There’s a new breed of fabulous social media fitness stars who are inspiring, motivating and pushing people to tread the ‘fit’ path.
They’re super fit, they’ve got enviable bodies and are setting the temperatures soaring on the Internet — yes, we’re talking about the latest breed of fabulous social media fitness stars that has managed to inspire a plethora of people across the country. From providing wellness tips to offering diet advice, these fitness experts post a range of awe-inspiring photos and videos that are motivating and pushing even lazy peeps to tread the ‘fit’ path. Twenty-six-year-old Australian fitness trainer Kayla Itsines has gone on to make millions, thanks to her social media network. With more than 7 million followers on Instagram, she’s inspiring lakhs of ladies the world over to work hard to get that coveted ‘bikini body’. Back home, we have super women and men like Yasmin Karachiwala, Namrata Purohit, Ranveer Allahbadia, Deepika Mehta, Sapna Vyas Patel, Sonali Swami and more, with a massive number of followers on social media. There are also fitness groups on Facebook which are filled with people yearning to transform their bodies.
Ranveer Allahbadia, 24, runs a YouTube Channel called Beer Biceps, that has around 4,90,000 subscribers. Take a look at his videos and Instagram profile and you’ll be flabbergasted to know that this good-looking lad was once obese and plagued by health woes. “I had a gall bladder surgery at the age of 15 — I had a horrible diet, so I got even fatter and then finally met my coach Beni Sridharan who introduced me to the scientific side of fitness. During engineering college, I got my training certificate from his academy and learnt more about fitness and fell in love with the process,” says Ranveer, who wanted to focus on India-specific content which was lacking on YouTube.
Ranveer, who used to do online coaching, is focusing on other things now. “I’m not a trainer, I’m a YouTuber. We’re now doing motivation, entrepreneurship, lifestyle and grooming. I’ve stopped coaching myself, but we’re starting an online coaching service where my team will coach people through the online medium,” says Ranveer, who went viral when he made a video claiming that actor Aamir Khan used steroids for his transformation in Dangal.
Sonali Swami is another social media influencer who’s managed to stun dozens of women with her well-sculpted body. It’s hard to believe that this lady’s a 42-year-old mother of two. “I was always into dancing. After I got married, I came to Bengaluru when I was just 23. Within a year, I’d put on quite a lot of weight, so I joined dance classes, became an instructor and was taking care of myself when the kids happened and I put on excess weight. It was depressing and soon, I started aerobics, walking and taking care of my diet, but didn’t feel strong from inside.” That’s when this mommy took to weight lifting and strength training and at the age of 38, took it up as a profession and started competing. “I won my first title at the Body Power Championship and competing with girls half my age boosted my morale and I got hooked on to it. I saw changes in my body — both physical and mental,” says Sonali, who’s won competitions like Fit Factor and Muscle Mania. At 42, she has on 1,47,000 followers on Instagram and 38,000 on Facebook. Sonali does customised training for people with issues like thyroid and PCOD too.
For 24-year-old celebrity trainer Namrata Purohit, Pilates has become a way of life. With 110.2k followers on Instagram, she’s worked with stars like Jacqueline Fernandez and Kangana Ranaut, is co-founder of The Pilates and Altitude Training Studio and the youngest trained Stott Pilates Instructor in the world. A bad fall years ago meant that this Mumbai girl would end up injuring her knee and was asked to stop dancing and playing sport.
“Physiotherapy, rehab — nothing seemed to work until one day, I attended a Pilates course with my dad Samir Purohit and within three days, I was feeling free and was back on court playing squash with no pain. After a few more classes, my coach said that I was more stable than before the injury! So I started believing in Pilates because it was magic for me,” she shares.
On her YouTube channel, Namrata posts full workout videos and posts tips on Instagram stories and does Facebook live chats too. “I wanted to get the word out there that there’s something like Pilates that can help get rid of pain. It’s helped people with scoliosis and tennis elbow too,” says Namrata, who’s also a Boogie Bounce and Barre instructor.
