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Make fitness a family habit

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Aminder Singh, now Master Trainer with Anytime Fitness in New Delhi, worked in the late 1990s to make his dreams come true, and  gave shape to a career in fitness, when he became a certified Personal Trainer from the International Sports Science Association, USA. He was a Master Trainer with Fitline, is an Associate Trainer for Cybex International, and a fitness consultant to the Delhi Police.

He also realised his dream of competitive bodybuilding by bagging the Mr. India crown in the year 2000. But his heart is in fitness and health, as is evident in this tete-a-tete with bodyLIFE-India. Excerpts:

Q: Let us begin with bodybuilding. What is it really? Why the taint associated with it?
Basically there is no difference between bodybuilding and fitness training: the muscles are the same; the training movements are the same. It is only a difference in approach. But a well-sculpted body is not necessarily a strong one that is capable of optimum performance.

In recent times Indian celebrities have begun flaunting six-pack abs, bulging biceps and chest muscles. This has, obviously, led to a trend where people want similar shapes and muscles to flaunt. Youngsters – now even middle-aged men and women –  want to copy the “looks”, whatever the method or cost, and fast!

Since that is the overwhelming demand, gyms and trainers succumb to it and resort to steroids to help bulk up muscle. All steroids are bad and banned. But it takes an experienced and educated trainer and gym owner to realise what is good for his/her clients and what is not.

Someone headed for competitive sports should take it under guidance and appropriate dose, in consultation with a specialist doctor.

A body built on steroids is good to look at; but not really as strong or capable of physical performance. The moment the client goes off steroids, his/her artificially acquired muscles begin to break down. Moreover, there are several side-effects of using steroids, not all of which are adequately understood.

Q: What about cinema stars who acquire brawn or melt away fat, seemingly overnight?
Not everybody realises that such bodies can be sculpted even naturally, but only with great personal determination, considerable physical and mental effort, and after investing precious time to achieve that goal. As far as cinema stars go, it is about their business. Certain physical attributes and attitudes are required in the roles they play; and to meet those demands some of them probably resort to short-cuts.

But one must understand an important aspect of celebrity looks: actors/actresses take a risk with their bodies because of the money involved in their profession. For them it is a business decision: whether or not to bulk up or lose weight, within months, for a particular role they have signed up to play in a movie or a play. The rest of us don’t have such compulsions, do we?

A body built on steroids is good to look at, but not really as strong or capable of physical performance. The moment the client goes off steroids, his/her artificially acquired muscles begin to break down. Moreover, there are several side-effects of using steroids, not all of which are adequately understood.

Q: Why the persistent doubts about ‘supplements’, as far as nutrition is concerned?
Good fitness needs good nutrition, and our normal nutrition regimes are not sufficient to cater to the needs of bodies that are undergoing regular and extended exercises. That is where supplements come in, because they supply to the body what we cannot absorb in the normal course of our diets. There should be no doubt about such a simple concept.

Q: But there are differences in opinion, which confuse not only fitness enthusiasts but also trainers and gym managers.
The reason partly lies in the fact that trainers, nutritionists, dieticians and doctors understand the concept differently, to suit their needs! Dieticians and nutritionists are primarily concerned with weight loss of their clients; so the macro view of ‘nutrition’ and ‘supplement’ is buried in their preoccupation with thinning.

Doctors, on the other hand, are interested in their clients recovering from an ailment or deficiency. Some even advise on “full rest” and, even after recovery, against any type of exercise! In such a confusing state of affairs, even well-educated trainers and sports nutritionists end up fighting for the trust of ‘Doubting Thomases’ within the industry (gym owners and managers) and outside (clients and doctors).

Q: We spoke about well-sculpted bodies before. How important are they among trainers in a gym?
Oh, beware of the all-too-familiar trap! A good bodybuilder need not necessarily make a good trainer. It is still possible for a good trainer to be a good bodybuilder, though. Tell me: what use is a hulk lurking behind a row of training machines if he cannot communicate with the gym’s clients? If nothing, he could be intimidating to a gym’s clientele, especially newcomers!

An educated trainer, on the other hand, is what your clients would like to interact with: they need knowledge of their fitness levels, guidance to achieve their goals and monitoring of their fitness routines by an expert. I keep telling all young coaches and instructors: education creates wisdom, not mere good physique.

Q: What are the attributes of a good trainer?
Most clients are more intelligent than their trainers. And in this age of the Internet, they are getting more knowledgeable about fitness too! The trainer has to be a step ahead of his clients. I don’t mean it as a game of one-upmanship: a trainer needs to earn his/her clients’ trust and confidence by clearing doubts, removing misconceptions, empathising with client’s real problems, and devising realistic fitness programmes to meet their goals.

Apart from education, communication skill is an important tool that is generally neglected. I get to hire young instructors who have similar certifications and more-or-less the same experience – or the lack of it! What I look for is the youngster’s ability to connect with the client, convince him/her about a fitness programme and monitor it to minimise injury and maximise results.

Q: How is the training scene in Indian gyms?
It is not a bed of roses in reality. There are rare exceptions, but by and large it is matriculates (Standard X pass) with some interest in sports that want to become trainers. How much of anatomy, nutrition, bio-mechanics, fitness training, business communication or gym administration will boys/girls with that level of education understand? There are limits to what they can comprehend.

Q: What is the career path like for trainers in the fitness industry?
A career in fitness is self-education in perpetuity. New research and discoveries in body sciences give rise to new technologies, ongoing research uncovers newer aspects of the human body and working of the mind. A trainer is expected to keep himself/herself on top of all these. With experience, there are avenues in fitness programming and management for gym chains, or consultancy for those requiring your expertise in your chosen field.

Q: Marathons are becoming something of a craze in recent years. Many people join gyms with the aim of completing a marathon one day. What is your take on it?
I have nothing personal against sporting events. But because we in the fitness industry advise, guide and help such clients reach their goals, we must be clear about marathons. It is true that corporate support and promotion of the 42-km run has made it popular, and many people aspire to achieve at least one successful attempt.

But we must remember that it calls for extreme endurance and repetitive muscle-and-joint action, which is not ideal for overall body health. The long distance tends to burn up muscle, so that the body is supplied with energy. Ever notice that long-distance runners have a “lean” look? That doesn’t necessarily mean a “healthy” body! The repetitive pounding of the legs and heels is not a balanced method of exercise either, and such action makes the body prone to injuries.

A sprint, on the other hand, tests an athlete’s body performance far more effectively. That is why it is the star attraction of athletic events too! Certainly events such as triathlons and other combinations are better suited to test one’s overall body performance.

Q: What can the fitness industry do to change the lethargic attitude of the Indian population towards staying healthy?
This role is especially important to trainers and the sales department of any fitness studio or chain of health centres. As a family we plan vacations, go on picnics or the movies. Why not go regularly to a gym? Exercising is not only about perspiration: it is healthy recreation too!

Because trainers interact with their clients most intimately, and because clients look up to them, trainers must impress on all and sundry that – especially after the age of 40 – it is necessary to exercise regularly in order to keep the body’s muscle mass from breaking down and to keep the bones and joints in good working condition.
I strongly feel that if families take to regular exercising and gymming, in the next 5 years the Indian fitness scenario will be like the information technology industry: booming!



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