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Keeping Fit All the Way / How to Obtain and Maintain Health, Strength and Efficiency By Walter Camp Characters: 24535

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

We may now consider the question of time-saving for those who may be obliged to largely forego pleasurable exercise and who yet desire to keep fit and well in spite of this deprivation.

There are two divisions in this class, as may be shown in the case of the present world war. The first class embraces all the men in active service, with two subdivisions-officers who are over forty and officers and privates who are under that age. The second class comprises the men (and women, too, for that matter) who, unable to do service at the front, must support the troops in various ways behind the lines. It is said that it takes five men behind the line to support one man at the front, and, judging from the pressure that already has come upon our people, this is manifestly not an incorrect statement. These reserves must be kept in good physical condition, and with this end in view the writer has prepared a modified form of setting-up exercises which has been tested out with large numbers in actual practice.

These exercises are intended to prepare the younger men for the more strenuous training which they are to undergo later; in the case of the older men, they are to be used before entering upon the ordinary day of business routine. After a great deal of study a system has been devised which answers the needs in both cases; it is not too strenuous for the older men, and it will add suppleness, vitality, and endurance to the physical assets of the younger men.


We know how, in the stress of affairs brought about by war, not only individuals, but nations are suddenly awakened to the fact that what may have been good enough even a year ago is antiquated and out of date to-day. Under the pressure of war we are driven, whether we wish it or not, to put to immediate test virtually every fact of our daily lives. We find that almost every machine and well-nigh every method may be improved-in fact, that it must be improved.

Boats, aeroplanes, guns, industrial processes, even the actual business of living itself, all are being submitted to the test of emergency and are being made over upon new lines. So it is with our setting-up exercises. We can no longer afford to waste time or motion or effort. We are teaching on an intensive scale and we must take nothing out of a man in preparation; rather we must add to his store of vitality and energy. Perhaps we find that the routine of his ordinary work will strengthen sufficiently his legs and arms. This is astonishingly true. What we must now do is to supple him, to quicken his co-ordination, to improve his poise, and to put his trunk and thorax into better shape. We must give him endurance, quickness of response, and resistive force. This, therefore, being our problem, we eliminate the arm and leg exercises and go directly for the trunk and thorax. We must quicken co-ordination and improve the man's rapidity of response to command. And standing out above all is this major principle: "No vitality should be taken out of a man by these setting-up exercises; he should not be tired out, but rather made ready for the regular work of the day."


This war in which we are engaged has brought to our people some all-compelling truths. And the greatest of these is that our men, the flower of our racial stock, are deficient physically when put to the test before examining-boards. When one sees some two thousand men examined by draft boards to secure two hundred men for our army, as happened in some cases, when one reads that in a physical examination for the sanitary police force in Cleveland thirty-seven out of forty-two women passed and only twenty-two men out of seventy-two, one is ready indeed to believe that we have failed to produce men who can be called upon when the need arises to defend our country.


Our athletic sports have produced the right spirit, as the rush of athletes to the service has shown. But our calisthenics, our general building-up exercises have apparently failed in the physical development of our youth. They are antique. Permit me to illustrate. Only recently Professor Bolen, the authority on Swedish exercises, died and left behind him the record of his work. After twenty-five years of study he had decided that setting-up exercises were unnecessary in the case of a man's legs or arms or pectoral muscles, and that the attention should be devoted to the trunk-that is, to the engine itself.


Here is what was once considered to be a reasonable morning "setting-up" exercise, and which, if coupled with a five-mile rapid walk and hopping first on one foot and then on the other for a half-mile, would prepare a man for his day's work.

On rising, let him stand erect, brace his chest firmly out, and, breathing deeply, curl dumbbells (ten pounds each for a 165-pound man) fifty times without stopping. Then placing the bells on the floor at his feet, and bending his knees a little and his arms none at all, let him rise to an upright position with them fifty times.

After another minute's rest, standing erect, let him lift the bells fifty times as far up and out behind him as he can, keeping the elbows straight and taking care, when the bells reach the highest point behind, to hold them still there a moment.

Next, starting with the bells at the shoulders, let him push them up high over the head and lower them fifty times continuously.

Is it any wonder that we abandoned such "setting-up"?

