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Chennai residents move from gyms to open public spaces for fitness in a COVID-19 world – The Hindu

Posted: March 11, 2021 at 6:45 am


After a year of lockdowns, workouts are moving away from gyms as runners, cyclists and surfers reclaim open public spaces to luxuriate in fresh air and sunshine

Everyday at 4 am, Hari Ramakrishnan straps on a helmet and sets out on his Cervelo S3 bicycle.

From his house in T Nagar, he pedals to East Coast Road-Old Mahabalipuram Road (ECR-OMR), aiming to cover around 70 kilometres. His weekly target is about 350 to 400 kilometres.

But Hari has not always been a cycling enthusiast. In mid-September, when the pandemic was raging through Chennai, this former MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) trainee discovered the joy of biking.

Many untrodden paths and a number of bike upgrades later, the theatre actor-director says, I feel I have more control over cycling than any other workout that I have ever done.

Like many of us, Hari too felt lethargy creep in during lockdown before he realised it is vital to remain active. Though he wanted to get back into a fitness routine, MMA being a contact sport was not ideal at a time that mandated physical distancing. That is when he discovered cycling. In a few months, he was a part of multiple, mushrooming groups in the city, offering people company to ride with.

Same was the case with Dr Naveen Alexander, a general surgeon at Sri Ramachandra Medical Centre. When you get hooked on to going to the gym at least six times a week, and suddenly a lockdown starts, you feel lost, he says.

Though he had bought a bicycle in 2014, he had not got around to using it, until last year. Now, he easily touches upwards of 60 kilometres a day. And when training for cycling challenges, even hits 100-odd kilometres. A four-hour ride is nothing for me now. My resting heart rate has drastically reduced. I get through my days much better than I did before, he adds.

Much like Hari and Dr Naveen, people across the country are reclaiming the outdoors to stay fit. Since November last year, Chennai-based actor Shabeer Kallarakkal has been participating in group treks. To make the treks more challenging, he incorporates parkour moves to scale around obstacles. We see how efficiently we can move while on the trek, he states. Thus, as much as it is an adventure, the trek also becomes an extension of his carefully-constructed fitness regimen.

While the pandemic has certainly given way to a sense of appreciation for the outdoors, it has also been a wake up call for many to remain healthy and active. Meanwhile, the paranoia that comes with exercising indoors in the presence of others, has only just begun to wane.

All combined, outdoor activities everything from an easy walk to an acquired skill like surfing are seeing many more takers now. I started enjoying the small things like looking at ants and spiders... I feel very connected to these treks now. Even though the climb is physically exhausting, the positivity it brings is something else, says Shabeer, who also runs on the beach, as part of his strength and conditioning routine. His next goal? A course in mountaineering.

Outdoor sports, earlier overlooked by people who preferred air-conditioned gyms, have been getting increasingly popular. Especially with WFH (work from home) enabling people to save time on commuting, which they can then use on self care. Moreover, working out at ones home gym in the absence of experienced trainers, might also be counterproductive.

Since December, Varshaa Rajan has been surfing twice every week; she vouches for its positive effect on her mental health and says she does not see herself returning to the gym.

Being cooped up at home for months together for the first time ever, has only increased the vast oceans appeal, she says. She travels from Virugambakkam to Kovalam twice a week for her classes.

You dont even realise that you are exercising. Its so much better because you have your own little pocket of space in this ocean, says Varshaa, who spotted dolphins once.

Young adults have a misplaced perception that working out in parks, beaches and other public spaces is not cool enough, says Dr Rohini Rau, doctor and sailor, who set out on regular walks along Panayur beach during the lockdowns. She was pregnant at the time and these walks were deemed essential.

These spaces were usually considered for people who are above 40 or so. That is changing, says Dr Rohini. Playpens in parks and beaches being repurposed as pull-up bars and props for mobility exercises is a testament to the same, she adds.

There are many benefits to training outdoors. Vikram Menon, founder and coach at Chennai-based SimpleSTRONG, a functional strength training and calisthenics outfit explains, There is a huge mental health aspect to training outdoors. There are less distractions you are not looking at your phone, or being troubled by anyone at home. You can call it meditation in many ways, where its just you and Nature. You will feel more refreshed and recharged.

Apart from the physical and mental health benefits, outdoor fitness can also open doors to acquiring unexpected hobbies and skills. It [cycling] also gave me an excuse to do a lot of photography! says Dr Naveen. He has been steadily documenting sights along the trails.

As for Shabeer, new streams, lean waterfalls and unusual picnic spots came his way while scaling up the Nagalapuram falls in Andhra Pradesh.

He says, We tried three to four routes to scale the peak. Every time we go uphill, we find a new waterfall! These are the experiences that we take back even if we dont succeed in scaling the peak.

As more people breathe in the fresh air and sights, and carefully clock in hours of activity, there is a renewed sense of fitness among the citys residents. Meanwhile, its time to work around our excuses, fellow homebodies!

Excerpt from:
Chennai residents move from gyms to open public spaces for fitness in a COVID-19 world - The Hindu

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