Getting your ‘Frame’ Right: How New Age Gyms Have Changed Fitness in India

Ever since the advent of the “healthy lifestyle” fad that has recently taken over the West (which has now reached India), several people have begun to adjust their lifestyles to a ‘healthier’ regime from changing their diet plans to registering for memberships at gymnasiums. However, this culture of getting fitter by the day and striving to achieve that ‘summer body’ has been plagued by criticism from people across the country. Mocking individuals who choose to pursue such a lifestyle and even making statements such as “if you hit the gym, it hits back” are just some of the many ways that this movement has been condemned. Even popular culture has taken to social media to chide this movement through short videos or memes. It is because of this continuous flow of satire that a large majority of the public has begun to normalize the fact that the gym is just for people who have the willpower, are determined enough and are hard-working enough to continue hitting the gym. To explain why such a phenomenon exists, behavioural science has a fairly compelling answer. The framing heuristic or framing effect was studied back in 1981 by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman to show how different phrasing would affect a participant’s response to a choice in a hypothetical life and death situation. The result of this experiment showed that 72% of the participants chose their first option when the situation was presented in a ‘positive frame’ whereas only 22% chose their first option when the same situation was presented in a ‘negative frame.’ With regard to this experiment, the ‘positive frame’ displayed a treatment to a disease that would save a certain number of lives. The ‘negative frame’ in this context displayed a treatment which would result in not being able to save a certain number of people affected by the disease. This proved at the time that individuals tend to perceive the nature of any situation through the framework in which the situation is presented.

Applying this principle to the fitness movement and in particular to the idea of going to the gym gives us a promising explanation as to why people are so averse to the thought of gyming. The gym has, through media, cultivated an image of a place that people go to to punish themselves from a day/night of excess indulgence be it alcohol, cigarettes, or most notably, junk food. This image puts the gym and fitness as a concept in a negative framework, making most people repulsed by the idea of putting their bodies through “literal physical torture”. The image further propagates stigmatization of the gym in the minds of people who don’t indulge in excess. Adding to this the several people who post “workout selfies” of themselves looking sinewy, this cocktail makes the masses believe that succeeding at being fit is meant only for a selected few, and coupled with the “humse na ho paiga” (I’m not capable of this) attitude, gyms have never looked more empty.

To solve this pertinent issue, several gyms have tried to tackle the problem by changing the framework with which people perceive fitness. One such example is Cult by Cure.Fit. This new-age gym which first began in 2015 has been revolutionizing fitness across the country. The way Cult attracts more people to get into a fitness regime is not just through its affordable membership schemes but also through how it promotes fitness. Cult allows members to book ‘classes’ through an app on their smartphones/tablets or even through their website. Each class – for example Strength & Conditioning, or Boxing – contains a specified routine for one hour that every member who attends the class has to complete under the guidance of a professional trainer. Cult uses no machines, and relies purely on the strength and building of the human body and mind. By employing such a model, Cult detaches itself from regular gyms, portraying themselves as a one of a kind fitness centre. Providing unique features such as a football class, members experience fitness as though they were outdoors, playing, like they did when they were once a child.

Presenting such a positive framework to the public has now countered the aforementioned phenomenon strongly since Cult alone has had 10,000 members as of 2017 (and growing). To further this image, it has also begun two other ventures under the Cult name – Eat.Fit (line of nutrient and protein filled foods and drinks) and Mind.Fit (yoga classes), showing that a healthy body and a healthy mind keep you holistically fit. Their ever-growing number of members has now started a chain reaction wherein more and more people are considering entering a lifestyle of fitness by enrolling in various gyms and not just at Cult.

These numbers alone make it clear that a glaring framing bias has engulfed the country in its perception of a healthy lifestyle and taking advantage of the same would prove beneficial for both new age gyms as well as the people of the country. With the increase in the number of fitness centers such as Cult across the nation, people have now turned a new leaf, incorporating exercise into their lives step-by-step.  

Mihir Parekh