S.Q.U.A.T.S is a hugely popular Facebook fitness group founded by Jitendra Chouksey and has more than two lakh enthusiasts in it. One of the mentors Vinodh Vaitheeswaran says, “SQUATS stands for Systematic. Quantitative. Unified. Aesthetic. Transformation. System. The group’s purpose is explained to every member and beginners have to read our so called bible — ‘the pinned post’ which explains the basics of nutrition and gives instructions to design your own nutrition.” The group now has more than 70 mentors. “You can sign up with a mentor who will guide you through the tenure of your programme.” On a personal note, Vinodh was someone who aspired to be a pilot in the Indian Air Force. “Being part of an orthodox South Indian culture, my first learning of nutrition was quantity-based on taste bud demands. I was nowhere near the fit ratio required to apply for Defense Services due to bad nutritional and lifestyle choices. That’s when I took charge of my health and my love for fitness/nutrition grew into a new passion. From a technical writer, I moved to being a fitness consultant and Business Development Lead of WiN (Wellness INtiative), an integral vertical of SQUATS concentrating on Corporate wellness.”
Now with the online revolution, how has social media changed the way Indians look at fitness? “Social media is the single biggest, best thing that has happened to the world of fitness in India. It’s not just fitness bloggers and health experts who’ve benefitted from it. I’ve trained Tanmay Bhat from AIB and popularised this whole weight loss revolution in India. People started following KETO after seeing his weight loss. People from our generation are more aware of fitness and want to get fit — this culture wasn’t there earlier. They’re seeing their online idols and thinking ‘why am I getting left behind?’”
Socia media fitness has both pros and cons, admits Sonali. “When you see people with fantastic bodies, you think they’re perfect ’cos very few actually show their real struggle.
People don’t understand that there are apps to make you look beautiful! But there are also those who keep it real and make the general public realise that they’re human too,” says Sonali, whose goal is to educate desi women and reach out to more married ladies and mothers.
One can easily figure out the good foods and choose workouts, but nobody knows exactly how much to consume and what suits them, believes Vinodh. “In our country, nutrition and fitness has always been a jinx, because the current generation is trapped in the concept of either eating like its ancestors or getting attracted to junk food. So ideally, the Internet has brought these people together to fight the obesity problem. We’re exponentially trying to change the way fitness and nutrition is looked at by introducing ‘Quantified Nutrition’.”
What’s fascinating is that these online fitness stars have done more than merely appeal to social media users — they’ve inspired thousands to finally take that big leap into wellness. Thirty-year-old IT consultant Vipuna Vijayan is someone who devotedly follows Kayla Itsines. “I never took care of my body. At my heaviest, I had to shop for jeans outside India. On my 27th birthday, I came back home after a weekend of eating and drinking in Mahabalipuram feeling bloated, lethargic and depressed. I started running but at 5ft 4 and 80 kg, found it extremely painful. Nevertheless, I continued training for a half marathon and completed my first one in 3 hours 45 mins. After 8 months of running 4 to 5 miles every other day, I lost only 5 kg.” It was around this time that Vipuna came across Kayla and the BBG community. “I was fed up of dieting, I wanted a time-saving manageable way to get healthier. Kayla’s 28 min workouts give me just that — following her has taught me that being healthy means changing my mindset and habits,” says Vipuna.
Thousands have benefitted from online portals and Hyderabad-based homemaker Shaktirupa Ratho is one of them. “I’m a hobby chef who loved trying out new recipes. With my gastronomic passion and thyroid, I kept on adding weight to a point where I found changes in my behaviour and attitude. Though always active, I’d get irritated easily and had minor bouts of depression and anxiety. That’s when I consistently attended the gym — I was 80 kg with a body fat of 40 percent when I began and in 5 months, came down to 68 kg with 36 per cent body fat. But I wasn’t losing inches.” That’s when her rendezvous with SQUATS happened and she opted for Akshita Arora as her mentor. “I’m now 65 kg and there’s some serious loss in inches,” she says.
Know your body
Since everyone’s body type is different, what precautions should one take before jumping into following someone they idolise online? “Many experts give their own opinion on things and since everybody is different, it could harm you — extreme diet doesn’t work for everyone. But we promote something only if it’s backed by science. If you’re a social media influencer, I recommend that you put out real science. And if you’re a follower, please cross-check that particular topic, do research and educate yourself before taking up any diet,” expresses Ranveer.
Sonali too warns users to be cautious before following any diet blindly. “Genetics plays a huge role and just because your idol has a great body, that doesn’t mean that whatever they did will work for you. You need to understand your body and at the same time, accept that you can transform yourself. A trainer’s job is to push you, but if you’re uncomfortable, you need to let the trainer know.”
Vinodh chips in, “Transformation is not about how much you lose, but it’s more about how much you change by inches.” Namita echoes, “It’s important for people to know how to do online workouts right so that they don’t get injured. Go slow rather than hurrying into anything."