By J. West Roosevelt, M.D.
WHEN a person whose muscular system is not already well developed by other exercise begins riding the bicycle, he will probably be surprised to find (unless the various bruises incidental to his first attempts are painful enough to mask all other aches), that the stiffness and soreness due to the unaccustomed work are not confined to the legs, or even the region of the hips. Probably he has more discomfort in the thighs than anywhere else; but he soon learns that it is well to avoid too sudden movements of the whole body, for they cause not a little pain in various unexpected parts of the trunk, and especially in the loins and between the shoulder-blades. He discovers, also, that a number of muscles in his arms and shoulders and chest are more or less stiff* and sore. In this painful way is it demonstrated to him that cycling should not be regarded as an exercise of the legs alone.
At Rest - Muscles of Arm, Body, and Neck Relaxed.
Observations by experts show that it is not only the legs which are developed by wheeling. In previously sedentary persons a considerable increase in the circumference of the chest takes place, the increase often amounting to one or two, and sometimes even three, inches. The arms and forearms also grow firmer, and it is said that in them also quite a marked increase in size has been seen. The muscular system everywhere in the body also improves in tone.
It is easy to see why cycling increases the strength of the legs. It is also easy to see why the chest measurement should be increased as a result of the deeper and more rapid breathing. Not only do the respiratory muscles become stronger and larger, but also the joints and cartilages of the ribs move more easily and more freely, because they have been made more limber by use. I do not know of any investigations which may have been made to determine whether or not there is any increased mobility of chest (i.e., extent of expansion and contraction), as a result of bicycle exercise; but it is almost certain that such studies would demonstrate its existence.
The muscles which we have been considering are all directly "exercised," as the word is usually understood, since they all contract and relax more frequently and more forcibly than when a person is either at rest or doing very little work. I have said that the power of muscles not directly (or rather not visibly) employed is also increased. There are two reasons for this. One is that exercise, if not excessive (and especially exercise which is pleasurable, and which is taken in the open air), almost always makes the appetite greater, the digestion completer, the heart stronger, and the circulation better; there is a generally improved tone in every organ of the body, simply because all are better and more abundantly fed, including the muscles, both those which are actively used and those which are not. The second reason for the increase of power and size of many muscles which are not connected with the lower extremity, and which the superficial observer would think were not called into play in bicycling, is that they really are in active use, although they appear to be at rest. For example, a large number are concerned in maintaining the equilibrium, so that the wheel does not fall sideways. This requires at times only a perfect balance of the forces of opposing muscles, and at others enough contraction of some of them to shift the weight by inclining the body to one side or the other. Others fix the lower portion of
In Action - Muscles of Neck, Shoulder, Arm, and Upper Parts of the Body Contracted.
A Side View of A. A. Zimmerman in Racing Position on a Wheel of his own Design, the spine and hip-bones so as to enable the great thigh-muscles to work effectively. In the arms and forearms very delicate adjustment is required in steering; and when hill-climbing or increased speed demands it, a great deal of force is expended by the arms in the firm grip and strong upward pull on the handles which counteracts the strong downward push on the pedals.
There is one muscular structure which bicycling, like every form of physical exertion, compels to do extra work, - the heart; and upon its integrity depend not only health and physical vigor, but also life itself. It has often been asserted that wheeling is apt to injure the heart. Is this so? I can only say that, theoretically, it is impossible for such harm to result in sound people, save from attempts to attain a high rate of speed, or from prolonged and fatiguing rides, or from climbing hills which are either very steep or very long; and practically I have been unable to find authentic records of any case in which heart disease has been caused by the use of the wheel in a sensible and moderate way. It may be added that, in the opinion of a number of physicians of great ability, the existence of organic heart disease does not always debar cycling. Indeed, the wheel is actually recommended by some as a valuable aid in the treatment of certain affections of this organ. There is a striking resemblance between bicycling and walking, so far as their effects on the heart are concerned: either may be healthful or harmful. Excessive exertion in either is dangerous, and moderate exertion is beneficial. That cycling is more apt to do harm than walking, can hardly be denied; there is much more temptation to ride than to walk too fast on the level; and the hill-climbing on the machine, even at a moderate speed, is far more of a strain than walking up the same hill at a speed proportionately moderate, and very few people seem to have sense enough to get off and walk when going up hills. It is safe to assert that for a person capable of acting with common-sense no harm will come from either; and certainly no more from one than from the other. If either in wheeling or walking shortness of breath is felt, one knows that an unwonted strain has been thrown upon the heart and lungs; and the intensity and duration of the breathlessness fairly measure the degree of strain. It is safe to assume that if neither shortness of breath nor palpitation of the heart be felt, the strain is not excessive.
