No, I’m not talking about a fitness cult. I’m talking about Cult.fit. Which might seem like the same thing. It isn’t.
For the initiated, Cult.fit is the fit-tech (healthtech?) start-up that’s spreading like wildfire. Everyone and their mother has joined it, or have at least taken trial classes. Part of the cure.fit umbrella, and ending everything with “.fit” might seem like it's all about fitness, and to a large extent, it is. But beyond the app, fancy equipment, and endless hi-5s— it's just a fad. A fad, a craze, a dying enthusiasm that won’t get you to your fitness goals. That is, unless you leave.
Cult.fit (hence referred to as ‘Cult’) is a group-fitness concept that has taken India by storm. Starting in Bangalore, it has expanded to over 15 cities and has over 100 centers. Further, they’re eating up the competition. Recently, cure.fit (the parent company) acquired Fitternity, a service to find gyms. They have also been acquiring local single-city-only chains. Apple fitness and The Fit District come to mind for Bangalore acquisitions. The problem, however, is not the creation of a ‘fitness monopoly ‘— though this will be a pressing concern soon. The problem is the kind of fitness they are selling and the kind of fit people they’re not making.
Before we proceed I should add, I was a Cult member. Between January 2019 to June 2019 I was a member of the “fitness revolution.” This unqualified opinion is based on having tried everything from yoga to HRX at Cult centers in Bangalore. Although, this argument holds true no matter which city you’re in, what classes you go for, or how fit you are.
If you’re thinking of joining your local gym or splashing out three times the money and joining a Cult center double the distance from your house, this might be of help. Even if you’re hell-bent on joining Cult, at least know what you’re getting yourself into.
But before that a caveat. Many online forums are filled with queries ask — is Cult.fit worth it? This is not an answer to such queries. I can’t determine its ‘worth’ by my experience. This is why I will not make a judgment on the same. Further, I will not go into points like the quality of the trainers, class timings, number of people per class, and the pros and cons of each class. My opinion does not cover such standardized questions. Let’s proceed.
Everything and more
Cult works on a simple principle — group fitness classes. This preys on a human flaw of the unknown.
Stepping into a gym makes you feel scared. You’re there because you aren’t happy with your body. What’s worse is the person that greets you is probably what you want to be like. This immediately makes you feel uncomfortable.
Doing anything at the gym for the first time does not make sense. Nothing feels natural. You won’t know what weight to pick up, what to do with them, and how to start. If you go into the gym with no plan or objective and only an unreasonable desire to “get fit,” you’ll struggle. Or at the very least, be embarrassed.
Cult solves this. It gives you everything you need. A plan, equipment, trainers, and a sea of people just like you. If you’ve ever stepped into a gym and felt scared, stepping into Cult feels like heaven. You think — “is getting fit really this easy?” It isn’t.
In any group fitness class, especially one as manicured as Cult’s, you can hide. You can hide behind anyone and everyone. You can do this because everyone is a beginner. There’s no difference between anyone. And since everyone is a beginner, is anyone really a beginner?
There’s nothing wrong with being a beginner. In fact, starting from scratch is an opportunity because everything is progress. But it comes at the cost of embarrassment. We don’t like it, that’s why we require solutions to ease our fears. Cult is such a solution.
At Cult, there’s no trial-and-error, no embarrassment of doing the correct exercise incorrectly, or the incorrect exercise correctly. No need to ask questions and sound foolish and naive. The entire effort of learning and acquiring experience, whether good or bad, is gone. Everything is managed by a centralized entity — Cult.
Fat not muscle
There are no programs at Cult. I should elaborate — there are no long-term personal programs at Cult. It’s always one size fits all. If you want to build a particular type of body, whether that be athletic, aesthetic, or strong, you can’t do it at Cult.
There are specific workouts though. For instance, if you want muscle-specific weight training, you can do the HRX workout. But you can’t pick the muscle group, they’ll pick it for you, and it varies every day. You can also do sports-specific training — but it’s limited to football and general sports conditioning. But if you want to tailor the workout for your body or sport, Cult won’t help. Cult is as general as general fitness gets.
