Jhe gym wale Brother with his practical tips on fitness and diet is now an influencer. He’s become a tech-savvy, social media-savvy fitness trainer. Freed from the constraints of geography and physical proximity, the business is booming.
It’s an industry in its own right now on Instagram, with handles like “subtle.strength”, “ThePicky Eater”, “Penutphsique” attracting fitness enthusiasts in droves.
Sheena Roy swears by her online training program that also offers a DIY fat loss guide for those who can’t afford one-on-one coaching. Aside from friends or family, she and husband Alpha, also a fitness trainer, do not train clients in person. The husband-wife duo sold their successful fashion business in 2017 and pledged to make fitness a lifestyle and also a profession.
“Coaching customers online can sometimes be difficult, but we find it much more convenient in the long run because customers can message us anytime. Even if we are not available to respond, this instant note-taking of questions or thoughts is very helpful in understanding the client and their needs,” she says.
Ekansh Taneja, 24, has a similar story. He first embarked on his own fat loss journey and then decided to train other people. As a creator, he is encouraged by the idea of having a company that grows on its own. “My niches keep changing every five years,” says Ekansh, adding that a niche audience can help short-term growth, but ultimately it all comes down to enjoying what you’re doing.
There is a growing demand for online health and fitness coaches from those who provide personalized tailored videos, excel sheets, charts and also make regular recordings.
This is fitness rebooted and repackaged in a post-pandemic India. If you can’t get to the gym, they’ll bring it to you through phone-guided workouts. From pilates and yoga to high-intensity interval training and nutritional advice, digital fitness is more entrenched than ever.
It’s not like the world of online fitness has never existed before. The pandemic, with all its restrictions, has given the impetus for coaches to scale or be left behind, but even if everything is “back to normal”, digital fitness is here to stay.
For many clients, it has also become easier to take that first step from the comfort of their own home, instead of being judged for their “poor shape” or lack of gym experience. It was easier to end that zoom call and use the chair to do Bulgarian splits, instead of walking or driving to a nearby gym.
And coaches are using Instagram Reels to grow their brand.
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Decompose for beginners
Sheena has two accounts, her main Instagram account, Sheenafit, which she started when she took her first steps away from her stress-filled, 24-hour working lifestyle where takeout was the norm. The account now has a lakh of followers. Her second handful, Sheenafiteats, offers low-fat recipes that she also recommends to her customers. Most recipes are simple and made with available ingredients.
She regularly hosts Q&A sessions and answers even the most basic questions related to fitness or diet. She makes simple, to-the-point slides on low-calorie drink or dessert options, or gives relevant examples of why one should invest in one’s health. She would also break down the calories of any popular drink or food that people cut out of their diets while trying to lose fat without understanding how fat loss actually works.
Kunal Rajput, a Nike trainer with 11 years of experience in the fitness industry, straddles the online and offline world with ease. He started training people at his father’s gym in Mumbai, where he created the “Unlock” fitness movement. In 2017, he developed “The Movement,” a six-day fitness program that combines workout routines like crossfit, calisthenics, powerlifting, and bodyweight training.
“Evolving is the key. After finishing my engineering studies, I did a job that I didn’t like. I started training people at my dad’s gym and it made me happy,” he says. For him, his followers grew from his initial offline business, word of mouth and his partnership with Nike. As the only male Nike trainer in India, he created many of his popular workouts with often overlooked gym equipment: the kettlebell. His clientele includes popular names in the entertainment industry like actor-influencer Prajakta Koli and comedian Rohan Joshi.
Most Indians have yet to embrace fitness and nutrition in their daily lives. “It’s usually the aesthetic that people are looking for immediately. But since India is still in the early stages of integrating fitness into their lives, I don’t care why as long as they start,” says Kunal.
Although the fitness industry is full of influencers, trainers and gyms, most people lack access to proper fitness tools or ideas, often relying on questionable advice from second hand from unverified sources.
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Breaking the myths
One of the areas the three influencers are actively focusing on is fitness myths. From point-in-time fat reduction to overexertion and even alcohol and smoking, myths run wild in the fitness and health industry.
The first step is therefore to sift through often contradictory information. To eat or not to eat before a workout? Will bananas make you gain weight or lose weight? Will the immune system crash without acai berries?
What is practical is not only the certification, but also the tactics used to create content. Ekansh uses short action coils to make his point. They are like mini-films where he embodies two characters, one supporting the myth, the other dismantling it. Ekansh currently has 126,000 followers on Instagram.
Sheena prefers static posts to reels, either using a carousel post or uploading multiple photos/slides to a single post. She highlights popular topics such as: are low fat snacks really low fat, are nutrition labels always transparent, can eating chai cause weight gain, how much should someone -he train in a week, how to read nutrition labels on food. Her messages are especially helpful to those taking the first step towards physical fitness and a balanced diet.
Kunal does this through both Q&A sessions on stories and static messages and reels. When it comes to myth busting, the three share a similar no-frills attitude. There are no shortcuts when it comes to fitness.
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Creators and numbers game
Content creation can be a lucrative business, but there is always a risk of content stagnating or exhausting. Plus, there’s the constant pressure of the “numbers game” – the accumulated likes, comments, shares and views.
There’s also the feeling that a large number of followers and level of engagement means that the person posting the content is trustworthy or “authentic.” This is what makes the job harder, especially in the world of “lose belly fat in 10 days” or “this diet will change your life”.
Sticking to the basics is ultimately not glamorous, even if it is effective.
Sheena, who has always been transparent about social media breaks for better mental well-being, practices it. She often takes mini breaks to post or create content.
“It’s a double-edged sword if you depend on it to feel good. I use it as a benchmark so I can improve my macro tendencies,” says Ekansh. According to him, analytics should be a point of reference rather than a benchmark. It may be useful to assess what is missing in its content.
Kunal uses self-deprecating humor to point out that trends are a necessary evil if an “influencer” wants more engagement. Kunal would participate in ongoing “challenges”, such as talking directly to his followers, but this requires multiple takes. Her video is captioned, “How do you do that Influencerssss.”
He also sometimes uses his Burpee cat as a prop to make his content fun, especially when answering questions related to fitness myths like spot reduction.
More engagement often means more business too. Kunal, on the other hand, sometimes turns the joke inward when he points out that he wants to join the trends because otherwise people won’t notice the content. On other days, the advice is quite simple: carry on as you see fit.
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It’s all about upgrading
The general criticism often leveled at fitness trainers is that most don’t even have the basic qualifications to be one.
“I signed up for two certification programs as soon as I could, and then whatever I earned during the initial phase of my fitness career, I invested 100% in my education,” says Ekansh.
Kunal is certified from the Energy Ekktle Fitness Academy while Sheena is certified in Exercise Nutrition from Precision Nutrition as well as a Certified Behavior Change Specialist from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
Although each of the three coaches has their own unique modus operandi, what unites them is a personal journey to realize that fitness and fitness coaching will require constant unlearning as much as learning. “Having coached over 5,000 people, I think it’s about making the connection. A lot of good coaches also fail because they (coaches) don’t have that basic skill to really put themselves on the line. instead of their customers,” says Ekansh.
Online coaching can feel like a long-distance relationship with texting, updating excel sheets, and making endless videos to fix your form. It’s intimate, but forces you to introduce yourself.
(Edited by Prashant)
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