What we call as the ‘Desi Gyms’, is something which the westerners refer to as the ‘Old School Gyms’. And there has been a constant debate on which is better.
Of course, there are proponents and opponents on both sides, but sometimes the justification is purely based on ego, more than facts.
First things first, modern gyms, as we see them today, with state-of-the-art facility and equipment, have simply evolved from the old school or desi gyms.
For e.g. the world has come a long way, from the time telephone was first invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, to establishing of the first telephone line by the Bell Telephone Company in 1877 (Link 1) [In fact, within seven years of its invention, the telephone exchanges were established in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta (Link 2].
I distinctly remember the time, we used the big telephone with a roundel in the middle, to dial a number. How you had to rotate the complete wheel, every time you have to dialled a single number. In case you somehow missed to complete the rotation, the entire process of dialling the entire number, had to be re-started.
The rotating wheel made a distinct sound, every time you rotated it clockwise and then it automatically went anticlockwise to the starting position. I mean, the entire process required tons of patience and time.
Owning a telephone itself used to be a status symbol. The phones were stationary, and people used to wait on the call, till the time the other person, came from a distance, running and picked up the phone to say ‘Hello’.
By the 1970s & 80s, the cordless phones were there, and all the issues with holding on the to the phone, while being stationary at a place, were gone. You could freely move around, carrying the handset, while talking. Of course, there was a limitation to how far you could go from the main receiver.
Back then, no one would have imagined that one day, you would be holding in hand, a device which would be operated from touch of your fingers, and calling would be just another task it would do. You would be able to manage every possible task in your life, with a device in your packet, we call as mobile phones.
But it all happened. And it happened at the blink of an eye. World changed faster in last 2-3 decades, than it had ever changed in the entire human history. People had to adapt and change. Those who didn’t, simply perished. And this phenomena was seen in virtually every field of life.
Similarly, when it comes to gyms, it’s origin is quite debatable. For some it is 3000yrs ago in Persia, yet others it may be China, the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BCE) and Ancient Egypt (2575-2130 BCE) (LInk 3), though Indians have been practising multiple forms of exercises since thousands of years.
But the word ‘Gymnasium’ derives from Ancient Greek word ‘Gymos’, which meant naked, as that’s how the athletes back then used to train and compete.
However, the issue was that today we have the word gym etched in our brains, due to heavy marketing from the west. Gym is just a common name given to a place, where people train. Every culture in the world has such places, with different names, for e.g. the akhara in India. The purpose is the same.
In fact, the akharas are one of the only form of old school places for exercise, which have managed to retained their original charm and structure, and remain relatively unchanged, unlike the old school gyms, which have completely transformed into the new ultra-luxurious gyms.
The concept of the modern bodybuilding style gyms came from the west, and the craze was very slow to catch on till the early 90s. One could find, a rare gym, likes the ones in the west, back then in India. The equipment had to be imported and costed a bomb. On top of that, there was an absolute lack of knowledge on part of the coaches, as there was simply no concept of fitness education.
Hollywood actors like Arnold, Van Damn and Stallone, inspired generations of people around the world, and everyone wanted to have the same vein busting muscles. India too had great bodybuilders back then, but they were far and few, and the exposure was quite limited.
But with the awareness of the internet and the social media, the gyms started literally mushrooming in every nook and corner of the cities and towns in India. Most of the problems were solved locally. Lot of Indian gym manufacturers and importers started providing fitness solutions from high end-luxurious brands & equipment to Indian & Chinese made, cheaper yet good alternatives.
Hot and humid gyms were replaced with centralized air conditioned gyms. Today these gyms have stepped up to a different level, using top class client management software, online workout and diet systems, fitness tracking devices and you name it.
But, the biggest question still remains. Did all this really made a difference? The answer is, Yes and No.
- The concept of exercising in a gym, which was once considered a totally male dominated area, now have a perfect mix of crowd from both sexes. In fact, even the transgenders are breaking the old school thoughts and catching on to the new trend.
- Gyms which were initially confined to resistance or weight training, today, are offering dance based workouts, group activities, Yoga & Pilates, boxing and MMA style of workouts, and a lot more. Everyone has something to choose from.
- Modern gyms are mix of toughness & hard core workouts and fun and enjoyment.
- The modern gyms are virtually weather proof. Irrespective of the type of environment you are in. Be it the scorching heat, or the minus degree temperature, whether it is raining outside, or snowing; weather is no more an excuse to miss a workout. Modern gyms are centrally air conditioned and people can workout without a break, throughout the year.
- The modernity of the gym have nothing to do with building a good physique. For e.g. even with the best of books, tuitions, online classes and other help, a kid won’t be able to score, till the time they sit down and study. Because the good old focussed hard work is still the way to go forward.
Whichever gym you go to, be it a normal desi gym in your neighbourhood, or the best of the luxurious gyms in your city, you can develop the finest physique, if you are dedicated and working consistently. And you may not get any results whatsoever, even if you are in the finest gym in the world. Because it’s never the machine, it’s the man behind the machine.
- Better and modern equipment are of course great, and always an added advantage when it comes to variety. But other than that, there is really nothing special about the equipment as such.
World’s finest physiques have been forged in the most basic gyms with nothing except the hard core equipment and extreme training. People visiting these gyms are not there for fun. They have a dedicated goal in that field.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the fun component has no place. No, it’s more to do with the aim of the person. Everyone doesn’t have that strong an aim for their bodies. There may be top doctors, scientists, engineers, CEOs, musicians, artists etc. for whom fitness can be either a passion, or just a need.
- Again, it’s great to have top class facilities, modern training equipment, and tons of technology, but a push-up, still has to be done on the ground, not virtually.
Most of the technology in fitness is trend based, not need based. It’s great to have an Apple watch, and great if it motivates you to be fit. But, it’s not needed to be fit. Millions of much stronger and fitter people, don’t own a fitness watch, and they even don’t need it.
Messi is not Messi because he wore Nike or Puma. It is Nike or Puma who needs people like Messi for their marketing. Messi would be Messi, even with the most basic pair of shoes.
Also, more luxurious the gym, the higher the price they command. Not everyone has that paying capacity. So, does that mean, you are inferior or can’t build a physique? Absolutely not. As I explained, it has nothing to do with your fitness goals.
- Another major plus point I found in the old school gyms is lack of distraction. Of course, focus is an individual thing, and you can find the most dedicated people in the best of the gyms. But when it comes to overall distraction, the focus level is up in the old school or desi gyms, as the person has nothing to look at during his training. No television, no loud music, no gossiping, no ogling at the opposite sex, and no Instagram pics after every set. It’s simple hard and brutal training, and get out.
I have personally worked out in the most basic of gyms, with very limited equipment, and the also owned luxurious gyms with best in class facilities. I remember during my athletic days, the gym in my stadium used to have only two barbell stands, couple of only Olympic sized barbells, and heavy plates. That’s it. No machines, or dumbbells, or anything else. And we did the hardest of training out there.
I remember my posting in Guwahati, where I worked out in a gym, with just a basic fan, in a 40deg temperature, with nearly 100% humidity. I have worked out in open ground and fields, hills and mountains and from smallest to largest of the gyms.
Trust me, it really doesn’t matter.