Again, it was pointed out how, by special exercises, a man might increase his biceps two or three inches in a year and the calves of his legs an inch or two! Now what was the average man to do this for? What was the object? To admire himself in the mirror? Or did he intend to make of himself a professional weightlifter? Practically the only real good in all this was the deep breathing, and that would not be lasting except in so far as a part of the exercises tended to open up the chest. How many of us have heard that fairy-tale that if we practised deep breathing for a few minutes daily our lungs would acquire the habit and we should continue it unconsciously when seated at our desks!


Just to show what we are not attempting to do, here is a quotation illustrating perfectly the old-fashioned idea that health depends upon extraordinary muscular development:

At our suggestion he began practising this simple raising and lowering of the heels. In less than four months he had increased the girth of each calf one whole inch. When asked how many strokes a day he averaged, he said that it was from fifteen hundred to two thousand, varied some days by his holding in each hand, during the process, a twelve-pound dumbbell, and then only doing one thousand or thereabouts. The time he found most convenient was in the morning on rising, and just before retiring at night. The work did not take much time; seventy strokes a minute was found a good ordinary rate, so that fifteen minutes at each end of the day was all he needed.

We new recognize how silly are such exercises taken for the mere sake of adding an inch or two to an already serviceable muscle.


It is poor gymnastics when the main object is to expend a certain number of foot-pounds of energy to secure increase in cardiac and pulmonary activity, without care being taken that these organs are in a favorable condition to meet the increased demand put upon them. It is poor gymnastics if we desire to astound the world by nicely finished and smoothly gliding combinations of complex movements fit to be put into the repertoire of a juggler, or by exhibitions of strength vying with those of a Sandow, if we do not take into consideration the effects upon the vital functions.

"Look at these fellows," said the physician, "built like giants and rotten inside!" True, he was speaking of a lot of big negroes, but he found the same condition in others-men with stiff muscles and slow movements, men with shoulders pulled forward and no chest expansion, breathing wholly with their abdomens. As he put it, "Those men will to-morrow be the recruits for another army, the one which fills the tuberculosis hospitals."


What we want is suppleness, chest expansion, resistive force, and endurance; and these do not come from great bulging knots of muscle nor from extraordinary feats of strength. Rapid shifts from severe training to a life of ease and indulgence is not Nature's process. It is not the way in which she carries on her work. Every step she makes is a little one. She seems never to reckon time as an essential in her economy. We should heed the lesson. The man who eats, drinks, and neglects all care of himself for a year, and then rushes madly into a period of severe physical exercise and reduction, may at the end of the month, if he possesses sufficient vitality, come out feeling fine. But if he repeats the process of letting himself go, Nature puts on the fat more and more and a second severe reduction becomes necessary. And it is only a question of time as to the exhaustion of any man's vitality through these extremes.


Any one who has had the opportunity of talking with the men in authority who are bearing the burden of fitting a nation for the present emergency cannot fail to be impressed with the fact that time is the great element. We must really prepare our men, we must make them fit in the shortest space of time that will accomplish the result. And we must conserve our man-power. It is no longer a question of putting on such severe work as shall weed out all but the physical giants; we are not trying (as seemed to be the idea in the first Plattsburg camps, before the war) to make the going so stiff as to leave us only 50 per cent. of hardened men. We want every man who can be brought along rapidly into condition, and not the strongest only. Hence the problem takes on a new phase.

We all recognize that the quality and previous training of the men this country is sending into service have a very potent bearing upon the length of time required to make fighters of them. For, after all, the man whose training and discipline have been along a kindred line becomes serviceable much earlier than the man who has to acquire the necessary spirit and quality. No one who has listened to the coaches of our various college teams, or who has read either the preliminary prospects of a game or the account of it afterward, but must have been impressed with the continual repetition of emphasis upon the "fighting spirit."

Hence, when our athletes flock almost en masse to the colors, it means that we are enlisting a large number of picked men who have been in training both mentally and physically, and who, under discipline, will make obedient, courageous, and enthusiastic fighters. But a large number of these have been out of college or out of strenuous athletics a year or two, or longer, and they need physical conditioning to get back.

There is thus a new idea of considerable importance involved in these condensed setting-up exercises. For the world does move, and those who thought themselves up to date on boats, aeroplanes, drill, and the like have found even within a year that they must make acquaintance with advanced theories and new and improved methods.


Probably the most vital point is that the setting-up exercises should not "take it out of the men." If we find a man exhilarated and made eager to work at the end of his setting-up we have accomplished far more than if we tire him out or exhaust any of his store of vitality. If, in addition to this, we can reduce the amount of time occupied in these setting-up exercises and yet obtain results, we have saved that much more time for other work.