You can get a personal training session (I haven’t), but can’t you do this at a regular gym as well?
Getting fit or strong or lean is about progressive overload. This means increasing the resistance of the exercise on a regular basis. This applies to everything from weightlifting to running.
You can’t progressive overload at Cult because you don’t pick the exercises or the workouts. They’re handpicked keeping in mind the lowest common denominator. This refers to exercises everyone can do, but some people can do more easily. None of these exercises can be progressively overloaded if you don’t force them. Once again, you can’t force the issue at Cult.
So, if Cult does not get you fit, what does it do? Cult makes you lose weight by burning fat and not putting on muscle directly. All classes are designed to get you exhausted, make you sweat, and burn as many calories as possible. That’s not a bad goal. Personally, I think it’s lazy. They’re making you lose weight, not get strong. And they’re very clear about this.
They’re selling the ‘burning’ of calories, not the building of muscle, a body, or a way of life.
If the goal is to burn fat and only fat, then Cult’s workouts are great. You’ll be exhausted, sweat buckets, and burn calories. If that’s your goal, then by all means do it. Then again, you can burn significantly more calories if you ran, cycled, skipped rope, or did burpees for an hour. And it will be cheaper than joining Cult buying workout gear and traveling to the center each day. But most people won’t because they need someone to force them to. That’s why they prefer Cult.
Chasing the clock
When you're at Cult, you’re part of a herd (read: group); you have no plan (it’s given to you); so are you chasing anything? Yes, yes you are. You are chasing time. Time spent at the center, consecutive classes attended, badges earned, energy score-based ranks, and more. All of these are just variations of progress but not really. These might give you a sense of consistency, but it lacks the most important ingredient — discipline.
Since you aren’t structuring anything, there is NO discipline. You’re just forcing yourself to the center (which is better than laying on the couch, so kudos). But if you have no inner drive to workout, the Cult service is doing everything for you. From giving you the weights, telling you what to do, how long to do it for, and more. You are moving to orders.
Then there’s what you do after the workout. Burning calories does not give you an excuse to eat garbage. But because you forced yourself to take that small step to step into a Cult center you deserve a reward, right? So, what’ll you do — you’ll get through the 40-minute workouts, and down your satisfaction in sugary drinks, carb-heavy fast foods, and alcohol.
What you’ll end up doing is what most people do — go to Cult for a “workout” take a selfie for the GRAM, and use the workouts as a cheap excuse to do what you really want to do. No discipline, no results.
No-where and never
Cult breeds dependence. Not for fitness but for convenience. If the only experience you’ve had with fitness is manicured, you won’t settle for anything less. You’re given everything at Cult. From the workouts to the equipment, to polished centers, to a bunch of people doing it for the first time.
Since you have so many elements — trainer, exercise, companions, and centers, you build dependency. You will think twice before going for workouts if it isn’t conducted by a preferred trainer at the nearest center, doesn’t have your favorite exercises or your friends aren’t coming. With so many variables, you build patterns and hope to replicate them over and over. But these patterns rarely repeat themselves.
What you should look for are constants. Elements that do not change no matter what. These can be equipment that’s always available, a space in the gym (or at home) that you can workout, a time that's suitable, and an attitude that is unrelenting. If you depend on specific trainers, specific equipment, companions, and scarcely repeated workout formats — you’ll breed dependency. This dependency is unsustainable.
Fitness is not something that you can do temporarily. It’s something you have to do all the time. During workdays, off days, holidays, it’s every day. If the only thing you know is Cult and its structured workouts, then you’ll not know what to do without it. On holidays, if there’s no gym, you won’t know how to get after it. After all — where’s the trainer, the equipment, the polished floor, and my buddies? Even if there is a gym, what will you do? You won’t know where to start.
As I write this, I’m reminded of David Goggins’ lines, “What the fuck do you do when the headphones come off bro? It’s you in your own mind.” So I ask — what will you do when there’s no trainer, fancy equipment, or someone babying you?
