This section of the book is from "Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise", by Bernarr MacFadden.
Primitive nations can dispense with physical training-schools as the creatures of the wilderness dispense with houses and clothes, but city-dwellers need a substitute for the lost opportunities of outdoor exercise. Mental culture and gymnastics should be as inseparable as body and soul. "It is impossible to repress luxury by legislation," says Solon in Lucian's "Dialogues of Anacharsis," but its influence may be counteracted by athletic games, which invigorate the body and give a martial character to the amusements of our young men."
And that remedial use of gymnastics requires the supervision of an expert teacher. It is not enough to provide an assortment of training-school apparatus and trust visitors to use it to good advantage. We might as well establish a free public drug-store and invite patients to come in and help themselves. I have seen athletics on the Let-Alone plan tried in a city park, and remember the results in the case of novices who got discouraged the first day by disfiguring accidents, and of others who contracted dyspepsia by exercising directly after dinner
A well-developed system of physical culture offers remedies for almost even disorder of the human organism, and for all but the most hopeless malformations.
As a preliminary, gymnasium pupils should be advised to postpone the principal meal of the day (call it supper or dinner) to the late afternoon, and at least half an hour after the conclusion of their exercises. Violent muscular efforts can exhaust the vital vigor of the organism to a degree whichfor a short timemay take away the appetite, and make it advisable to defer repletion for a little while; but even a direct rush from the gymnasium to the dining-room would be hygienically preferable to the opposite mistake. After-dinner rest is recommended by the plainest monitions of instinct, by drowsiness, apathy, and aversion to strenuous efforts of any kind. After being nursed, a fretful child will fall asleep; gorged animals become torpid and retire to a resting-placesome of them for days and weeks. The physiological reason can be found in the fact that exercise interferes with digestion, and obliges the stomach to retain an accumulation of ingesta till there is a risk of their undergoing a process of fermentation and becoming a positive danger to the system they were intended to nourish.
Beginners should also be warned against the mistake of continuing any special exercise to the length of excessive fatigue, and to avoid debilitating perspiration by choosing the lightest dress compatible with decency and comfort. "Gym-nos," in the language of the ancient champion gymnasts, meant "naked." A hampering load of drygoods is, indeed, often the first impediment to the free use of our motive organs, and the professional English trainer Stephens, of sprinting fame, recorded his experience that barefoot boys were his most promising pupils, because perfectly straight toes are of primary importance as qualifications for a victory on the footrace course.
The kittels of South-German schoolboysjackets with sleeves terminating at the elboware hard to beat for gymnastic purposes; and on general sanitary principles a course of physical culture should begin with arm-exercises. Dr. Schrodt called attention to the fact that in newborn children the lower extremities are only slightly larger than the arms, and that in our nearest zoological relatives the difference is next to nothing. But from the first to the end of the fourteenth year, when a boy may chance to be apprenticed to a handicraft, his legs get about ten times as many opportunities for development. At every step the muscles of the lower motive organs have to lift and move the weight of the body, while his hands are pocketed for future reference or swing idly to and fro. The result is a partial and unsymmetnc tendency of growth. The stout pedestals of the organism support a rickety superstructure.
It should be the first object of gymnastics to counteract the consequences of that mistake, and a disposition to pulmonary disorders can thus often be nipped in the germ. Microbes are specially apt to fasten upon torpid and neglected parts of the organism. Like caterpillars scattered by a gale, they can be dislodged by a movement-cure, and, besides, arm-gymnastics help to correct the most frequent of all malformations: vis., a narrow chest.
Weak lungs must have been a rarely-heard-of complaint at a time when the rising generation of a whole continent was trained in spear-throwing. Consumption microbes had no chance to effect a lodging in a body getting the benefit of that exercise. And as a prescription for the lung-suffering results of indoor life no remedy of the drug-store can compete with a course of Gerwerfen, as the German turners call their attempt to revise that form of athletics, which a modern educator describes as follows:
The missile is a lance of some tough wood (ash and hickory preferred) about ten feet long and one and a half inches in diameter, terminating in a blunt iron knob to steady the throw and keep the wood from splintering. A heavy post with a movable top-piece (the Ger-block) forms the target, the head-shaped top being secured by means of a stout cramp-hinge that permits it to turn over, but not to fall down. Distance all the way from ten to forty paces Grasp the spear near the middle, raise it to the height of your ear, plant the left foot firmly on the ground, the right knee slightly bent, fix your eye on the target, lean back and let drive. If you hit the log squarely in the center, or a trifle higher up, it will topple over, but, still hanging by the clasp-hinge, can be quickly adjusted for the next thrower. A feeble hit will not stir the ponderous Ger-block; the spear has to impinge with the force of a sixty-pound blow, so that a successful throw is also an athletic triumph. The German spear throwers are generally lads after the heart of Charles Readeambidextrous boys, whose either handed strength and skill illustrates the fact that the antiquity of a prejudice proves nothing in its favor." For indoor exercise an equivalent can be constructed with a stout rope and a couple of leather-covered iron ringssay, six inches in diameter. Dangling from a high ceiling or the beam of a barn, a grapple-swing can be used for a great variety of acrobatic evolutions: Dangling, swinging to and fro, slowly at first, then faster and faster (with the aid of the plunging feet); "turning over," and whirling heels over head, till the protest of the wrist-joints enforces a pause.
Breathing-pauses will be often needed the first week, but afterwards at even longer intervalsindicating the lung-strengthening effects of the exercise.