Because they did take it out of the men, the old-time conventional setting-up exercises were shirked and the leaders were unable to detect this shirking; men went through the motions, but slacked the real work.

Furthermore, all these systems tended to take a longer perio

d of time than was necessary to accomplish the desired results, and made "muscle bound" the men who practised them.

It has been found in sports and athletic games that over-developed biceps, startling pectoral muscles, and tremendously muscled legs are a disadvantage rather than an advantage. The real essential is, after all, the engine, the part under the hood, as it were-lungs, heart, and trunk. Finally, if we give a man endurance and suppleness he becomes more available in time of need.

Another point of equal importance is that the setting-up exercises should be rendered as simple as possible. If we are obliged to spend a considerable period of time in teaching the leader so that he can handle setting-up exercises, extension of the number of leaders is rendered increasingly difficult. If, therefore, we can make this leadership so simple that a long course of instruction is not necessary, we save here, in these days of necessarily rapid preparation, a very material amount of time.

Still, further, it is found that many of the present setting-up exercises made an extraordinarily wide variation of effort between heavy and light men. The light man would put in only a small amount of muscular effort, whereas the heavy man, in the same length of time and under the same exercise, would be taxed far more than he could comfortably stand.

Again, in the point of age, similar variations necessarily exist. Naturally it is out of the question to assume that the youth from eighteen to twenty-five and the man of fifty-five to sixty can take the same amount and the same kind of exercise. On the other hand, if we consider the work each is required to do in his daily routine, we can, so far as the setting-up exercises are concerned, bring the two points nearer together, especially if we regard these setting-up exercises in the proper light-a mere preparation for the more onerous tasks that are to follow.


Bearing all these points in mind, we test out the setting-up exercises so that we may obtain a set answering the following requirements:

First-Reduce them to a period of eight or ten minutes once or twice a day.

Second-Make them simple for leaders to learn.

Third-Eliminate movements that, on account of the daily work, are unnecessary.

Fourth-Render them more difficult of evasion or shirking.

Fifth-Direct them specifically in the line of increased resisting power, endurance, and suppleness.

Sixth-Make them of value in establishing co-ordination, muscular control, and more prompt response to command.

Seventh-Equalize them for use by both heavy and light men.

Eighth-Select the exercises in such a way that the set may be of nearly equal value to both enlisted men and officers, as well as to executives behind the lines.


Many of us have seen setting-up drills of various kinds. Moving pictures of such drills show in a very striking way how much of the work not only could be slacked, but is being slacked right along. In fact, high officers in our service have become so disgusted with the setting-up exercises as to consider abandoning them altogether. In some stations or cantonments a great many men were tired out with the setting-up exercises; so much so that they had neither life nor vitality for some little time for other work. For the sake of illustration, let us examine one particular movement. It consists of the men lying flat on the ground or floor; then, with straight back, lifting themselves by the arms; finally, giving a jump with the arms and clapping the hands together once, and then coming back to the original position. The non-commissioned officer who was leading this exercise weighed about 138 pounds. It is easy to imagine the contrast between his doing this stunt and a heavy man of 180 or 190 pounds attempting it.

It is unnecessary to describe in detail the parts of the setting-up exercise which tend to develop members which are already pretty thoroughly exercised in the daily routine of work and drill. The average man of the service needs expansion of chest capacity, which adds to his resistive power; a stronger, better-developed back; and suppleness and quickness and mobility of trunk. To develop these qualities we must have exercises which may be continued on board ship or near the front, and which can be carried on without apparatus.



The ordinary system of setting-up exercises has been growing out of favor for some time. Athletic trainers have come to look with considerable suspicion upon the gymnasium-made candidate with big biceps and large knots of muscles. It was also found that, outside of weight-lifting and inordinate "chinning" and apparent great strength on the parallel bars, these men were not so valuable as the lesser muscled but more supple candidates. To put it briefly, it was found in actual practice that what was under the ribs was of more value than what lay over them.


Even at the risk of repetition, some facts should be driven home.

We are now working under conditions that should especially emphasize the fact of time-saving. We must take ourselves seriously, whether we are in the lines or behind the lines.

