on the exploding fitness industry

and the opportunity.

state of health in the country

As a country, we are terribly unhealthy. Undeniable fact. There are about 135 million people in India who are affected by obesity [1]. Abdominal obesity is amongst the leading causes of cardiovascular diseases and many other lifestyle disorders. We are the diabetes capital of the world. Not a fun title to hold.

When we moved back to Madras to start The Quad in 2011, gyms still meant studios with machines and body-builders who acted as trainers. Having been exposed to training modalities and coaches like CrossFit, Mark Rippetoe, Dan John, Pavel, and RKC, we realised that there was a huge hole in what people (like me) were exposed to about fitness. My most startling realisation was simply this - it is possible to get strong!

Over the last 10 years, it has been wonderful to see the fitness industry grow in India. While gyms were still around well before that, all of them were the typical ones with tons of treadmills and machines and isolated movements. Working your chest separately, and your quadriceps separately - that's a useful method when you are injured or old or want to develop those muscles alone. For regular people, we want movement. Our body is one piece and we need to re-teach it how to move.

Slowly, as we've seen the growth of CrossFit and the like in the West, we are catching on.

gazillions of dollars to be made

As a business opportunity, this means it is a huge market. Across various socio-economic levels, this is a problem waiting to be addressed. While looking at healthcare and wellness makes this space phenomenally bigger, my expertise is limited to fitness (and nutrition to a reasonable extent). I am going to stick to primarily that - fitness clubs and gyms.

The Goliath here is Cult.fit. Run by people who know how to run massive operations, they are creating an ecosystem that (I think) aims to have its fingers in the entire pie of wellness.

Everyone is built to move. everyone needs to move.

We are built for movement. We are built to lift things, to walk and run around and play and throw and use our bodies. Think about when you were a kid - that's what your body was capable of. And it is still capable of it. Except no one told you that back then. You looked around and saw old people being old people, and thought maybe that's the way.

People need to understand that fitness can be fun, that fitness can be for everyone. We need to realise that growing old does not mean limitations and creaky joints. Fitness is not something just a muscular few do but as a species, we are built for. And while doing this bottom-up is great, millions of marketing $$$ and a celebrity can get the idea in your head quicker.

That's something Cult.fit can and is doing. And that is phenomenal for the fitness industry in India.

the responsibility of spreading the word

That's something a behemoth like Cult.fit can change. By spreading the word that fitness is for everyone, they will turn a lot of people into looking at their health and fitness and physical activity as an option for them. Because fitness and physical education were not part of our culture growing up, a lot of us are yet to break out of that mindset - we play when we are kids and then play-time is over.

Having celebrity faces and voices and snazzy marketing will help the younger generation build fitness as a habit from an early age, and help older people understand that they can do something about their bodies for the better.

At the scale they are aiming to operate, it is (probably) impossible for them to promote true strength and conditioning. But that's okay! The number of methods and choices in getting physical activity are numerous - yoga, sport, running, cycling, etc. Strength training is just one amongst many. While I believe (a belief founded on results, science, and lots of giants in the field whose shoulders we stand on) that strength training should be for everyone, that will never happen. Everyone will find a method that resonates with them - just coz I am crazy about lifting kettlebells does not mean everyone needs to be.

But cult.fit will open the door. For millions and millions of people to take that first step. Maybe a few of them will stay there for longer, and maybe quite a few will move on. That's okay. Well, I guess that's easy for me to say - they are the ones spending tons of money in getting them into the door. But there's a near-endless lot of people who need that first step, that first foray into fitness. And to be interesting to people at that stage, there are obviously a lot of compromises that need to be made. Well, that's the price of scale. It is much easier for an outfit like The Quad with 1000 people to be true to our system of training and near-impossible when we are talking about 100x (or more. I have no idea about scale)

CrossFit is a global phenomenon today, which is responsible for popularising strength training and barbells. Again, there are so many compromises that it made - and if CrossFit had not done that, it would not have exploded. The impact of something like CrossFit needs to be measured in the ripples it has created.

What kinda compromises? Well, a strict focus on strength and conditioning protocols will mean a lot of precise coaching. Coaching of this quality takes time, costs money, and requires individual attention. It also means the customer is patient, and it not looking for immediate results. As an entry barrier to fitness, it doesn't work for too many people. As a scalable model, it does not work - educating trainers and ensuring they can execute that high standard of coaching is difficult. Instead,

  • fun and lots of movement

  • high intensity and cardio-ish work, even with resistance training equipment

  • fancy-schmancy gyms that make you feel good to come in

  • trainers with an athletic background and a base-level of skillset to coach the reduced syllabus of movements

And cult.fit has similar potential.

a note to boutique outfits and smaller "functional" fitness places

Cult.fit will create a large number of potential customers for you. You need to understand what they are looking for when they move on from their first step and be that solution.

While you will lose clients in the short term, you will gain in the long term. They are not your competition - they can be your feeder system. For that, you need to figure out your offering, your skillset, your stance.

There's a lot of new places that crop up that regurgitate the words like functional fitness and blah blah blah. But I am not sure they understand the principles behind it. Those will die. The ones that will survive (and again, I am not talking about scale at all) are the ones that understand the first principles of their sphere of fitness, the ones that build their own method, the ones that are willing to offer the red pill to their customers.

Hang in there. Do your own thinking.

If only there was money to be made in climate change and saving the Earth. Maybe then, we'd do something about that as well eh!


Please note that all of this is my opinion (and not The Quad's) and I know very little about Cult.fit's actual goals or modus operandi. I believe we have a shared goal - making fitness fun and accessible to people. How we execute might seem miles apart but that's just a function of scale and all that.