It may be easier to follow the crowd than lead sometimes but the science and methodology behind different fitness approaches is key to attaining the optimum means for a healthy lifestyle. This is probably why fitness boot camps are often seen as a one-stop solution to shedding those extra pounds, with many forgetting the key ingredient: sustainability.
Karachi was hit fast and hard in April 2013 when the 42 Day Challenge initiated Plan Overhaul. One look at their marketing strategy on Facebook, tight lean abs and the promise to make change inevitable, and they had people hooked. What started out as a fad became a trend. Others followed their lead soon after and more boot camps propped up, different classes at fitness studios made an appearance on the previously less diverse schedules; people had something to look forward to, besides the promise of the never-ending eateries in the city and the occasional movie at the cinema.
Karachi is as fad-conscious as they come, so a ‘quick dedicated fix’ to its fat problems and the promise of a body as toned as the next superstar had residents it queuing up for the registration lines. Plans were changed, meet-ups were cancelled and rendezvouses ignored as people rushed from their homes or offices to get to the Moin Khan Academy or the Pavillion End Club in Gulshan-e-Iqbal for a 45-minute intense workout in the evenings. Similar boot camps are now making inroads to other cities like Lahore.
“Everyone was talking about it; so, my friends and I decided to give it a try,” says Husna Azad Nosherwani, a former participant of the 42 Day Challenge. “Open skies and working out with people you knew was motivating. The only downside to the boot camp was that there were way too many people so if you weren’t loud enough, there were more chances of you doing the wrong pose and no one correcting you.”
According to Nosherwani, the meal plans they were given were easy to follow as they had your usual every day food. But, like her, another participant and winner of the boot camp, Ali Kanch, believes there were too many meals that needed to be eaten so it was not always possible to follow the meal plan due to busy work schedules.
Pick your battleFor everyone, even other fitness experts, the 42 Day Challenge was a benchmark of sorts; a benchmark of meeting people’s expectations and delivering results. But the hardest thing to do is to ensure their sustainability. That’s where the problem lies for those aiming for a certain body type. That’s when you know you cannot be looking at fitness as just a fad, or something that can be achieved over an X number of weeks — it has to come from within and it has to aim for the long run. As they say, ‘fitness is a journey, not a destination’.
“Just remember, we all started somewhere. None of us were born this way, lifting weights and doing the crow pose,” says Aqil Amin Sattar of AQ Power Yoga, which started back in 2009. According to Sattar, who is known as AQ, these programmes can be pretty intense but he believes they are a great way to kick-start one’s journey to a healthier lifestyle.
“As long as you’re in good health, you can go through a boot camp for a better core, to increase your strength, endurance and flexibility. That is what we teach,” he says regarding his own boot camp, which is a five-week programme comprising of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and power yoga. Sattar does not believe in taking hundreds of people in one go and instead divides the number of participants in different sessions so that everyone gets the personalised attention they deserve.
It is the attention people seek that keeps them motivated besides the results. Mehak Taherani, co-founder of a newly-established fitness studio called MUV and a certified personal trainer, affirms this stance. She says she noticed that people really wanted to be told what to do; they wanted to be corrected, they wanted to learn teaching points for each position. “If you don’t even know how to squat, you need to find a place that can properly guide you,” says Taherani. “People don’t take out time to properly educate themselves. When they sign up for a boot camp they think ‘yeah yeah we’ll manage’. But there’s just so much risk of injury if you do a move incorrectly that you cannot afford to have a laid-back attitude.”Faruque Faruque, a trainer at Studio X, which was founded 12 years ago, believes boot camps are all the rage now, especially since the 42 Day Challenge made an appearance and got even the laziest of the lot interested. “We got so many requests from our clients that we had to start it,” says the certified health coach regarding their boot camp, which began in November last year. “People want to sweat and say ‘oh wow that was insane’. The women who come to us have one motivation: losing weight.”
