Mayur Sonawane, 30, a gym regular, ditched his membership recently for weekday badminton sessions at his neighbourhood gymkhana, after work. "Gymming was getting monotonous and I felt like a robot. Badminton seemed a more interesting option - it's competitive and gives me an intense workout," he said.
Chartered accountant Riya Gupta, 31, has enrolled in a tennis batch conducted on the ground of a neighbourhood engineering college and has also taken up kickboxing in the evenings. She quit the gym she attended for 15 months. "I played sports as a teenager and stayed fit. So why not do it now? The challenge of a contest during games and matching scores is very invigorating," she said.
So far, fitness, which was largely associated with a well-equipped, air-conditioned gymnasium with state-of-the-art machines and treadmills, is finding meaning on playgrounds, running tracks, dancing rooms and beaches. Seeing the opportunity, services are cashing in. Several membership-based gymkhanas are now throwing their doors open to play-and-pay-by-the-hour options. "Earlier, we wouldn't allow non-members in but lately, we've allowed them in, seeing the demand from young office-goers," said the spokesperson of the Indian Gymkhana at Matunga, Mumbai. He added that the number of guests in the 25-40 age group has greatly increased in the past year-and-a-half. "Earlier, we would only have kids and adolescents coming in. Now, we have young, city-bred working enthusiasts who are willing to pay for a sport per hour, especially on weekends."
"We are regulars at Indian Gymkhana. An hour of a high-intensity game of badminton equals an hour-and-a-half of gymming," said Dhawal Poonawala, 28, manager with a securities firm.
Property developer Nirmal has tied up with international federations such as US Open Academy; IAAF athletic federation; and FINA, a federation for water sports, and is aggressively marketing its residential project, Sport City, on the basis of the sports amenities offered. "We are providing the infrastructure to meet the aspiration for fitness through sports," said Dharmesh Jain, director, Nirmal.
Innovative start-ups are also mushrooming. Companies such as Sport 365 and Leh Leh Sports in Delhi, My Sportz Network in Bangalore and GHAC in Hyderabad provide the necessary infrastructure, sports gear, venue, refreshments, and everything necessary to those who come and participate in the sports events that they conduct regularly.
"All people need to do is to pay a reasonable amount per sport, such as Ra 200 for a game of badminton or R400 for a game of tennis. We started with this concept since we realised that sports is being seen today not just as a recreation but as an absolute workout plan," said Siddharth Pandey, 31, founder, Leh Leh Sports.
"People who come to us get to do interesting stuff such as run with a group over different paths, roads, mountains and pebbled ways, and shed kilos," said Ajay Gupta, founder, Sport 365. Kickboxing, karate and pilates are catching on. "The number of adults coming to learn karate at our classes has doubled in two years. Before that, we had more of kids and teens," said Shaheen Ansari, a national karate champion coach.
Shirin Dabhoji, a young architect in Shaheen's class concurred: "I'd always feel karate was for teaching self defence to kids. But I now understand that it is a fantastic workout for people like me and helps in weight loss and fitness."
An eight pack physique or a size zero aren't as strong motivators as they were two years back, said fitness expert Mickey Mehta. "People are realising that only flexing muscles doesn't translate to good health. Wellness is more important. One needs recreational value, not just a robotic set of bodily movements. Strenuous exercises put equal strain on the mind, defeating the very purpose of fitness, which is to have fun. We encourage fun workouts such as running, calisthenics, frisbee."
Football pro Bhaichung Bhutia, who will shortly launch his own football school in Mumbai, summed it up: "People don't believe only hi-fi machines can make them healthy, knowing that a combination of indoor and outdoor workouts will make the difference. The gym had its season of popularity. Although that isn't over yet, it definitely has reduced. And other routines, hitherto limited to children, are being taken up seriously by adults."