What Fitness Means To The New Man
What Fitness Means To The New Man

Gone are the days when the word ‘workout’ evoked the sounds of weights slamming down, guttural cries and fumes of toxic masculinity. Nowadays, a workout does not just work your muscles, but your mind, body and soul

When 22-year-old state powerlifting champion Piyush (name changed) walked into Radhika’s Balanced Body, he might have done so on an orthopedic doctor’s advice. “He had injured his back so badly that he could barely sit or stand still,” says founder Radhika Karle. But after twelve sessions with Radhika’s team, he’s back to training and has since then overcome his skepticism about the form of exercise. Piyush, like many other men, is turning to a more comprehensive form of exercise that goes beyond physical and aesthetic forms.


Karle noticed the renewed interest in Pilates from men after the pandemic. “It served as a wake-up call. People had more time on their hands to exercise. Stress levels and anxiety levels were at an all-time high. Men started reaching out to our studio for better mobility, but discovered that Pilates, with its mind-body connection, was great for stress, anxiety, and even depression,” says Karle.



As A Whole


The eponymous founder of Luke Coutinho Holistic Healing Systems or LCHHS, who practices in the field of Holistic Nutrition – Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine, is another proponent of training one’s mind as well as the body. “It is an approach many men are turning to”, says Coutinho. “Men are turning towards a more holistic approach because they are realizing that just focusing on the physical aspect is counterproductive. Fitness is not just about having a great body but also about your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. How you sleep, your quality of life… all of it is an important factor.”


Coutinho’s holistic integrated approach looks at not just “what one may want which can be cosmetic goals like wanting six-pack abs or size zero figure but what one’s body needs.’  Coutinho uses a combination of strength training, cardiovascular exercises, mobility, flexibility, mental and emotional exercises, and breath work like pranayama for his clients’ wellness. ‘It also looks at things like rest and recovery. Instead of beating up your body with exercise maybe you need rest,” he says.


But what prompts this turn beyond the cosmetic? Coutinho feels perhaps more people are looking inwards. “I think more people are realizing that there is more to life than getting a great body… what about your mind, heart, and relationships? What is your contribution to the world? The holistic way of fitness looks at that. It is understanding that from 25 to 75 your body will change and you should be able to face that and still have a great quality of life,” he says.


It’s a thought that Karle echoes. One of her clients is 70-year-old filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra. “He came in with a bad back and an ankle injury. So, we started with small movements then, and now, he can do a lot more on the [Pilates] reformer and you would not guess that he is 70. He says ‘I want to make films till I’m 90 and you’re my ticket to that.’ It’s a testament to the fact that age can be just a number with the right practice.”


This is a common arc for most men who turn to Pilates says Karle. Because Pilates is a form of movement invented by a man for men for rehabilitative purposes most come in to heal injuries or for better mobility. But they stay on realising that it makes a superb complement to other exercises be it strength training, running and what have you,” she says.



From Strength To Strength


To be fit in reality instead of just on the surface is in line with currently-evolving ideas of fitness. “The bodybuilder performing on stage is probably the least fit version of himself. He has not had water properly in the last two days. He has cut down on carbs and salts. His brain isn’t functioning properly. So, I would say most people are realizing that that look with the six-pack abs and the huge physique is just on the surface and not sustainable,” says callisthenics coach and founder of All India Strength Wars, Rajan Sharma.


Flexibility, balance, and the ease of being able to work out without machines are what make it so popular. The term ‘callisthenics’ comes from the Greek words kállos meaning beauty and sthenos or strength. The practice was even recorded in ancient Greek texts, referencing the armies of Alexander the Great and the Spartans. “This may explain why there was a resurgence in the form of exercise after the film 300 came out,” suggests strength and conditioning coach Ranadeep Moitra who has made it his mantra to promote functional fitness for twenty years.   “The whole warrior-like leaner look became popular.”


Another aspect that makes a sport like calisthenics more attractive than good old weight lifting is the sheer scale and variety of movements. “In a regular gym, you are lifting 10 kgs now and you lift 12.5 kg two weeks later but what is the end goal in sight? Here it is a challenge to be able to do a handstand or a pull-up and every little bit of progress makes gives one a sense of accomplishment,” says Sharma.



Age Old Wisdom


Closer to home, there has always been a practice that is inherently holistic – the practice of yoga. And though always been popular through the ages and with genders there is interest from men who are turning to yoga for their emotional and mental well-being. Raveena Taurani, founder of vegan café Yogisattva has been seeing an upturn in interest from men in her Soulful Sunday property where celebrity fitness specialists like Anshuka Parwani or Yasmin Karachiwala host sessions. “I think these days I see more and more men who find value in taking a Sunday evening and spending time on the yoga mat to reconnect and recharge themselves,” says Taurani.



Another reason she suggests why men are turning to gentler healing forms of exercise is a change in mindset. “I think because of the democratization of content the definition of what is “ideal” is no longer controlled by the movies. Because content be it OTTs or social media has so many avenues there is acceptance for all kinds of bodies,” she says.

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