What motivated you to start going to a gym to work on your body?There’s no easy way to say this. I hated working out. It was my dad’s force that motivated me! It wasn’t until I saw some results that the crying and moaning stopped and I began to workout after school and sixth form with my bodyweight and 3kg dumbbells.
Looking back I couldn’t thank my father enough. He got me through the initial shady phase where most people seem to give up. I then developed enough confidence and enough of a body to start the gym myself.
When and why did you decide to start your online fitness portal azadsinghfitness.com?I started the online coaching service at AzadSinghFitness.com in April 2015. So it is still quite a new startup and venture. I saw success in Facts On Fitness, a predominantly social media based brand I had started and saw a gap in the market. Many people, especially Punjabi are vegetarians and they had nobody to turn to for coaching. I was a qualified personal trainer so took the initiative.
I’m slowly climbing the ladder of recognition but my aim is to be a known guy in fitness as a vegetarian (maybe even vegan in the future).
How much time do you spend in the gym and on your fitness routine on a daily basis?I spend all in all an hour pretty much everyday working on something. If I’m not in the gym I’ll be doing yoga or stretching at home. I believe fully in the quote ‘if it’s important to you, do it everyday’.
I think modern society has taken a negative knock in terms of physical activity. I feel most issues we have with chronic diseases these days can be largely with some activity (Ideally a farmer like day but some fake work in a gym is fine too).
Why is bodybuilding important for you?I was always inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger. I truly believe a well-built physique shows a lot about someone’s character. The time, sweat and dedication they have put in, not to mention the time management skills, persistence and willingness to set and achieve goals.
Plus wouldn’t it be cool to have your life form in front of you based on the values you’ve picked up just from the gym. I mean Arnold’s whole life was established once he won Olympia (not to take any of the hard work away from him). Point being the same dedication and attitude applies to the rest of your life and once it is applied nothing can stop you.
Having lumps and abs are pretty cool too.
What were the reasons behind you deciding to be a Vegetarian Bodybuilder?I’d eaten meat all my life so never knew what it would be like. I assumed like most others I guess that it was needed for a physique. One day my brother who was already a vegetarian challenged me and I agreed to the challenge. I never ate meat or fish from that day on.
It affected me at first, not knowing much about what to eat etc. It wasn’t long before I was already looking better than I ever did and I feel amazing inside too.
Now I also see it as a USP for my business. The next step, when I feel fully ready is to go vegan. There’s so many myths around about protein intake for vegetarians and all. I’d like to crush them as I crush my personal bests every week.
Would you agree that bodybuilding increases one’s physical fitness too?It sure does! This isn’t the 70’s anymore where cardiologists are saying that weight training is bad for your heart. We have come a long way since then, we now know it’s amazing for people of any age. Muscle building, bone strengthening, long-term fat loss aswell as positive effects on diabetes, memory, heart health and reducing chances of all chronic diseases are just a few benefits of using weights / resistance training to ‘bodybuild’.
Do you identify yourself as a Sikh? What are the components/characteristics of your personality that you identify with being a Sikh?I do. I am interested in ‘sarbat da bhalla’ (wellbeing for all) and the elements of mind, body and soul which resonate from the sikh ethos. I don’t want to create a list and say I’m polite, humble and all, that’s not my place but I’m very inspired by the way the Gurus lived their lives.
Giving is a large part of the Sikh ideology and I can’t think of a more rewarding career path than to help people achieve their short-term fitness goals and to also improve their long-term health.
Do you think that your being a Sikh influences the way in which you approach the field of fitness and bodybuilding?(in terms of nutrition, supplements or anything else)I think they sit closer than we would assume. Kushti (wrestling) and physical fitness was a big part of the Gurus times (especially the 6th Guru onwards). SGGS mentions mind, body and soul as a unit. I completely believe that they make up a tripod. Without one leg we’re compromised as is the tripod.
In terms of diet there is the vegetarian approach which may influence health and fitness, but only in a better way (providing one get all nutrients they’re missing).
I’ve also worked with Amritdhari Sikhs who are more careful when it comes to supplements to check for egg etc. Otherwise I don’t think there are any excuses or restrictions.
How do you feel when you see other Sikh men excelling or doing well in the field of fitness (strength sports/bodybuilding etc) ?I feel ecstatic, truly. When I started out in the gym I only had my Chacha to look up to – a well-built sardar (the only one I knew). The more I dwelled on the idea of coming into the fitness industry, the more sardars and Punjabis I saw doing amazingly well. It really pleases me.
For too long it has been a forgotten part of our culture and traditions. Not through our own fault mind you. We are pretty much all second, third and even fourth generation British Sikhs. The generations before us were too busy settling and making a living. I can’t imagine getting a six-pack was high on the priority list. Now we’re an affluent community and it’s no longer about clocking the hours to send money back home. Our generation is now making wiser decisions to get health into gear and even getting the elders into it.
Lots of progress has been made with Gurdwara gyms now opening and many of our youth are interested in MMA because of guys like Subaig Singh who are much-needed role models. We now even have social media pages dedicated to Sikh athletes! Check out https://instagram.com/sikhmuscle1/ or @sikhmuscle1 on Instagram.
You have a large number of followers on Social Media and many from the community look up to you as an inspiration. How does it feel?It keeps me on top of things, it must be said. I post a lot of what I do whether in video form, pictures or my blog. So I need to keep progressing and setting an example.
I like to practice what I preach. It’s nice to hear from people worldwide but I always try to encourage people to have their own story. I came from a 49kg skinny Singh to whatever I am today. Things are possible once the mind is focused.
I find it humbling that people find me an inspiration but it brings a sense of responsibility which I’m happy to take on.
‘Our ancestors were saint soldiers. With their spiritual side came a ferocious physical being. People who fought with a 16kg kirpan. Let’s not lose that bahadari to pizzas and pakore! Find your inspiration and get in the gym.’ – Azadbir Singh. This is an interesting thought. It would be great to hear some more from you on this. Do you feel that it is important for Sikh men to be physically fit because they have got a tradition of ‘bahadari’ to uphold?As mentioned previously I believe the physical aspect has been lost in Sikhi for a while. Through many reasons, not only our only laziness. But it does make one wonder how saint soldiers from our history were not only spiritual but had amazing ability on the battlefield.
Thyaar par Thyaar is a concept in Sikhi where one should be mentally and physically ready to tackle oppression and injustice. It has to be said most of us these days couldn’t carry a 16kg dumbbell efficiently never mind a kirpan.
I do believe bahadari is something embedded within us. Since the very beginning Sikhs were revolutionaries and rebels. I myself take full pride in that and love listening to songs/stories about our shaheeds before and during workouts.
The interview is for sociological research which attempts to look at Sikh identity and Masculinity through a study of Sikh Bodybuilding and Gym Culture among Sikh men. Thanks to Amanjit Kaur Ahuja for approaching me and allowing me to use the content of the interview.