It was while doing a 240kg squat that Praveen Mahadeo Sakpal, then 26, realized he was in trouble. The Central Railway clerk and competitive bodybuilder was used to pushing his impressive muscles for that extra edge which gets the judges’ approval. But that muscle tear in 2002 ended Sakpal’s bodybuilding career.
Today, Sakpal knows what went wrong. “I was training for 6 hours a day and my diet was not balanced. I was just winning every competition I entered and it was like nasha (intoxication),” says Sakpal, who now trains prospective bodybuilders at the Gurudas Gym in Dharavi, Mumbai.
Pump up: Rajesh Desai, MD of Pro-Fit Functional Fitness Centre in Mumbai, supervises a client’s routine. Kedar Bhat/Mint
Sakpal may have been a victim of a professional hazard, but he is also an example of the dangers lurking behind that extra benchpress every person aims for. Fitness experts say a combination of ignorance about training methods, over-exercise, improper diet and the need for quick results leads to injuries and health problems that people do not foresee.
While a majority of newly fitness-conscious urban Indians are chasing lower pulse rates, there is a minority that’s pursuing a physique rather than fitness. The consequence of the need to get that six-pack—an annoying and misleading modern synonym for a good body—is also forcing an impatient generation to search for instant results. More workouts, more protein shakes and steroids without the right amount of rest and adequate diet is resulting in hair loss, liver damage and digestive breakdowns, apart from injuries such as lower back disc compression, sacroiliac joint injuries (to the side lower back), spondylitis, shin splits and joint aches.
Despite an increasing number of fitness centres and innovations in workouts, fitness experts say young people today are treading a path of aspiration—to build an image through physique, rather than necessarily getting fit. Fuelled often by film stars and glamour, this clamour for the six-pack is backbreaking in more ways than one.
“Looking good is a major criterion now,” says Paul Britto, a trainer at Gold’s Gym in Bandra, Mumbai. “You can get fit jogging a mile, but looking good is difficult,” he says, adding that men typically seek bigger biceps and flatter abs, while women are mostly traumatized by their hips, thighs and, of course, waist.
Britto should know: The centre he works in is popular among Bandra-residing film actors such as John Abraham and Dino Morea. Actors and models, trainers say, are not the only people chasing that good-looking body, they are also driving dreams among young people.
“Whoever comes here has Salman Khan or Bipasha Basu as their idol,” says Rajesh Desai, managing director of Pro-Fit Functional Fitness Centre in Kandivali. “Everyone’s interested in lazy fitness.”
This body obsession is a double-edged sword: Sakpal says that if Khan drives a craze for fitness, it’s for the better, but there is a warning. “People see American magazines and want to follow Arnold’s (Schwarzenegger) routine. But it just does not work that way. Movie stars get paid to look the way they do,” says Aijaz Ashai, head of department, advanced physiotherapy and sport rehabilitation, Saifee Hospital, Mumbai.
Actor Imran Khan agrees: “It’s an occupational hazard; we are paid for this.” Khan unbuttoned his shirt for photographs and his latest release I Hate Luv Storys, and had to cultivate a certain look that was felt to be necessary for the role. He says Bollywood merely represents a society that’s increasingly “looks conscious”. “If you are in the movie business, for better or worse, the audience expects you to be attractive. It’s not about vanity, it just appears so in the media,” says Khan, whose fitness regime is “functional”. He adds that he might adjust his body to meet the demands of his role but would “not advice others to”.
The Bollywood formula can lead to a skewed impression of what a good body is and why actors look the way they do. For instance, Qazi Touqeer, winner of a singing reality competition five years ago, was a “super thin” 50kg then; today, he poses in the mandatory tight T-shirts on tabloid covers ahead of the release of his film Take Off. “You can get rejected because of your looks,” he says. Even if Touqeer and his physio, Dr Ashai, say he has done it the right way, there are several who do not.
Leena Mogre, a director at Leena Mogre’s Fitness, Mumbai, talks of this wannabe pressure that drives people to supplements, artificial energizers and overwork, a “vicious cycle” which results in kidney and liver damage and sleep disorders. Mogre gives the examples of women who want to be models: “They become like sticks, thin, with flat stomachs, through dieting. But they are not fit.”
“People keep talking about this six-pack but it’s impossible to maintain through the year. Professional bodybuilders have a system for it, a routine; when off-competition, they eat pizzas and ice cream to replenish the body with nutrients denied during competition. If you keep that six-pack routine for 12 months, it’s highly dangerous,” says Mogre.
She naturally does not support the short cut to a bigger body. “You see so many of them with big biceps and broad shoulders but then they would not have a butt or the legs.”
Experts in the field advise caution—they say a person should go to competent specialists to get their complete workout and diet routines based on their age and fitness levels. Mogre even does a psychological analysis before giving someone a routine. “If you are under stress, we prescribe kickboxing,” she gives an example.
“When you are doing squats, you are adding a pressure that’s eight times your body weight,” says Dr Ashai. “If you use a 10kg weight, the stress is multiplied a hundred times. So you have to be sure your muscles are capable of handling this.”
There is unanimity on one point, though—if you get fit, you will naturally look good.