pick up the technique part of it,” she says. But the challenge was to go to the gym for weight training. That was a first for her. Also, she had injured her knee earlier while playing squash. “In athletics, it is mostly about building muscular legs. You have to lift the weights with your legs,” she says. “So I slowly and steadily started increasing the weights from the very basic to eventually lifting over 200-250kg. I honestly never thought I could but I did it with the support of my trainers.”
Braving the morning cold in January, Pannu would wake up at 5am to train outdoors. The only motivation to do so, she says, was “the money invested by a bunch of people in me and the people whose only job is to train me for those two hours”. The determination and focus that Pannu showed in her transformation journey and in her daily fitness routine is the kind of enthusiasm that will be seen in 2021, says gym trainer Shreyas Vinayak. “People now are getting serious about fitness more than ever,” he says. Experts believe that the trend will largely go back to the “most basic workouts with minimal requirements and maximum output”. Strengthening the cardio-respiratory system, boosting immunity and attaining an ideal body weight have become a priority in a pandemic-stricken world, says Vinayak.
As many people return to office after months of working from home, there are fears of a full-time desk job wreaking havoc on one’s body, especially when it comes to posture, flexibility and mobility. Purohit believes that the desperation to get healthier has led people to take simple steps to keep their body nimble even at work. Using simple equipment such as a foot peddler, ankle weights, a stability ball, mini exercise bands or a balance board can help. “People know that doing a couple of stretches intermittently across a 10-hour shift can help their body immensely. It is only now that that knowledge is being taken more seriously,” says Purohit. “I know a friend who uses a Swiss ball as a chair in office so that the posture remains right at all times.”
The notion that one would rather work with one's body weight (calisthenics) in the absence of resources than not work out at all has gained tremendous popularity, says Dr Debraj Shome, senior cosmetic surgeon and director,
The Esthetic Clinics. His friends call him a “maverick fitness enthusiast” who would be willing to hit the road for a long run even at midnight post surgery. “If one struggles to lift one's own body weight, what is the point of visiting a gym to lift additional external weight?” asks Shome. “That too, with the Covid scare. Who wants to take the risk anyway?”
With a hectic routine that demands 16 hours of his day with barely five hours for sleep, Shome makes time for his daily freestyle work routine at home. He has installed some basic equipment at home, like a pull-up bar drilled in his doorway, a dip rod that he purchased online at a minimal cost, and pulleys harnessed to the ceiling that allow him to move his body freely. Though this was a break from his pre-pandemic workout routine, which involved daily sessions of swimming and squash, he took to a regimen of pull-ups, push-ups and high interval intensity training, or HIIT, at home. These workouts boost metabolism and strength in a much shorter time. “Essentially, using household items such as stacks of books instead of kettlebells, using bottles of water in place of weights and other such readily available household items at a time when no fancy equipment is available is also catching on very fast,” says Vinayak. “Simple, easy-to-do, no-frills and no-cost workout is the way to go.”
Charusheela Apsangikar, an anaesthetist, was first introduced to running by a friend when she was 50. Four years later, she completed a half Ironman challenge. Her outdoor spirit was bound home owing to the pandemic. But the fitness junkie in her did not give up and she began attending virtual classes with her peers. Thrice a week, her mornings would be spent on weight training and cardio exercises using her home bike and rope jumping. “It was a revelation,” says the 55-year-old. “The strength and conditioning which happened as a result of the online classes were remarkable. Also, with so many of us coming together for the online class, it became interesting to compete and learn.”
Tanmaya Pai, a certified Zumba instructor, moved her in-person classes to online last year and has since seen a jump in the number of people attending her classes. “The online platform gave me access to so many more people from across the country and that of course helped me build my career,” she says. “For instance, while my in-person classes have only three students at a time, there are almost 11 to 12 in an online class and nobody has to bother about masks and maintaining a distance.” Calisthenics, power yoga, belly dancing, Pilates, Zumba, yoga, weight training, box-aerobics, bollybics (Bollywood dance cardio exercises), kettlebell workouts and more are finding takers online, given the convenience of space, time and safety.
