Every Saturday, Arpita Moitra drives down from Gurgaon to south Delhi to spend the day at her friend’s home. Much as she enjoys the company of her friend, what draws her there without fail is the large neighbourhood park—a facility she sorely misses in the concrete jungle of the Millennium City. Once the sun has set, the mid-level executive at a multinational company goes for a run in the park. Alone as she concentrates on maintaining speed, feeling the first rush of adrenalin, the cares of the week slip away. Moitra, who participated in last year’s Delhi half-marathon, runs for the joy of it. At the end of her 15 laps, her mind is clear and her body refreshed.
While many running enthusiasts will identify with the high that Moitra experiences, others, especially those running on doctor’s orders or to shed a few extra kilos, may find little pleasure in such a solitary regimen. At best, running with a friend or the spouse while swapping notes on each other’s day is more like their idea of an enjoyable workout. This “solitary versus social” debate stretches to other fitness activities as well—gymming, aerobics, yoga and meditation. We spoke to three experts and three enthusiasts to find out which model is best suited to each.
What’s your fitness mantra? Krishan Tiwari (in grey T-shirt), a personal trainer, says that for fitness activities such as aerobics, training in a group works as a motivator to better performance. Pradeep Gaur/Mint
My workout: “One-to-one is best in my opinion. I need to have eye contact with the trainer when I’m going through the motions to know if I’m doing it right. In groups, you can’t have the undivided attention of the trainer and that prompts you to take short cuts. Also, the advantage of working out alone is you don’t have to depend on other people; you’re not discouraged if they don’t turn up.”
—Sheena Jain, a gymming enthusiast
Expert advice: Ajay Kumar, director of health club Anatomy Lifestyle at Hauz Khas, New Delhi, says Indians by nature are not very enthused by the idea of exercise. “When we do work out, it’s because the doctor asked us to, or to lose weight, or some such reason. In such cases, working out in a group helps to stay motivated,” he says. The flip side is that you cannot have the trainer’s undivided attention. “Also, not all members of the group will be equally motivated,” he adds. Trainees with low enthusiasm level could act as a dampener on the more dedicated members of the group. But, Kumar says, a good trainer knows how to turn that into an advantage. “Fitness and motivation levels will vary from individual to individual. That’s a given. Instead of letting the weaker ones affect the better ones, the better ones can be used as examples and the trainer should be able to help the weaker ones pull themselves up to mark.”
The ideal solution, according to Kumar, is working out in small, select groups, say, of friends or colleagues. “I myself work out with a few friends. Individual workout sessions can get boring.” However, he hastens to add that it depends on individual needs. For example, one-on-one sessions with a personal trainer are the best option for professionals such as models and athletes, who need workout sessions tailored to the requirements of their chosen careers.
Aerobics and running
My workout: “Running is totally a mind game with yourself. I do it alone. But while training, I work out every day in a group. Aerobics, of course, can only be a group session. It is more of a fun activity and doing it alone makes no sense.”
—Kiran Chulani, an aerobics enthusiast and a regular at the Delhi marathon
Expert advice: As aerobic activities can be quite varied, ranging from running to dancing, there is more room for individuality here. For Krishan Tiwari, a personal trainer at Siri Fort Sports Complex, New Delhi, the only question that matters is the individual’s temperament and what suits him best.
Beyond that, the solitary versus social debate doesn’t have any relevance, he says. “If somebody is a loner and you put him in a group to work out he might feel shy and awkward and wouldn’t be able to relax. It would not serve his purpose,” he says.
It also depends on the activity. “Say, running. It is mostly a solitary activity. You set your own goals and try to achieve them,” he says, but adds, “though, if you are a serious runner, it could help while training for a run to work in a group.”
However, he believes that most aerobics are designed for groups. “(An) aerobics (class) is a fun activity, incorporating elements from dance, freehand, kick-boxing, etc. It’s meant to be enjoyed in a group. You can’t really do it well or enjoy it just by yourself.”
Yoga and meditation
My workout: “I practise (yoga) alone with my trainer at home. That suits my schedule, since there aren’t too many good yoga centres near my home and I don’t have the time to go too far. And I’m happy with the results. But if I had an option, I’d definitely join a group; of course, it has to be a group of like-minded people. Yoga, unlike sport, is non-competitive. Unless you’re a huge yoga fan and the very thought of a session gets you up and going, you miss the interactive nature of sport. For people like me, it tends to get boring if you are doing it alone. I’d love to have some friends to work out with me, but given our hectic and individualistic routines, that’s not always feasible.”
—Santanu Ghatak, a yoga enthusiast
Expert advice: Maya Rao, a Mumbai-based yoga instructor and Business of Life columnist, says yoga is a process of self-discovery. “Whether you are in a group of friends or with your partner or by yourself, it is ultimately about gaining awareness about your inner self through the asanas. How you attain that will completely depend on your nature and your needs,” she says.
As a teacher, she prefers to teach individually so that the student has her complete attention. However, her years as a teacher have taught her that practising in groups works better for beginners and children. “Group sessions instil a sense of competitiveness and that acts as a motivating factor. Yoga usually takes a while before you get hooked to it.” For advanced students and experienced practitioners, a one-on-one session with the trainer would be better, she says.
Remember the Reebok Run Easy commercial? Rahul Dravid, M.S. Dhoni, Thierry Henry and a host of other athletes are shown chatting while running at a relaxed pace. “There’s no point in doing it if you don’t enjoy it… Stay fit how you see fit,” the ad exhorted.
That really nails the solitary vs social debate.