FITSTOP : taking fitness in nepal to new heights with dija shrestha/samyak udas the ultimate fitness couple
Interestingly enough, one can’t use the stairs to get to this place. When you get to Labim Mall over at Pulchowk, you need to use the elevator and make it take you to the highest floor it can take you. When you step out from the elevator, your destination is right in front of you. Like they’ve labeled themselves Fitstop Fitness, it is the one stop solution to all your fitness pursuits.
Boasting the largest square foot in our city, Fitstop prides itself for being result orientated. They want to help their clients sculpt the body like they have imagined when they sign up for a membership. And they do this by housing some equipment that no other gym has, being open from 6am to 10pm, and having an ambience that will put anyone to ease. With all of these, they also work only with professional and serious trainers who are committed to the fitness fraternity.
But we’re not here to talk about this magnificent gym. We’re here to talk with the co-founders, Samyak Udas and Dija Shrestha, and this is our conversation with them.
WERE YOU ALWAYS INTO FITNESS?
Dija: Ever since I was a kid I was a very keen dancer, so dancing was my form of physical activity from the very beginning. My father was pretty much into fitness and a disciplinarian, so we have always had a small gym in the house. My brothers too were avid soccer players and, therefore exercising or hitting the gym was never an alien concept to me. So fitness was never really a conscious decision; it was just there by default.
But when I went to Missouri, I did put on a lot of weight. That’s when I realized that I needed to shed all of that away and was actually the first time that I ever hit the gym. And ever since that day, I’ve been doing it religiously.
Samyak: For me, like everyone else, fitness started in school. I loved physical activity so I was involved in almost everything; from basketball to soccer to volleyball. When college came around, there wasn’t much of that, so I gravitated towards weights. My mindset at this point in time was just to look good. And then when I turned twenty, I got into tennis, which I picked up quite seriously. Then in my late 20’s, I got into kick boxing and martial arts and did it for about six years. When I did turn 29 and we started dating, we got into Insanity, not every day but almost every other day.
Dija: That was our idea of a date!
Samyak: And she is the one who got me into fitness in terms of training. Before that, it was all about just being a student. She was already a trainer herself and she just nudged me in that direction.
Dija: When I started as a trainer, I was not as fit as I am today. He, on the other hand, had a high fitness caliber. He was already there. I just sort of maneuvered him over the wall.
Samyak: And whenever we work out, we try to up each other. A healthy competition if you will.
AND WHEN DID YOU REALIZE THAT YOU COULD TURN THAT PASSION INTO A PROFESSION?
Dija: Let me build a bit of background. I come from a business family. Like every other member of the family I finished my masters and joined the family business because that’s how I was brought up. I worked with my father and my uncles at ICTC for about five years. But the thing was, I hate working under people. I did learn a lot from my time there, but I secretly wanted to venture out and head my own project independently. That’s when I started to explore and research my options. After a lot of brainstorming sessions, business plans, and researches, I stumbled across several maternity houses that were doing really well all over. And there was none in Kathmandu.
Maternity houses are essentially fitness centers for pregnant ladies and new mothers that goes beyond just exercising to form alliance with doctors and gynecologists to make motherhood better. I thought this concept was extraordinary, but to initiate, one needed antenatal trainer, which we have none over here. So I started communication with such people around the world and came across Shila Watkins. She owns reputed maternity houses in Florida and obviously, we were mostly talking about fitness. After a few weeks of talking, she said why don’t I apply to be an antenatal trainer myself. It was a 6 month long rigorous course, all about gynecology, so it was quite technical. But since I had a good grasp on fitness, she told me that it was doable. I gave it a thought and just went for it. So after being a trainer, the business side of things came to be.
Samyak: That’s how Happy Mamas came to be. After a couple of years of that, she started to really get into being a fitness trainer. Being a maternity house, you can’t expect a pregnant lady to be coming in regularly. But more than that, when they deliver, they want to go for postnatal training and lose the pregnancy weight.
Dija: That’s when we added a new dimension to it.