Mix and match:
It is human nature to get bored of the same thing over time, especially for the modern man constantly in search of stimulation. “Recently, I’ve felt that people want to learn a skill; they’ve been in tune with the concept of learning since school and then continued it during university and then their jobs,” says Taherani. “So, bearing this in mind, our kickboxing classes have gotten a great response and even people who work long hours have started taking time out for them,” she added.
Even the good old-fashioned cardio classes need their variations and for Faruque, introducing their latest spin class was just the pick of pace they were trying to give their clients. “People are afraid to try out new things. Spinning doesn’t just mean peddling away for 45 minutes. You work your upper body and core as much as your legs by doing push ups and crunches and lifting light weights, while continuously working your legs whether it’s on the saddle or off it,” says Faruque. The young trainer added that group exercises were a great motivation for sustainability. “When you are working together towards a certain goal, the more intense your workout will be and the better results you’ll see.”According to Taherani, men too have become more accepting of power yoga; it is as tough an exercise as any other and no one is a better example of this than AQ himself who has established his institute based on this concept of fitness.
It is your body intelligence that guides you to open up to the concept of weightlifting; the strength of mind that tells you to motivate yourself for each rep. According to Faruque, most women, even those who are more educated in the fitness industry and know that lifting weights does not make them ‘big’, are reluctant to join. “A lot of women who come to us say they just want to lose weight and refuse to listen to us or even educate themselves from online material which clearly states that it is impossible for them to bulk up,” she says. Those who even picked up weights stuck to just 1kg, despite having the ability to lift more, out of fear, she adds. Faruque further explains that women need to understand that their hormones will not allow them to become heavy, men have to put on more weight and then lean down with sufficient protein in their diet to achieve a ‘muscular body type’. AQ reiterates the fact. “When you’re looking to lose weight, weight training will help burn the fat.”
The science behind getting the right body is a battle fought and lost by many.“We promote meal plans under the banner of Flexible Dieting at MUV,” says Taherani. “We believe that for you to reach your goals, either performance or aesthetics related, you need to be aware of what your macro split is: how much protein grammes, how many carbs and fat grammes you should be getting in a day to lose body fat rather than lose weight. Any crash diet you do promotes a caloric deficit and to sustain the results, you need to lose body fat.”
According to Taherani, 20% of your day’s intake can be from anything you want as long you’re fitting it in your macros. “Sometimes I end up having a Mars ice cream bar or any other bar that I know the nutritional facts for and I try to consciously fit it in my macros.”
Faruque, like our other fitness experts, believes people are constantly trying to change their weighing scale. “I’m still the same weight I was three years ago, before I started to eat healthy, but that doesn’t matter. Losing inches is what should concern you. When you’re doing intense workouts including weight training, your scale will show you the additional pounds because of your muscles being built, not the fat that you’re losing.”
In their interviews, the fitness experts also punched hard on one fact: not all carbs are bad. You need them to sustain your workout, to give them the right intensity to achieve results. “You can substitute white rice and bread with their brown counterparts,” says Faruque. “If you end up eliminating them completely your body will crave [them]. And after a certain point, bringing them back in your daily diet will only bring the fat back and make you feel bloated.”
It is a long debate that has put the fitness industry on opposite sides. “Absolutely no! No detox,” exclaims AQ. “I believe people need to introduce salads and fruits into their diets than go on these weird detox programmes.” Taherani has similar sentiments. “Supplement your diet with these juices if you must, but do not make it your diet. Our body detoxifies on its own. Everything comes down to the math your body works with, because no one is exempt from the caloric intake laws or the caloric burning laws.”
On the opposite side of the argument, Faruque, who is also the co-founder of The Ultimate Detox, feels one has to go through the detox process to fully understand it. “It prepares your body for fat loss; it doesn’t necessarily mean you will lose weight. When I went through it myself, I could feel my skin glow and energy levels improve after the detox process.”
With the fitness industry booming in Karachi, and more people turning this into a long-standing profession, it is upon us to take charge and feed off their motivation. Sustainable fitness goals will only help keep you grounded, for the road to victory in the battle of the bulge has no shortcuts.
Mariam Gabaji is Sports editor at The Express Tribune.
She tweets @mariiiamg
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 22nd, 2015.