Bengaluru is a city that’s learning to stay fit. Running the marathon or biking to work or hitting the gym with increasing regularity, most Bangaloreans are up, about and active. The health and fitness market is India is estimated at around Rs 2,900 crores, according to a Technopak report in Business Standard. It pegs the average annual spend on health and fitness by individuals at approximately Rs 2,600. The statistics are not specific to Bangalore but do give you a general idea of the average citizen’s interest in fitness.
Is fitness as an industry seeing satisfied consumers? And who’s rushing to stay fit?
Chaitra S Kumar, Nutrition In-charge at gym-major Talwalkars, Sadashivnagar, says their usual client profile includes corporates, especially those in deskbound jobs, people with health problems like diabetes or heart ailments. “Many housewives also come for workouts in the afternoons,” she adds. Fitness centres can also become a place for rehab, provided the doctor agrees of course.
“We get people who are overweight or underweight; for injury rehabilitation or with hypothyroid and diabetes and many ladies who come with the common case of polycystic ovaries on their doctor’s advice,” says Nikhil Bhatia, branch manager, Gold’s Gym, on Old Madras Road.
Plenty of options
Fitness centres, weight loss clinics and gyms are in every available corner of the city. There are brand names like Talwalkars, Gold’s Gym, Fitness One, VLCC, Body Care, etc., as well as smaller neighbourhood gyms. Most apartment buildings and condominiums these days are equipped with gyms and often have a trainer in attendance. Personal trainers are also becoming popular.
On an average, a three month membership for a general fitness programme in a good gym would cost you Rs 5,000-7,000. A personal trainer would cost you an average of Rs 3000-5000 a month. Of course it also depends on the package you opt for.
“Ideally, the trainers should either have done ACE (American Council on Exercise), ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) or NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) certification. These are international certifications that well equip trainers with knowledge with few instances for injuries,” says fitness instructor Wanitha Ashok, who trains around Bangalore.
However, most gyms these days conduct their own training programs. “These days we do not get too many certified trainers applying as instructors,” says the branch manager of a known chain of gyms in Bangalore who doesn’t wish to be named. “What we look out for instead is their experience in the fitness field (e.g., bodybuilders are in demand) and whether they are capable of explaining fitness basics to the customers and handling them carefully. They undergo our own training once they join.”
Bhatia of Gold’s Gym says that as an industry, fitness is not yet highly evolved in India. “We are still in the process of training people. However, once they join a place like ours, they undergo a monthly training process and are also constantly upgraded by monthly trainers on the latest international methodologies.”
What really works?
As with any service industry, fitness centres too come with their pros and cons and it’s difficult to find people who are uniformly satisfied with the experience.
Dimple Ahuja* who lost 12 kgs over three months in a Banaswadi based weight loss clinic after her pregnancy, is quite happy with the outcome. She did follow a strict diet and was regular with her walks. “But I think the overall guidance helped me,” she mentions. Dimple though has friends who have visited the same place with lesser results. “A slimming centre is not magic. I think it also depends on how self-disciplined or motivated you are,” she cautions.
Sandra Menezes, housewife and a resident of Sarjapura, says she stuck to her tried and tested exercise routine of brisk morning walks as two months of working out in her building gym resulted in persistent joint pain.
The one area where most things seem to go wrong (going by media reports and public opinion) are the slimming centres and weight loss clinics. Many of them promise guaranteed weight loss (say 10 kgs in two months) but seem to fall short of expectations. This is where asking questions and being aware would help, thinks Sangeeta Jha, nursery teacher from Domlur.
Sangeeta’s mother paid Rs 30,000 to join a weight loss programme in a neighbourhood slimming centre. “She went for three sessions a week and she was given passive exercises to induce weight loss through vibrating machines, etc. She was also asked to follow a strict diet (suggested by their dietician) and walk for an hour every day.” Sangeeta, who thinks they signed up in a hurry, feels the diet and the walk were what made her mother lose weight, not the machines, which only resulted in temporary changes in body weight.
Jeena Saran* a former medical management expert with a similar fitness and slimming centre says, most of the machines used make you lose about 100 gms per session, and work on the principle of neuro muscular stimulation. “Your muscles keep contracting even at a resting stage, so you burn calories. Some offer an inch-loss technique where heat therapy is given and may result in a few grams of weight loss due to sweating and increased metabolism.”
“I completely discourage people going for quick weight loss sessions,” says fitness and body transformation expert Wanitha Ashok who trains at gyms across Bangalore. “All a person needs to do to lose weight is eat right and exercise. This not only makes you lose weight but also offers immense health benefits and keeps metabolic diseases away.”
Also, unqualified trainers are often not aware that high intensity workouts need to be done on alternate days. Doing them on a daily basis could lead to repetitive stress injury which their clients may not know.
Chaitra of Talwalkars says that injuries do occur sometimes due to human error. It could be due to the trainer’s negligence or because the client did not do the exercise in the right manner. “In such cases, they are given further physiotherapy and rehabilitation. We also consult with doctors,” she says.
Despite the flak, Dr Veena Agarwal, head of R&D, VLCC, however thinks machines and appliances have their use. “I cannot always advice someone with a health problem to go for a walk. Instead, I can give isometric exercises that will increase their BMR (basic metabolic rate) and burn calories,” she says. Veena insists that proper research has gone into designing the weight loss programs of VLCC.
