Two men give up their US jobs to offer fitness solutions the military way.
If Raj Ganpath and Arvind Ashok have their way, gyms across the country will down shutters, sell their equipment at garage sales and rehabilitate trainers elsewhere — preferably not in the fitness industry. This duo firmly believes that what is being peddled as fitness regimes various by gyms and their trainers in India is (and this is a quote) “bull****”.
“The trainers in the gyms we’ve been to here don’t seem to know what they are doing,” says Ganpath. “They are basically trying to fit their ideas onto others’ lifestyles, without really looking at what they need.” He bemoans the trainers’ emphasis on using machines to stay fit.
Belief is what prompted Ganpath and Ashok, both age 29, to quit their jobs in the US, where Ganpath was part of an implantable medical devices startup and Ashok an interaction designer with AT&T. The two returned to Chennai after seven years away, to set up The Quad.
The name alludes to their “four pillars” of fitness: strength, speed, endurance and mobility. They guarantee that their 10-week training programme, BootCamp, will give you those four, or you get your money back. Aesthetics — that is, a great body — is the bonus.
Based on intensive routines followed in the armed forces, BootCamp workouts exercise every part of the body with a combination of aerobics and strength training. They include squats, push-ups, pull-ups, sprints and lunges. Little equipment is required, but participants push their exertion limits. The workouts are popular in the US even with celebrities, but are yet to take off in India. Until now.
BootCamp is divided into one-hour sessions, held three days a week. Workouts combine the familiar squats, push-ups and running with the swinging of kettlebells (a weight like a bowling ball with a handle), burpees (a pushup and a jump, not as easy as it sounds) bear crawls and other exercises, all done outdoors, weather gods permitting.
The first few days are devoted to letting participants get the hang of unfamiliar movements, which are then used in different combinations. Sandbags and tyres are soon added. No two workouts are the same. “We don’t want people to skip a particular session knowing what is in store for them,” says Ganpath. Clever. A day of working out alternates with a day of rest.
The Quad’s website says that “for fitness in India to reach new heights, a paradigm shift is necessary. A revolution is on call.” No dearth of ambition here. But the day I drop in at a BootCamp session, exactly mid-way through the 10-week programme, the setting seems an unlikely one for a revolution. It is the shed of a play school in Chennai, with straggly buntings strung from the ceiling.
The torrential October rain has driven people out of the playground and into the shed, where the noise is amplified by the tin roof. Orders like “Fight it!” and “One more rep! [repetition]” and “Come on, come on, come on!” cut through the rat-a-tat-tat of the downpour. That’s Ganpath and Ashok encouraging the three others in the shed — the only ones who have braved the rain for this 7 am session on a Monday, out of a class of more than 20.
To be fair, seven or eight people had turned up for the preceding session. And Venkatraghavan Chittambakkam, a 34-year-old HR executive who signed up for the inaugural BootCamp, says attendance is high. “I myself used to barely show up at my gym, but here I have 100 per cent attendance.” He says he has already lost 4 kg and feels much more active. According to Ganpath, 98 people have signed up for the first 10-week session, which is divided into batches and priced at Rs 7,500.
The one-hour session I witness is intense, with squats, push-ups, kettlebell workouts, and encouragement from coaches and participants. Ganpath demonstrates a new burpee involving a kettlebell and a bear crawl. His ensuing “Isn’t that cool?” remark is greeted with expressions of incredulity. Participants are saved from it that day, though their routine appears tough enough without the hybrid burpee.
If the machine-free workouts are out-of-the-box, BootCamp’s nutritional concepts sound radical. One is that ghee, butter and coconut oil are better than industrial seed and vegetable oils for cooking. Those three fats are rich in vitamins A, E and K as well as saturated fats, which are heat-stable, non-toxic and resist oxidation. Seed and vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated fats, which are unstable, prone to oxidation and toxic in high doses, which leads to inflammation.
Another concept is to reduce the consumption of “anti-nutrients” (especially gluten) in whole grain and products made with grain (roti, bread, biscuits). White rice, with no anti-nutrients, is a substitute when consumed in reasonable quantities, says Ashok. Egg yolks, loaded with micro-nutrients, are good, while health drinks, which contain nothing but grain, sugar and artificial vitamins and minerals, are not, says Ganpath.
Most of the guidelines, though built on personal experience and experimentation on themselves and their hundreds of clients, are backed by strong peer-reviewed research, the two men say. “I suffered from asthma for 18 years,” says Ganpath, “and it turns out that it was a result of my gluten-filled diet. I dropped wheat [gluten] and was cured of the asthma in just three months. Nearly 99 per cent of the population is gluten-intolerant, to varying degrees, and a lot of autoimmune diseases can be traced back to this.”
The two provide their BootCamp clients with extensive one-to-one nutritional consulting. Even so, the dietary guidelines are one of the tougher aspects of the programme to stick to, according to client Deepu T P. “It is a radical diet and takes a little discipline,” he says. “But at the end of the day, I’ve found it’s quite workable.” The 31-year-old sports journalist adds that he was quite sceptical about the workout when he first signed up. “But not any more. They are very creative with their workouts.”
What clearly works in The Quad’s favour is the individual attention the coaches give their clients, apart from the novelty of the exercises and the sense of camaraderie this kind of group workout develops, which helps motivate participants. It is not clear how the founders will sustain this as BootCamp expands.
“We want to have BootCamps all over, eventually,” says Ganpath, “in Bangalore, Mumbai and Hyderabad. Getting passionate coaches is the toughest part. We will expand only when we find the right people.” For now, they will expand to two BootCamps in January, with the inaugural Rs 7,500 fee likely to be increased to Rs 10,000.
The Quad’s BootCamp workout appears to have the potential to draw in fitness enthusiasts and those who dream of that perfect body. To what extent it will catch on remains to be seen. Then again, revolutions have started in stranger places than playschool sheds.