Learning the science in your squats

Oct 28, 2018, 07:23 IST | Anju Maskeri

Mumbai's only exercise scientist talks about why he ditched his Australian visa to be here

Learning the science in your squats
Colaba resident Sherin Pujari training at Bombay Port Trust garden. Pic/Suresh Karkera

In January 2017, when Griffith University graduate Sherin Pujari returned to Mumbai to work as a 'fitness scientist', he set a one-year deadline for himself. If the advanced skill set, acquired through a three-and-a-half year course in sports science from a premier Australian institute, wouldn't find takers, he'd return to pavilion. "Going back Down Under was a contingency plan. One I hoped to never resort to," he says. The Colaba resident was aware that he was an oddity. None of the other Indian fitness scientists he knew had returned to the city after completing their course overseas. But, Pujari longed to be back. He wanted to take off from where he had left.

Demystifying the science
Over a year later, we meet him on a sunny morning at Colaba's Bombay Port Trust garden, and it's evident that the 36-year-old has found home, literally and figuratively. A regular at the garden, the locals greet him at every other step. At one time, Pujari was also famous among the swish set. In fact, he was on the speed dial of many fitness-loving celebrities such as Shilpa Shetty, Celina Jaitley, choreographer Ganesh Hegde and industrialist Sanjeev Nanda. By the age of 25, he had set up gyms across Mumbai — including a private one at Madhuri Dixit's house — and was providing judo training at Delhi's Sports Authority of India and was even invited by the Mumbai Police to instruct their judo team. "After all of this, I felt, what next?

There had to be more to this. So, I packed my bags and abandoned a flourishing career because of this burning desire to gain a scientific understanding of the work I do," he says. Interestingly, it was through a friend that he found out about the Bachelor in Exercise Science course, which was being offered at DY Patil Medical College, Navi Mumbai. "It turned out to be a transfer programme to Griffith, so after finishing a year at the Nerul College, I managed to get through a competitive exam that would transfer me to Griffith. Out of 11, only two of us passed out of the university." Incidentally, they were the first and the last batch to have made the cut as Griffith University discontinued the course.

Today, his introduction as an exercise scientist — a degree recognised in 72 countries — invites puzzled reactions. To keep it simple, he's a fitness specialist with the training to look into a range of areas including biomechanics, exercise physiology, exercise psychology, athletic training, and fitness for special population groups (eg. the armed forces). While oriented more towards professional sportspersons and athletes, Pujari hopes to demystify it and make it accessible to the average person. "I explain only how much my client understands and needs to know. I don't throw fancy technical terms at them, so that they don't get overwhelmed. The idea is to make exercise fun for them, while I look into the technicalities." His team comprises a physiotherapist, nutritionist, psychologist and acupuncturist, who conduct an-all around, inter-disciplinary assessment of the client.

How he rolls
As a rule, his clients are made to undergo a VO2 max test, in which a face mask is put on the subject, and doctors measure the volume and gas concentrations of inhaled and exhaled air. Considered a foolproof measure of an athlete's physiological ability, the test is conducted while the client is made to undergo a treadmill test that progressively gets difficult. It is done up to a point where the person cannot maintain that effort anymore. It's at this point that the VO2 max data is measured. He even does a body impedance analysis, through which he ascertains the intra and extra cellular fluid content. "For instance, if he's a hardcore coffee drinker, I am able to gauge that his intra cell fluids are low. Due to this, most of the time he's dehyradrated from within." A postural analysis helps to know whether your knee can afford to cross the toe during squats or substitute it with a hip hinge training. His training is a blend of hard training — weights — interspersed with soft forms like tai chi, a form of sport of your choice and breathing exercises.

Performance is key
Pujari is clear that the focus of his training is performance, not weight loss. The regimen is tailored to help clients with fitness. "It could be something as simple as going cycling over the weekend," he says. "So, I will design a routine and make him develop that kind of endurance." He feels the problem is that we are conditioned to obsess over the number on the weighing scale and the desire to look thin. "It's important that we change the narrative. It's not easy because we are bombarded all the time with this false image of being 'picture perfect'. What's frightening is what's being sold in the name of fat loss," he says, referring to the unnatural growth in supplements. Pujari's skills, however, don't come cheap. No wonder that a large of chunk of his clientele consists of industrialists and actors. But, he is also in the process of creating a website that will launch in December, through which he hopes to make his knowledge more accessible.

The number of countries in which Sherin Pujari's degree in exercise science is recognised

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