Still, Veena admits that these appliances only “support weight loss” and “without proper diet modification and exercise you cannot lose weight.” She says that customers should not make assumptions on the basis of ads that the weight loss is quick. “That’s unscientific,” she asserts, and points out that there are people (mentioned in ads) who have really lost 30 to 40 kgs. “But it has been over a year.”
She also thinks that people need to first consider why they are not losing weight instead of crying foul. “There may be a medical problem like hypothyroid they are unaware of, which results in lack of weight loss despite exercise.”
Has consumer awareness helped?
For every happy customer who believes the gym changed his life, there are instances of angry ones who believe they were taken for a ride, either due to insufficient weight loss or injuries or even in money matters.
The consumer needs to be fairly alert, maintains Somasekhar V K, managing Trustee of Grahak Shakti, a consumer organisation in the city. They have received a fair share of complaints against both weightloss clinics and fitness centres in the city. Problems include chemical reaction, loss of hair, diet problems, etc. Weightloss related complaints are most common as are cases of injuries.
Quick indicators of fitness for you
Fitness levels vary from age to age, depending on your genes, body structure, metabolism rate, etc. However experts give some rough tests and indicators to tell you whether you need to get off the couch and start working out.
– If you run or climb four flights of stairs and find yourself panting, you probably need cardio vascular conditioning, i.e., improve your stamina.
– For flexibility, try to bend down and touch your toes or sit on the ground and touch toes. Ideally your forehead should be able to touch your knee.
– The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a way to tell if your weight is within a healthy range. A BMI of 18-24 is considered healthy for men and for women it’s between 24 and 28.
– Fat percentage for men should be between 12 to 18 per cent ideally, depending on the age group.
– For muscular strength, see if you can lift up and manoeuvre a full gas cylinder (15kg) with ease.
– Muscular endurance can be tested by how many free squats you can do. Twenty squats are considered ideal but remember that endurance levels can vary.
Note: These are general indicators of health, and not a substitute for a complete health check up (heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol and other parameters) or visit a reputed fitness centre to test your fitness and endurance levels.
“Usually, if it’s a reputed brand and we take the matter up, they do respond and suggest solutions,” Somasekhar says, adding that usually such settlements are reached out of court between the two parties. He, however, suggests that consumers think twice before signing on the dotted line when they join a gym. “They need to ensure that they do not sign on something that promises vague terms such as chemically tested, clinically proven, etc.”
Gullible consumers also visit these centres based on advertisementss given in newspapers that show testimonials from their existing clients claiming they’ve lost 15 kgs in three months, etc. What should also probably be mentioned is the amount of diet, exercise and effort that client put in.
Niharika who tried joining a slimming cum fitness centre in Jayanagar admits it’s the advertisements that roped her in. “The amount mentioned there was much less but when I approached the centre they said I was quite overweight and that a package for a much higher sum was better for me.” Despite the temptation, she resisted and did her own research before finding out this was the usual dialogue of the centre’s ‘counsellors’ for unsuspecting clients.
S Shiva Shankara, advocate with Upasana Associates, Jayanagar, says that if the consumer has complaints with a gym, fitness or slimming centre and wishes to get a solution, they can approach the consumer court and file a case under the Consumer Protection Act. “If they think that the fitness centre is not maintaining standards then they can seek a cancellation of its license. In cases where they have suffered some personal damage or injury, they can sue for damage,”he says. However, the percentage of such cases is very few. He too thinks this could be a grey area.
“One of the reasons is that quantifying the damages suffered is a difficult issue. While the consumer may feel that he has not received the proper benefits of the program, the fitness centre would always say that he has not followed the right diet or exercise regime. It becomes difficult to prove such cases conclusively in the court,” he adds.
However, there have been cases where a legal solution has been found. In 2006, The Hindu reported that the Additional Bangalore Urban District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum asked a Sankey Road based weight loss firm, The Body Care, to refund a client and also pay her litigation costs. The client had been tempted by ads that promised to reduce 17 kgs over a year without any crash diets or medicines but could reduce only five kgs even after attending 70 sessions.
The court found the advertisements of the firm misleading and amounting to unfair trade practice. Hidayatulla Shariff, registrar at the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission says at the moment only one fitness centre related appeal is pending with them. “Very few people actually want to come forward and go ahead with their complaints,” says Somasekhar.
Irate consumers can also approach consumer organisations that can take their cause up, says Somasekhar. “However, they should realise the need to have proper documentation (like bills or a copy of the signed contract) and to be able to prove that a deficiency of service has indeed occurred.” In other words, there is no room here for unreasonable anger. He also adds that consumers need to interact with the gym or fitness centre and make them aware of the problem.
Fitness regimes and results are still a grey area, so it is even more important for you to be alert before you sign on any contract. “Like any industry, fitness too is bound to have service glitches and human errors,” concedes Bhatia, adding that usually a good gym would ensure the customer finds a solution.
So go ahead and exercise but remember that it’s not a one sided job. It’s as much your responsibility to be alert before you blindly sign up as theirs is to ensure that you stay out of harm. ⊕
(* Name changed to protect identity)