Rear View of Zimmerman - At Rest.
Rear View of Zimmerman - In Action.*
* The pressure upon the right pedal, accompanied by strong contraction of the muscles of the right side, is especially well-marked near the shoulder.
A physician who has given much thought to the subject says that so long as the cyclist can breathe with the month shut, he is certainly perfectly safe so far as heart-strain is concerned.
It has often been asserted that cycling is injurious to women. There is a little truth in the assertion. Paraphrasing one of Lincoln's sentences, I would modify it, and say that cycling is harmful to some women all of the time; to all women some of the time; but not to all women all of the time. There is no reason to think that a healthy woman can be injured by using the wheel, provided she does not over-exert herself by riding too long a time, or too fast, or up too steep hills; and provided she does not ride when common-sense and physiology alike forbid any needless exertion; and provided, also, she does not get the bad habit of stooping over the handle-bar; and there is reason not merely to think, but to know, that many women are greatly benefited by the exercise. There are certain anatomical and physiological peculiarities which make it far more dangerous for a woman than for a man to undergo excessive physical strain; but if she be careful to avoid strain, cycling is both beneficial and safe for any woman who is free from organic disease.
The same may be said of men and children, and adolescents of either sex. If no organic disease exists, bicycling in moderation tends to increase strength and improve health, except in persons who find by practical trial that every ride, no matter how short and easy, is followed by a feeling of exhaustion. I do not mean merely a rather comfortable sense of fatigue; I mean a weariness which is painful. Human beings are not all built alike; and there are some people who, although they seem to be in good health, and to possess not a little physical strength, ought not to ride the wheel, simply because, for some unknown reason, they are not able to ride without injuring themselves. There is some peculiarity about their body machinery which forbids its use in this particular way.
There is one bad habit into which many wheelmen have fallen (or perhaps one ought to say "slouched"), which calls for sharp condemnation, for reasons partly medical and partly aesthetic. There is absolutely no reason for stooping over the handles in either of the two ways so commonly seen, - and there is no excuse for so doing, - in ordinary road-riding. It may be necessary for the "scorcher," when engaged in
"scorching," to assume the one or the other of these attitudes, - to sprawl with the body straight, but almost horizontal, and the head close to the handle-bar, or to bend the upper part of the back as if trying to break it in its middle, and throw the shoulders forward as if desiring to make them meet across his breast. Even so, one who is not "scorching" does not need to make himself a hideous object to look at, and also to reduce the benefits of wheeling to a minimum, so far as its effect on the chest capacity is concerned.
When high speed is attempted, the body must be bent forward, and the handles must be low. The stooping posture reduces the surface exposed to the resisting air, and also makes possible the effective use of many more muscles than can be used when the cyclist sits erect, as do those on pages 211 and 216. The picture on page 225 is from a photograph of A. A. Zimmerman. It shows that wonderful rider in the position assumed by him when making his record-breaking speed. There is something singularly graceful about the curve of the spinal column, and the position of the arms and shoulders. It is the grace which comes from evident power. On page 217 is depicted a "scorcher" of the ordinary type. He is simply a hideous caricature of the real athlete, - a man who does not know how to use his muscles engaged in a futile effort to look as if he did.