Samyak: After meeting her and being motivated to be a trainer myself, we both started to get into Insanity, got certified, and began being trainers together. That was 4 years ago, and we’ve been going strong ever since.
She’s the reason I started.
Dija: Awww… that’s so sweet.
Samyak: And I guess what keeps us going is the satisfaction that comes from it. When a client looks at themselves after working hard with a smile, it makes us smile.
WHAT IS YOU FITNESS GOAL, OR INSPIRATION? AND WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN?
Dija: I have an overall fitness goal and a principle that keep me focused, and I have short term fitness goals that keep me motivated. My overall fitness and health goal is to always find the center or the equilibrium; to always stay balanced. And I must say that it is tricky most of the times as it requires the utmost of efforts. It’s easy to get carried away and go extreme, for instance, following a crazy diet and a workout regime for a certain duration of time and going ashtray and binging for another couple of months. I believe in finding a balance.
And speaking of inspiration, my all-time are the ones who are renowned fitness and health experts who have touched a million lives in the most inspiring ways; like Shaun T, the Insanity creator, and Tony Horton, P90x creator.
But apart from them, and above them, my daughter, Taanvis’ beaming face whenever I share successful body transformation stories inspires me to do what I’m doing. Her accolades and belief in me and my work is a driving force. And my partner, Samyak, inspires me to do better every day as well. His belief that I’m capable to do more inspires me to push further and dig deeper.
Samyak: For me, like any other guy, it was all about getting a six pack. When I got it, it was about maintaining it. Then when I became a trainer, all of that seemed arbitrary. It suddenly became about updating. Much like technology, new things come and go in the world of fitness and it has become our mission to keep up with it and incorporate it. Fitness is a business after all, they are constantly coming up with new studies and data to sell their magazines and supplements. And so it demands us to make it a point to do our own research, learn, expand our knowledge, and sort what is practical.
Now, personally speaking, I believe that a body should be aesthetically pleasing while still being agile enough. There is no point in being big and not being able move or bend. For me, it’s all about being able to out run the other guy.
WHAT KEEPS US GOING IS THE SATISFACTION THAT COMES FROM IT. WHEN A CLIENT LOOKS AT THEMSELVES AFTER WORKING HARD WITH A SMILE, IT MAKES US SMILE.
ABOUT THE LEARNING PART, HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT IT? HOW DO YOU MAKE THE CALL TO FOLLOW SOMETHING?
Dija: A lot of reading involved. We have a library dedicated to health, and my dad, who is also a voracious reader, keeps adding to it. So when it comes to judging fitness trends and fads, we look into how the claim has been backed up; is it a reputable source, has enough been invested on it, all these go into making that call. And eventually, it becomes like switching channels on the TV, you don’t watch what you don’t like or don’t agree with. Then there’s obviously the interest. For instance, the Keto Diet. I’m actually following it now as I believe it’s a breakthrough in both fitness and science. So in a way, I’m genie pigging it myself before I’m able to recommend it to anyone else.
Samyak: She reads a lot, while I hate reading. I do read articles, but I take in a lot of visual content. And like she said, we look into the backing of the claims they make on YouTube, or Instagram.
Dija: Also, we have doctors for friends. So getting their opinions and takes contribute greatly to our judgment.
YOUR BODY NEEDS TO GO ON AN OVERDRIVE. JUST JOINING A GYM, GETTING ON A BIKE, AND LISTENING TO YOUR TUNES IS NOT GOING TO DO IT. YOU NEED TO SWEAT FOR THE RESULTS YOU WANT TO SEE.
SO WHAT’S THE WEIRDEST ADVICE YOU’VE HEARD SO FAR?
Samyak: I was trying it a year ago and she kept telling me that I’m going to get sick or get cancer, as all I was eating was high fats. She feared that all of that was going to build up my cholesterol and she was totally against it. But when I got my beach body, she’s in it as well.
Dija: That, and I did a lot of research as well. I got into it when I started to hear claims like how it cures certain cancers and diseases, and even Type A Diabetes. They haven’t proved that it cures Alzheimer’s, but there are interesting cases of it being cured. And Yoshinor Ohsumi, the guy who researched this and Intermittent Fasting got a Nobel Prize for it.
