Gym me some lovin’
Capri. The blue-green water shimmers under the tropical sun. The sand is white and grainy. Suddenly the background reggae music builds up tempo. And it happens- she breaks through the surface of the water. Taut stomach glistening with aromatic oil, slender legs shedding off beads of excess water. She wades through to the shore and takes the martini the man offers her. The camera wheezes, the shot is done… and the director calls for a cut.
Scenes such as these have been played over and over again in the movies, on television, everywhere. So much so that we have lost count. The Bond movies do it, Charlie's Angels does it, Victoria's Secret does it, Men's Health does it (of course, with the gender of the subject reversed!). And this image- to be more specific, the image of well-sculpted bodies (both male and female) is starting to seep into Bangladeshi trains of thought as well. In a country where the closest people came to investing in health was buying Paracetamol, fitness is finally moving centre-stage. Among the concoction of hypes and trends, the “gym culture” has come forth as an independent sub-culture.
The heart of the hype
The media has long been monopolised, manipulated, even propelled by the image of the “perfect body”. Given the hype, flabby arms and overhanging stomachs are one-way tickets to ostracism- and truth be told, most likely, those love handles will not buy you much love. If this is really the case, the question is: what has the wind swept in? Washboard abs, sinewy arms and a lot of brawn. Commonly known as “beach bodies”, the core concept is that the physique/ figure has to fill out skinny Ts and latex suits that cling on to them like second skins.
Flip through the satellite channels- busty female lifeguards mermaiding through the water to rescue the more fortunate; men with “abs hot enough to poach eggs on” providing elaborate demonstration of intricate exercise gadgets; singers gyrating their celery-stick hips under the kaleidoscopic disco lights- the common factor is as obvious as Sidney Sheldon endings. The glossy high-street magazines do no less to hoard the hype. In any case, when was the last time anyone saw a difficult-to-fit-into-the-frame woman on the news stand? Maybe Roseanne Barr. But then again, I am not so sure whether that counts.
The dawn of the push-up generation
Even five years ago, the gym was a rich-man's arena. Even lifting a barbell was confined to bodybuilders: there was no collective concern about health and fitness, let alone what is now known as the “gym culture”.
But a mere handful of years down the line, fitness in Bangladesh is stirring like a baby about to wake. Thanks to the media constantly bombarding us with melon-sized biceps and slick legs, health clubs and gyms have mushroomed in every corner of the city.
“People are becoming more health conscious,” says Mohammed Abdullah, the Manager of Gold's Gym, Bangladesh, “Gold's Gym in Bangladesh started in 2004, and since then we have had more than 4000 members.
“Contrary to popular belief, there is a huge difference between working out for fitness and working out for body building. When you join a gym, the point is not necessarily that you need to pump yourself up. Rather the plan should include a healthy lifestyle, better eating habits and keeping the vital signs in check.”
“Not long ago, the only gyms Bangladesh had were associated with hotels like Sonargoan and Sheraton,” he says, “The problem with this was that the facilities were limited to the guests only, and the prices were charged on a five-star hotel scale. Now people have a greater variety, more choice, and more importantly, fitness is no longer as expensive as it used to be.”
The crunch ambition
Alvi Karmakar, a professional fitness instructor, is very enthusiastic about the surge in the fitness wave. “People have always idolised buff bodies. Ancient civilisations drew and sculpted their Gods and Goddesses to the pinnacle of perfection. Movies have their heroes and heroines put their hours spent working out on display. So it is difficult to see why people would not be interested in working for a body of their own. It is only natural.”
So what do people really opt for? Mohammed Abdullah says, “75-80 per cent of the gym goers have fitness as the primary aim. Stomach flab, fatty arms have been persistently complained of- basically, they want to be in a better shape.”
There are also many in the higher age range who plan on participating in basic workout, with the goal of fending off diseases that come with ill-health and even obesity. If it takes a few crunches a day to stretch the lifespan, it really does not hurt to go the extra mile.
Redwanul Aziz, a second year BBA student, is all-smiles when it comes to gym. “It started with curiosity, but now it has become an addiction,” he says, “When I am working out, I literally feel my body responding. It has also brought much discipline to my life- I have learned to schedule and prioritise my activities. I can also focus better, particularly on my studies.”
The perilous pump
The gym culture in Bangladesh is still in a rudimentary stage. But as the saying goes, there is always a flip side to the story. Many western countries are considering obsession with gym as an epidemic. While the concept of gym itself has not yet attained mass popularity with the public as it did in those nations, awareness is crucial at the outset.
The blame again, according to the widely accepted view, falls on the media. After all, it is the Frankenstein puppet-master that steers flat-stomached marionettes onto the television screens and magazine covers.
Some people take fitness too far. Already eating disorders are becoming commonplace in Bangladeshi teenagers. If it gives you a body like Cindy Crawford or Shilpa Shetty, a simple “sticking a finger down your throat” method appears alluring.
Furthermore, workouts do not go by “the more the better” principle. The maximum that professionals advise is 60 to 90 minutes, as there is always a chance of overworking the muscles. Many men either forget or choose to ignore this in their daze of over-enthusiasm. It is also important to be very careful about using supplements and injections that inflate the body and none should be used without consulting your instructor.
On a final note, it is clear that we will be seeing a lot of fitter people in the near future. Whether gym in Bangladesh is a bare fad is, of course, a debatable issue. But given the multitude of health benefits and the fact that being in shape always wins much adoration, the gym culture is unlikely to go out of style. At this stage, fitness and gym is no longer a matter of style and personal status- rather, it is a necessity. People are increasingly realising the upsides. Again, a reminder to the public: a little work can carry you a long way.
By Shahmuddin Ahmed Siddiky
Photo: Zahedul I Khan
Location: South Avenue, Gold's Gym Bashundhara City