Nothing beats a good run in the park in one's neighbourhood, and that will in all likelihood stay as we move into a new decade, say experts. “The joy of an outdoor workout, be it walking, jogging, running or cycling, is unparalleled,” says Daniel Vaz, triathlon trainer and an Ironman himself. Vaz has been conducting runs in Mumbai's Sanjay Gandhi National Park for years. When the pandemic hit, he had to take his sessions on endurance fitness online. But now he and his team are back on the road.
Sheetal Vohra, a resident of Mumbai's Five Gardens, swears by her neighbourhood running club that has resumed its “short sprints and long runs” every morning and evening after a six-month hiatus. “I think running will never go out of fashion,” says Vohra. “I am not ready to trade fresh air and natural environs for the closed indoors of a gym. I would brisk walk inside the building compound when the lockdown was in force. But now that we are allowed to go out, who would not want to enjoy a good game of badminton or tennis in the open? The chances of infection transmission are lesser as compared to a closed badminton court.”
Vidya Pathak, 52, recently joined the volleyball club near her home which already has 10 women members. “It just feels great to bond with other women of my age group, coming together to play volleyball,” she says.
Fitness apps and wearable technology are increasingly becoming popular, given that one can track one's workout in real time with all the essential vitals in place. “It is hard to find a single runner without a tech-watch that keeps him or her informed of the vitals as they run in real time,” says Vaz. “It is just so much easier and cooler to know how you are performing as you go along.”
Take, for instance, the StepSetGo app that rewards users for walking. Launched in January 2019, with over seven million registered users, the app takes into consideration the number of steps the user has taken and rewards with coins that can be redeemed through its bazaar section. The TREAD app, on the other hand, allows users to create their own schedules and ensures uninterrupted fitness training at home or on the road, promising that the user will burn 400 to 800 calories per class.
Mental health rarely finds a mention in fitness talk. However, the pandemic changed that. There has reportedly been a surge in telemedicine services for mental health consultations in India. “Online consultations have made more people realise that you can seek help from the comfort of your home,” says Dr Avinash Desousa, a psychiatrist from Mumbai. “We are seeing increasing consultations from tier II and III cities, which is proof that much of the stigma associated with seeking help has gone down. Depression, anxiety and aggressive tendencies are now being reported [more often].” One of the most interesting aspects is the use of technology in the area of mental health. “Wearable devices now share alerts to remind one to stop and breathe when one's heart rate is up. I think this is huge,” he says.
Breathing and eating right
Yoga continues to remain the most popular form of workout, says Eefa Shroff, a yoga instructor who was in the news recently for training actor Anushka Sharma during her pregnancy. “Yoga is the way to go because it is something that can be done at home and does not require fancy equipment. It can also be learnt via online training,” says Shroff.
She calls herself the 'fitness chef', a term she coined to explain how she tries to bring together “healthy and nutritious and wholesome food for those seeking full-body fitness”. There is no point in following fad diets anymore, she says, because one cannot really stick to them forever. “Vegetarianism is going to be bigger than ever before because people anyway went off meat during the first half of last year, owing to the paranoia associated with Covid-19. That is sort of continuing. Ancient grains such as ragi and sattvic food, too, will gain popularity, all because people now want to go back to their roots and to the food they grew up eating,” says Shroff. “So those who turned vegetarian last year may not go back to eating meat and those who will, will do so in limit.”But the pandemic also saw immunity boosting food sell like hot cakes. Nutritionist Ankita Ghag cites examples of what she calls “strange products” lined up on the shelves of departmental stores—from immunity tea, tablets and drops for women to gummies and even ice creams. But as Pannu says on her Instagram post, “A healthy gut is the foundation of great fitness.” She writes about a time when she was “really sensitive to dairy”. “The Punjabi in me loved dahi and lassi but I kept avoiding them for a long time....” A holistic approach helped her. “In a few months, my gut health had restored,” she writes. “Today my diet for Rashmi Rocket consists not only of ghee, curd, buttermilk but both my protein shakes (whey and casein) are dairy based, too!”
Eat, train and love your body could very well be the fitness mantra for 2021.