AND WHAT ABOUT ADVISE THAT HAVE TURNED OUT TO BE MYTHS OR ENTIERLY FALSE?
Dija: Low intensity workout, like Zumba, for women. It’s like, women are thought to be not capable enough to lift 10kg at the gym. They say that lifting is not for us and if we do, we’ll gain muscles. Both men and women themselves have this assumption and it’s completely false. Now, I do get that looking a bit muscular is considered not to be feminine, but this concept goes beyond that and turns into men looking down on women, and women looking down on themselves.
Samyak: And because women have lower testosterone in their system, it is actually good to do more heavy weights. All of these claims that you’ll eat more when you lift heavy, or you’ll put on weight is all baseless and random. And then there’s the bit about gaining weight if you have protein supplements like Whey. It’s just protein; it’s not going to contribute to your gut. Plus, people think they’re losing weight by going for a morning walk. Sure, it is a good thing, but it is not doing enough to get your heart rate up. And you need to get your heart rate up to lose weight. But going on a morning walk every day for years will form a habit and not tax your body anymore, and there’s no point in that.
Dija: Your body needs to go on an overdrive. Just joining a gym, getting on a bike, and listening to your tunes is not going to do it. You need to sweat for the results you want to see.
Samyak: And even with Zumba. You will lose weight initially, but when your body gets used to the movements, you’ll hit a plateau.
Dija: Coming to the ‘women can’t lift’ part, but not really a fitness myth, is that whenever I tell someone that I am a fitness trainer and that’s what I do for a living, they look at me as if that was not the end of the sentence. They think that this is just a side job, or something that’s not going to sustain a life. But since people are starting to realize the size of our project, they don’t look at me weird anymore.
WE STARTED OUT WITH A SMALL 600 SQUARE FEET ROOM WITH JUST 20 CLIENTS. THEN, WE GRADUATED TO A 800 SQUARE FEET STUDIO WITH 100 CLIENTS. AND NOW, WE’RE A MUCH BIGGER ENTERPRISE, ALMOST 10 FOLDS MORE.
THAT DOES SOUND OPTIMISTIC. AND ONE CAN’T DENY THAT FITNESS IS TAKING ITS BABY STEPS IN NEPAL. WHERE DO YOU SEE IT HEADING?
Samyak: Fitness has become a business in these days, and I must say that it’s turning out to be quite lucrative. For instance, a few years ago, fitness was the last thing on the people’s mind. And those who did have it weren’t ready to pay a premium for it. Now, people are willing to invest a lakh on a year’s worth of membership. These people are mushrooming and it is advantageous to supply those demands.
Dija: I guess people were not just ready for it in the past. But since the spending capacity of the people has increased, they want to go into a bigger gym and better their lives. And obviously, we’re heavily influenced by the west and Bollywood and since everyone there has a good body, we crave for the same. And there’s also how there’s more information out there about the importance of fitness and how it encourages working out. So apart from the gym as a business, people are finally realizing the importance of it. They now know that it’s more than just body building.
AND WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR YOU?
Dija: We started out with a small 600 square feet room with just 20 clients. Then, we graduated to a 800 square feet studio with 100 clients. And now, we’re a much bigger enterprise, almost 10 folds more. And with the way things are going, we hope to branch out more. Not just because we are able to, but because there is a need for it.
Samyak: We also want to encourage more youngsters to get into fitness. And perhaps encourage them to follow it as a profession as well. Why just follow the usual trend of being a doctor or an engineer. This field is as competitive and technical as they are. You just need to realize that and keep at it and be consistent with it.
Dija: And that’s applicable to all fields of life. Be consistent with what you do and you’ll be able to make something out of it you’ll be happy with.
WORDS: NIRVEEK PPJ SHAH | PHOTOS: GAURAV XHOMPATE SUNUWAR
LOCATION: FITSTOP FITNESS, LABIM MALL, PULCHOWK