Muscles for money

Ahmed Shatil Alam reveals the state of most privately-run gymnasium and fitness centres in the country and how the government can play a role in ensuring better service from these


Few years back, Nazmul Khan (not his real name), a Dhaka-based private university student, was sent to hospital for a major injury in his abdomen, straight from a gymnasium in Moghbazar where he had been working out for few months. After the admission and initial examinations at the hospital, the doctor told him that due to exercising with excessive some of his body muscles have been severely injured. Nazmul was fortunate as after a few days of treatment he was sent back home with a prescription.

While talking to New Age Xtra, Nazmul says that before going to the gym, he was a bit overweight and had also wanted a muscular body. For this reason, he went to Elb Fitness Centre for exercise. ‘But one day I fell sick while lifting weights…’ he shares. He also pointed out that on that day his trainer asked him to lift more weights and that took a toll on his body.

‘The trainer was not a regular trainer at the gym, he was basically a member like me. After some years of experience in the gym, the fitness centre authority appointed him as a fitness trainer,’ he says. Nazmul also shares that after the incident doctor asked him not to lift much and since then he has stopped working out.

Nazmul’s story is nothing new as New Age Xtra found a number of people who has faced similar injuries while working out at different private gymnasiums and due to the wrong advice of trainers and below standard exercise equipments at these centres.

The work out and bodybuilding culture among the male youth has been popularised over the past decade. Therefore, during this time, and also because of the dilapidated condition of government-run gymnasiums, private gymnasiums have sprouted up like mushrooms in different parts of the city and across the country.

While talking to New Age Xtra, the fitness centre owners and trainers shared that currently in Bangladesh there are more than 500 privately-run or owned gymnasium and the capital Dhaka houses around 200 gymnasiums and fitness centres from this number. Most of these organisations do not have proper trainers or equipments. But they still charge a handsome amount of money from the members in the form of admission and monthly charges.

They also informed that the main reason behind this irresponsible nature among the gym owners is the lack of a proper guideline or any rules set up by the government for the gymnasiums and fitness centres. According to the fitness experts, for establishing a gymnasium or fitness centre, an owner in Bangladesh simply needs a trade license issued by the government authorities.

Veteran fitness trainer and Mirpur-based Famous Gym owner Shamsul Alam says, ‘it is unfortunate that government does not observe the activities of these gymnasiums.’ ‘I have been involved in this sector for last four decades. But I am yet to see any specific government rules on fitness centres,’ he adds.

‘Right now, anyone who has little or no knowledge about fitness opens up a fitness centre by gaining a trade license and after some investment,’ he says. Over the past 40 years, Alam has trained more than 40,000 amateur bodybuilders. Some of his famous students include actors like Manna, Riaz, Shabnur and prominent classical dancer and choreographer Shibli Mohammad.

Echoing with him, Din Islam Dinu, owner of Ibrahimpur-based Muscle Art Gym, said that along with the regulation problem, there is a dearth of qualified trainers in Bangladesh. ‘A qualified trainer is important as such a person can advise a person about fitness and the proper exercise techniques based on the person’s physique and health. Unqualified trainers can lead any new individual to exercise down a very dangerous path,’ he says.


Famous Gym’s trainer Harun Reoon, who has been working as a trainer for last two decades, says in Bangladesh, including him most of the trainers have no proper degree in fitness or training. ‘I have no degree. But I joined this profession nearly 20 years back, after learning from my trainers in home and abroad over a span of five years. Unfortunately, most trainers today lack this skill for fitness training,’ he says.


Most of the trainers, in some of the gyms in Dhaka, have become trainers within few months of exercise and without having proper theoretical and practical knowledge. This is why cases like Nazmul’s has been on the rise, shares Harun. He also says that in Bangladesh the lack of education about the field is also a cause for a low number of quality fitness trainers in Bangladesh.




In recent days, another issue of concern has been steroid and other harmful drug abuse by the fitness and body building enthusiasts in Bangladesh. While talking to New Age Xtra, SK Yahya, a dietary consultant to body builders in Bangladesh, shared that in recent days the use of steroid and lethal fat burners are on the rise. Body builders and fitness enthusiasts come across these dangerous items at gymnasiums.


‘In Bangladesh, two types of people come to gymnasium or fitness centres. One is the type who wants to gain muscle and another just wants to burn their fat and tone their muscles,’ he says. And for these purposes when they go to the gyms, some greedy gym owners and trainers suggest them to take steroid if they want to gain muscle and fat burners for reducing fats, he says.


During a recent visit at several fitness centres in Dhaka, New Age Xtra found that the steroids like Decabol, Boldebolin, Testobolin and lethal fat burners like Clenbuterol were being sold to customers illegally for prices from Taka 800-5000 for different packages. Besides, both items were found being sold in city pharmacies and in social media without any prescription. And the items are from India, Thailand, Turkey, Russia, Denmark and other countries. They are being sold without any permission from the Drug Authority.


Steroids can be given topically (cream or ointment), by mouth (orally), or by injection. When injected, they can be given into a vein or muscle, directly into a joint or around tendons and other soft tissue areas. According to popular human-health related website WebMD, steroids are synthetic substances similar to the male hormone testosterone. Doctors prescribe them to treat problems such as delayed puberty and other medical problems that cause the body to make very low amounts of testosterone. Steroids make muscles bigger and bones stronger. They also may cause puberty to start and can help some boys who have a genetic disorder to grow more normally.


‘People use steroid to try to make their muscles bigger. Whether such products actually work has not been proven. But if someone takes them in large amounts, these can cause many side effects,’ reads WebMd website.


WebMd also says that in both men and women, anabolic steroids can cause high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke, higher levels of bad cholesterol and lower levels of good cholesterol , liver disease and possibly liver cancer. The chance of these problems is higher when steroids are taken as a pill. Besides, Oily skin, acne, and male-pattern hair loss, skin infections, irritability, rage, aggression, violence, uncontrolled high energy (mania), false beliefs (delusions), and addiction etc caused by use of steroid.


In this regard, Food and Drug Administration of United States in 2009, issued a public health advisory warning consumers to stop using any body building products that are represented to contain steroids or steroid-like substances. Many of these products are marketed as dietary supplements.


A former Mr Bangladesh-a title given to the best body builder in the country- told New Age Xtra while claiming anonymity, that after watching movies and knowing about the international body builders, the Bangladeshi builders are also currently engaged in such steroid abuse.


While admitting the fact that he also uses it to have bigger muscles, he says, ‘Both oral and injection steroids are used by almost all the body builders in the country to become muscular and famous…’.  He also shared that all the steroids are not even certified by our Drug Authority or any government organisation, but still sell in drug stores.


In this regard, Yahya informs that the most Bangladeshi bodybuilders do not stop after finishing a cycle of steroids, which can be lethal. ‘Usually in foreign countries, it is suggested that steroids be taken for just four consecutive months of the year while the body needs to rest the remaining eight months…But these are used throughout the year by bodybuilders in Bangladesh!’ says the former Mr Bangladesh.


Meanwhile, illegal fat burners like clenbuterol increases the size of heart muscle cells by increasing the amount of an inelastic substance known as collagen. This inelastic material reduces the hearts effectiveness at pumping blood, thus reducing its output, say health experts.


Former IEDCR director Mahmudur Rahman explains, the use of such drugs may exacerbate any pre-existing heart condition or blood pressure problems.


‘These drugs are known to negatively affect mechanical properties and microarchitechture of bone, increasing bone fragility. Greater muscle mass in combination with greater fragility of bone, increases the risk of bone fractures,’ he says.


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