For the extremes
With the ‘fitness revolution’ not following a plan, focusing on the mindless burning of fat, chasing only time, and creating a dependency, who should go to Cult? As I said earlier, that’s not a question I can adequately answer.
Cult is for both extremes — from that person who hasn’t worked out at all and needs someone to hold a gun to their head to move a muscle, to the athlete who needs a variety of workout programs, from strength training to yoga. Hence, these can be used liberally to get the benefits of all forms of fitness under one membership. That’s definitely a plus no matter which way you look at it.
If you’re a motivated guy/girl already steady with a workout regime, Cult’s approach will feel too ‘everything at once.’ Moreover, the people going there will feel (to me at least) like they're here for a show, a “good time.” If this is your opinion of Cult, trust me, you’d be better off signing up for a local gym, and developing your own program.
Even as contradictory as this sounds — join Cult to expand your exercise arsenal. Use formats from HRX to yoga to learn what exercises target specific muscle groups. Once you've acquired the knowledge, leave. Build your training plan with the expanded arsenal, join a local gym and execute. I should add, this training plan will be more for conditioning and supportive exercises, the fundamentals remain the same whether it’s in Cult or the gym.
Not all bad
Even though I don’t like the approach and the kind of people that rave about Cult, its not without some positives.
I’ve listed a few that come to my mind.
- Convenience: The injection of fitness with glamour is something commercial gyms cannot do. Cult is premiumizing fitness, at a worldly cost. This allows people with deep pockets to get fit at a more comfortable and convenient pace. They pay more and they get a premium version of a local gym, with regular cleans (even pre-Covid), trainer-only classes and a buddy system. They pay for things to slow down to their level.
- Employment: Cult has given employment to an important part of the Indian society. From the looks of it, a lot of Cult’s trainers are former national and state-level sportsmen and women. These people have played sports with a strong fitness base (e.g.: boxing, hockey, wrestling, etc.). Cult brings them to big cities, trains them gives them employment as trainers. Some of them are damn good at what they do. Some of them are using Cult to fund their livelihood, their passion, and support a family back home.
- End to end: Cult provides all forms of general fitness training. From basic strength to yoga, and more. They also have specialized workouts like Crossfit, TRX training, kettlebell workouts, and more. You simply cannot get this range of activities at a single gym with one membership. Unless of course, you learn each format. But I should add, very few people opt for these. The major chunk of the crowd goes for general fitness because of the aforementioned flaws.
- Whatever works: Cult, like every gym, park, pool, ground, provides a place for people to get fit. This is worth something, even if it’s by default. This is the ‘whatever gets you off the couch’ point.
Staying fit versus getting fit
Getting fit is the hard part. It’s going from zero to one. Once you’re at one, getting higher is up to you. Cult gets you to one, which is great. In fact, it's more than great, and that’s not my point of contention. It’s what comes after that isn’t.
Cult is a service I would (and have) paid for. But once it gets me to one, I’m out. Then I’ll find what my fitness goals are and find the avenues to execute them. Personally, Cult will not be my primary or even preferred avenue of fitness, because it cannot take me from one to ‘n’.
That’s what every general fitness service should be like. Since Cult creates such a comfortable view of fitness, people like it. They like it so much that they want to stay there. They like it so much they depend on it, chase nothing except time and calories burnt, and many have no discipline. This why people either force themselves to say between zero to one or reach one and stagnate. They don’t want to push beyond one because they are ‘fit.’ And the marginal cost of getting ‘fitter’ outweighs the marginal benefit. This is absolutely fine. To each their own. But that’s not for me, and that’s why I’d argue someone with the same mentality should not join Cult.
If you’re not satisfied with your one, then evolving beyond Cult is important. When (and not if) that happens, you’ll see the limited nature of Cult. You’ll see if for what it is — a ‘show’ you don’t want to be part of. When that happens, your “it” will catch up to you. When it does, you’ll want to move beyond one and find your n.