In the eight million men in this country between the ages of forty-five and sixty-four are the country's greatest executives and financiers. We can no longer give these executives and financiers two months in the South in the winter and a long summer vacation. We can no longer let a Plattsburg camp be a strenuous sifting out, a mere survival of the physically fittest. We need every man whom we can make available, and we need him with his vitality fully preserved and his endurance appreciably heightened. Some are stronger, naturally, than others. In football parlance we are no longer trying to pick a team out of a squad of two hundred men; we are trying to get a hundred and seventy-five out of the two hundred that can stand a fair pace and have enough left to fight with when they get there. Any one who has been in touch with affairs in Washington, any one who has been engaged in our munition-plants and in our factories, any one who has worked upon Liberty Bond drives or Red Cross fund-raising, knows that if we are to support our boys on land and sea, these men who are trying to solve the problems of executive management, and who have the task of raising funds in thousandfold increased volume, must be also carefully conserved. For, after all, even though we spell Patriotism with a capital P and Government with a capital G, even though army and navy orders take precedence, there is one great mistress of all, Dame Nature! And when she taps a man on the shoulder and says, "Quit!" that man stops; and when he offers the excuse that he has done it out of patriotism and loyalty she merely says: "I don't care why you did it, you have finished!" And there is no appeal to Washington from her verdict.


We shall soon hear the call for more men, men to fight and men to support the men who fight. The game is on. We are all in it now, either on the field or on the side-lines. We need to train for it fast and we have no time to waste. For, after all, it is condition that tells. It is the man who can stay, who can work at highest efficiency, and who can hold out the longest who is going to be most valuable. If we save even ten minutes a day in the setting-up exercises, we save, with a hundred thousand men, 16,666 hours daily toward perfecting their other knowledge. If we can make an able officer or a competent executive last a year longer or even six months under the increased strain, it gives us a year or six months more in which his understudy can gather the necessary experience to take up his task.



Millions of our youth are going out to fight, but disease and exhaustion will kill more of them than will the guns of the enemy. Thousands of men of the best brain-power in this country are going into committee-rooms and conferences every day from nine in the morning till twelve at night to devise better and more efficacious means of stopping the progress of the Hun. If these men's brains are of value, and we know they are, then the more clearly they act and the longer they last, the better for the country.


The demonstration, with a group of busy business executives and professional men, of the possibility of physical fitness at a small expenditure has been already mentioned. This idea has spread and many units of the Senior Service Corps have been organized. The writer's services were later on drafted into national work. At the call of the Secretary of the Navy, he was asked to take a position on the Naval Commission to develop athletic sports and games and physical fitness in our men at the various naval stations. In one week alone requests came from over four hundred communities to establish units of this work among business and professional men. Finding that it was impossible to answer all these calls, the writer devoted himself personally to a class in Washington, consisting of several Cabinet members, officials of the Federal Reserve Board, and others, and these men profited extremely from the work. But this should be done on a far larger scale.

The Hon. Daniel C. Roper, who was a member of the original class in Washington, requested the writer to come down and spend a month or six weeks in Washington, to organize drill groups in the various departments, several of them, like the Department of the Interior, having received requests to the number of three hundred or four hundred from men who wished to make themselves better fit physically for the work of these strenuous days. This, together with the demands from so many communities throughout the country, show that we are all now awake to the necessity of this cardinal feature of the nation's welfare, the physical fitness and stamina of its youth and men. This new gospel cannot be spread by one individual missionary, although there is little doubt that, wherever the story is told, thousands of our overworked and under-exercised men are glad to avail themselves of the opportunity.


This is the reason why the author has been led to devise a set of exercises that can be put in small compass, as regards both instruction and time required. Here follows a brief syllabus of the plan, in the hope of placing it within reach of men who can afford but little time for anything outside of their pressing office duties. We can no longer take delightful vacations of indefinite length to restore our waning vitality. The country needs every man and needs him at the best of his power.


No matter how driven a man may be, it seems only reasonable to think that he should be able to spend ten minutes twice a day on a condensed system, or setting-up exercise, adding to it an outdoor walk of half an hour. By this means he can keep himself physically fit to bear the burdens which are falling more and more heavily upon the shoulders of us all. The men who are going to the front first should have every chance of conserving their vitality and increasing their resistive forces. Those of us who must do work behind the lines should be kept equally fit for that larger work without which the machine must inevitably break down. The method is scientific and it has been tested on men of all ages from eighteen to seventy. It embodies the elimination of all wasted effort and concentration upon points of approved and essential worth. It is as much a man's duty to make himself fit and to keep himself in that condition as it is to carry on any other part of his work. This method should be adopted not only in every department at Washington, but throughout the country; it should be taught in our schools and colleges, and so thoroughly that never again in a world-wide crisis shall we find ourselves physically unprepared.

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