The Great Gama and The Mighty Atom

In Bodyweight Mastery by admin1 Comment

In the center of a loose earthen pit, two massive Indian wrestlers stood naked except for breech cloths, their black mustaches preened and heads shaven. Each raised a weighty gold scepter-mace, his badge of championship. This formality concluded, the two men faced each other in the open pit. The crowd took up a chant, calling the name “Gama” again and again as the match began. In a matter of seconds, the smaller man upended his opponent and slammed him to the earth as a roar went up. A gross mismatch. The victor was Volanko’s friend, “Gama, the Lion of the Punjab,” who would in years to come be recognized by Western sports historians as the greatest wrestler of the twentieth century.

The Great Gama

After the match, Volanko, Gama and the boy sat in the shade as the two wrestlers talked idly and all shared from a large basket of fruit, a gift to champion Gama who was a strict vegetarian. With appropriate deference, the boy addressed him.

“Gama, may I ask you something?”


“Your opponent was very big…”

“…and yet I threw him like a baby.”

“How?” Yoselle asked in wonderment.

“It’s really quite simple,” the Indian said good-naturedly. “In the Punjab, where I lived there was a large tree behind my house. Each morning I would rise up early, tie my belt around it, and try to throw it down.”

“A tree?” the boy marveled.

“For twenty years.”

“And you did it?”

“No, little one,” Gama smiled, “but after a tree…a man is easy.”

The foregoing comes from The Spiritual Journey of Joseph L. Greenstein by Ed Spielman, the biography of the oldtime strongman The Mighty Atom.

In case you’re not familiar with the story. Little Joe Greenstein, at the time named Yoselle, before it became Americanized to Joseph, was a sickly boy that the doctors said was going to die.

Instead, he ran off and joined the circus and under the tutelage of Volanko regained his health and started to become strong.

With the circus they traveled around including this journey to India.

The Great Gama, as this story explains, is well regarded as one of the best wrestlers ever.

And here we learn a little bit of his training methods. Obviously there were many other things this man did, but attempting to throw a tree was one of them.

What is this if not an isometric?

I can imagine that he attempted to throw that tree from many different positions. That is one of the advantages of isometrics over some other forms of training. You really can work any sort of different position. Small changes and make significant differences as my friend Stone Paul explains here.

This event surely was an imprinting of the importance of this type of exercise on the Mighty Atom and something he used throughout his life.

Later in the story he talks about working to bend a spike strictly as an isometric. After all if you can’t bend something but you try you’re simply working isometrically. If it does bend, it all of a sudden becomes an isotonic exercise.

But I also want to point your attention to one other thing. The comparison effect. As the Gama says, he never threw the tree, but after that a man was easy.

Working isometrics against a truly immovable object, and then working things that can move might be a useful training method.

There are other ways you can apply this sort of comparison to you benefit too like with partials. Do a partial rep with a heavier weight and then when you move to a full range lift, the weight will simply feel lighter.


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