There are too many people who think that all the fancy gadgets, devices, and equipment are no more than just marketing gimmicks. The opinion that technology can contribute to the development of a sportsperson is not very popular with the masses. Even with a product as revolutionary as BatSense, from Smartcricket.com, which is not only changing the way cricket is played, taught, and watched but has ushered in a new era in cricket, people like to nurse notions that talent can’t be taught and cricket is all about talent.
People still like to believe that the man who has the talent or the gift for a sport will always beat the cold, calculated, machine-like product of technology. On top of that, there is also the question of the indomitable spirit of man and this has always been portrayed as the quality of those who are closer to nature rather than technology. All our stories about human achievement, especially in popular culture, revolving around the victory of the natural over technology or science, which are portrayed as artificial and hence not worth embracing and emulating. Take for instance the movie series Rocky peaking at the point where it comes to a standoff between the cold, emotionless USSR and the underdog Rocky. Underdog because he has to prepare for the match without having any access to gyms or proper equipment. Even the climate and living conditions are portrayed as hostile. Thus begin the preparations for the battle of the century, between the man who is all spirit and the Russian who is all machine. And then an incredible thing happens. The training routine of both the boxers is exactly the same right down to each and every exercise. The only difference is the things they use to exercise. It was like we were being told that if you know what to do then you can use anything around you to exercise and replace fancy equipment with everyday things. Is it really true?
This brings us to the broad concepts of weight training. An important aspect of weight training is strength building/training which is of prime importance in sports like Boxing, Weightlifting, Shot Put, Javelin, Discus throw, etc. There are two types of strength training, one where a group of muscles is exercised called Compound exercise and one where a particular muscle is exercised called Isolation exercise. It goes without saying that in either type of exercise I.e. Compound or Isolation, you must be very particular about the way you do it, or the desired result which is to build strength in a particular muscle or muscle group will not be achieved. This way to do it is termed as the use of good form.
An interesting feature of strength training in a gym is that you may have set a goal for a group of muscles and could be failing to achieve it due to a lack of strength in one particular muscle. You can then start Isolation exercises for just that muscle to bring it at par in strength with the rest of the muscles.
Now coming back to the movie Rocky IV, you can even use your imagination if you haven’t seen the movie and figure out if your surroundings will provide the same focused and controlled exercise of the concerned areas as a weight machine. It’s not possible because in all likelihood you will not be able to maintain good form during training. No grip. No even distribution of weight. No way to increase weight properly in a graded manner to build endurance. Yet, it’s Rocky who wins our hearts with his training routine. We must admit you can’t match the cinematic appeal of a man who is pulling a cart overloaded with goods like an ox to exercise his back compared to a man who is working on the weight machine, even if he manages to lift the entire weight stack multiple times. This is in all probability a greater task because the amount of weight and the degree of difficulty in exercising on a weight machine can be much more than pulling a cart. In case you didn’t know, simply because in a weight machine the arrangement of pulleys or/and setting additional torque or resistance in the machine can make it immensely harder to do.
Another point. In the use of free weights as opposed to a machine, free weights are less effective as the force exerted against gravity in the case of free weights is not even throughout the lift and decreases substantially. While a weight machine can have an oval cam which will vary the resistance so that the force required to lift and the resistance remains constant throughout the exercise.
Moviemaking aside, those who are serious about sport know the true value of gyms and weight training. Though this is not the reason you find gyms everywhere even when all the sports mentioned here have been there since the start of the modern Olympics in 1896. The reason you see gyms everywhere is that a man called Arnold Schwarzenegger knocked the living daylights of every man through his physique showing what can be accomplished in a gym. Quite typically through a movie called Pumping Iron that hit the box office in 1977 and started a revolution.
The romantic idea of using whatever resources you have to excel is very strong, cinematically as well as inspiration-wise, especially when we as a nation still have a lot to establish in terms of infrastructure and resources. In support of technology, you will always find examples even in the midst of a lack of resources, like the current Olympic silver medalist in 49 Kg women’s weightlifting, Saikhom Mirabai Chanu. This is where the indomitable spirit of man is identified. Yes, it has nothing to do with technology. When Mirabai was still a kid she was seen to easily lift stacks of firewood which the elder siblings couldn’t lift and carry for a couple of kilometers. Sometimes double her weight. That’s the kind of jaw-dropping spirit which when a coach identifies there is just one thought in their mind, “if I could bring her to a gym, you have no idea what she could accomplish.” Well, now we know.