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Sudipto Mondal
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Fitness instructors dream of finding a job with a celebrity before they turn 40

ON THEIR TOES:Being a fitness instructor itself is a high-maintenance job.PHOTO: SAMPATH KUMAR G.P.
ON THEIR TOES:Being a fitness instructor itself is a high-maintenance job.PHOTO: SAMPATH KUMAR G.P.

: At 43, Babu a.k.a. ‘Fighter’ Bob is struggling to keep his weight in check. “This is not fat; its muscle,” says the giant gym instructor defiantly pointing to his bulging midriff. His colleagues at this gym in Thippasandra smile sympathetically. Fighter Bob turns them down as they cajole him to show this reporter the “muscles” on his stomach.

“His time is over, sir. His muscles are sagging. He has become fat. Clients don’t prefer him anymore,” says a colleague as Bob walks away.

In his prime, about a decade ago, Fighter Bob was the toast of east Bangalore, says Joe a.k.a. Manjunath, another instructor. He had won several State and national-level bodybuilding competitions. “He did a few fight scenes in Kannada films as a villain,” says Joe, “that’s when we started calling him Fighter.”

Fighting age

With age catching up and his muscles sagging, Fighter Bob is fighting to stay relevant in an industry obsessed with external appearances. He is competing with boys less than half his age just to keep his job, which pays him Rs. 25,000 a month.

For two decades, Bob’s body has become accustomed to a daily feed of 30 egg whites, a whole chicken, 30-40 chapatis, protein supplements, juices and fruits. But at his age, he is not able to convert all that food into muscle. And he is not able to clock the extra hours he now needs to burn all that energy.

“This is when they start shooting steroids,” says Christie (38), who started as a gym instructor but managed to jump to a successful business supplying bouncers for events, celebrity security and pubs. “An injection of some of the cheap varieties [Rs. 600 for 100 mg] keeps the muscles pumped up for less than two days.”

Those who can’t afford to pay Rs. 600 every other day have gone to the extent of injecting themselves with the same steroids illegally used on race horses.

“When they start losing hair rapidly and their nerves start popping, you know they are on some cheap steroid,” he says, adding many start peddling steroids to their students as well.

Faking it

The bulging biceps, the glamour; everything is fake in this industry, even the names, says Rehan Sheikh (55) bitterly. “The glamorous aliases are used to create an aura around the instructors. It impresses customers,” says Sheikh who was known as ‘Rambo’ in his heyday. Once a gym instructor, Sheikh lost out to younger, leaner men and glitzy corporate gyms. He is now an enforcer for a real estate agent.

With examples such as Sheikh and ‘Fighter’ Bob, younger professionals in the fitness industry like 22-year-old Dhiraj Singh, who works at a gym in Indiranagar, are in a hurry to make it big before they turn 40.

In descending order, Singh lists out his ambition: “Personal trainer/bodyguard to a female actor, personal trainer/bodyguard to a male actor, bodyguard for a politician, bodyguard for a businessman.” There was a huge demand for men like him from political parties during the recently concluded Assembly elections. “But that is temporary.” Failing all, Singh wants to be able to own a gym before age catches up.

Big plans

Abdul (name changed), a 28-year-old instructor, doesn’t think the industry is scary at all. “Fitness is my passion, I made it my job,” he declares. He too is hurriedly making plans for the future. “I want to go abroad and train people in Canada or the U.S. There, they truly respect fitness trainers. There’s lot of money too. I’ll come back and start a gym.”

But before he flies off, Ali needs to make a name for himself and is preparing to win a few bodybuilding competitions. He needs to spend at least Rs. 35-40,000 on his diet alone but his salary is only Rs. 20,000 a month. Contributions from his relatives keeps him afloat. “In a few months I hope to get a protein supplement company as a sponsor. Then, it will be fine,” he says.

As their bodies slow down with age, some in this industry are forced to inject themselves with steroids as many times as thrice a week.

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