It’s fine to be invested in fitness, but the pandemic is not a break to come back with ‘revenge bods’ and ‘summer bods’ once gyms open. People can just be

Last year’s lockdown had us in unfamiliar territory. We took the opportunity to jump on online bandwagons: baking, being artsy et al. most commonly getting ‘fit’. Novice divers in this often-intimidating sea of fitness usually consider losing weight as the ultimate objective. No surprises then that it became a popular tool of distraction via the ‘revenge bod’ for the heartbroken, and via the ‘summer bod’ for the crumbling cookies.

Combine that with the onslaught of internet suggestions to make the most of this time, my friend S decided to push himself the extra mile. This coming-of-age story is about reaching his goal: to achieve the elusive six-pack.

S had formulated a diet and workout regime in April/May last year, and was able to plan his work-from-home timings and other chores around it. The independence of living away from home in those months became his gateway into unprecedented motivation. He worked out twice a day, once before work, once after; and religiously followed a YouTube fitness guru’s abs workout routine. It involved a wide range of bodyweight exercises — like high plank open-close, bicycle crunches, boat hold, leg flutters, chair sit-ups, leg raises, mountain climbers, plan knee-to-elbow etc — for 45 seconds each, with intervals of not more than 15 seconds between two movements. This was one set; S did four of these in one workout session.

Simultaneously, his calorie intake was optimised through a balanced diet: one serving each of fish/chicken, pulses, brown rice, veggies, and nuts. He used to eat two of those meals in a day, as brunch and supper. This diet ensured he didn’t crave for a mid-day snack, apart from the occasional black coffee or green tea. Alcohol was strictly out of the picture, so were desserts.

Four months, and a final desalination-led push later, the abdominal muscles eventually saw the day of light from his midriff. His lifelong mission had finally come to fruition.

Then came the festive season, and the lockdown started to ease. Friends were getting married, so one had to celebrate; plus it was considered a sin as per influencer-wisdom to not visit Goa, so one also had to indulge. In all seriousness, though, between Diwali and the turn of the year was the closest to ‘normalcy’ that we have experienced in the era of public-health restrictions. It was also a funny reminder of the fact that we can’t hate ourselves for breaking out of routines of military-discipline.

S tested positive for COVID in the dying embers of 2020. The six-packs had already disappeared on his way to Goa, and a recovery from the virus took a toll on his overall stamina and endurance as well. He gradually worked towards regaining his lifestyle from the first lockdown, but by March this year, he struggled to keep up.

Around the same time, the second coronavirus wave had begun engulfing the country. We were going back into a familiar state of lockdown that had prompted the six-pack transformation for S last year. But something had changed this time. The road to perfectly sculpted abdominal muscles could not initiate an equally enthusiastic fitness journey right now. His current inability to workout twice a day, and also the powerlessness in front of comfort meals were frustrating him. The balanced diet was losing its sheen against the dopamine-boosting traits of high-calorie burgers and sucrose-laden desserts.

The darkness started to creep back in again. Something had to give.

A couple of months later, S was visiting my parents. It was a timely break for all of us after another infuriating lockdown had taken the wind out of our sails. S and I went out for a run one morning. On a quiet stretch, he tells me, “The guy left standing on the stage at the end of a bodybuilding show is probably the guy in the arena who is closest to death.” Before I could flinch, he added, “These were the words of a five-time Mr Universe winner.” No further words were spoken, and we ordered ice-cream tubs for the day once we got home.

Sometimes I feel like S only exists in my head; maybe he does; maybe S is a voice that exists in your head, too, now. But S is painfully, yet in due course, coming to terms with the fact that this idea of fitness is not sustainable (unless it’s your occupation and primary source of income, that is). S tells me that fitness has to be more holistic, beyond the ideas of gram-worthy vanity that breeds within a toxic fitness culture. Fitness is not only about your body, but also about the mind, and the vital chemical exchange between the two. Maybe S is who makes us human.

“You can lose all the weight through workouts and dieting, but you will still be unhealthy if it compromises your mental wellbeing,” S tells me that this is the only rule of this club. S is a real person, just to be clear.