“Hygienic gymnastics” is a series of systematized movements, constructed and arranged in accordance with the physiological laws and the needs of the human organism.
Correct gymnastics primarily aim towards establishing bodily harmony, which means sound vital functions, and a correct (healthy) posture of the body; and secondly to raise the power of physical endurance and strength, and to gain perfect mastery and control of the body.
The common belief, that gymnastics is intended primarily for the development of the muscles, is entirely incorrect; great masses of muscles are by no means an index of health; on the contrary disproportionate muscular development usually leaves the heart and lungs in a pitiable condition. The reason for this is obvious, and does not need to be discussed.
Movement is a necessity of life as well as an expression of life; parts that are not used become weakened, dwindle away, and are in some cases obliterated. Vigorous use, on the other hand, makes the organism hardy and less susceptible to extreme heat, cold or other injurious influences, physical as well as psychical.
While as a rule the work connected with ordinary occupations, with its one sided movements and incorrect positions, tends to deform our body, the object of gymnastics is to counteract these effects and to form the body in accordance with the demands of esthetics, which, fortunately, coincide with those of health.
If the sense of bodily beauty could be aroused and cultivated, much would be gained for the advancement of physical education. In modern times, however, instead of taking advantage of gymnastics for the purpose of gaining bodily grace and beautiful posture, we endeavor to attain this end through the services of the dressmaker and the tailor, and frequently the result rests exclusively upon their skill in covering up the imperfections of a disfigured and maltreated body. As in all our attempts of substituting the false for the genuine, the result will prove a failure; we are, however, so accustomed to this particular kind of substitution, that it appears perfectly natural to us; we fail to regard it in the same light as we do the false diamond or the artificial flower.
The owner of racehorses and hounds is usually conversant with the proper way of training his animals, and knows how their bodies should be shaped in every detail; he is on the other hand absolutely ignorant and negligent as to the physical education of his own children.
Parents, in their ignorance of these matters, frequently commit the most deplorable mistakes in their attempt to remedy incorrect postures for their children. By far the most fatal of these errors is the use of a corset, with the object of “bracing up” the body, as soon as the daughter shows sign of not carrying herself as good as she did formerly. Parents should be taught that such a procedure, instead of correcting an unhealthy posture, will eliminate all possibilities of developing the muscles of the back, which are the natural instruments of holding the trunk erect. The artificial brace (the corset) in a large measure performs the duties of the muscles of the back; this enforced inactivity in conjunction with the impediment to the circulation, caused by the lacing results in atrophy, and weakening of these muscles, making them less capable of holding the trunk erect; a predisposition to scoliosis is established.
Gymnastics not only favors and promotes the physical development, but also the intellectual and moral; for these phases of our being are as intimately related to each other as the seed is to the ground upon which it grows; the body is the soil of the mind.
The physical education should begin as soon as a systemized plan for the intellectual training of the child can be carried out; this early training merely involves such measures and precautions that will encourage the further development of the excellent tendencies inherent in the body; unfortunately these tendencies are usually lost before long through the evil effects of our civilization, and abnormal developments will be the result. Gymnastics must then serve the purpose of counteracting and correcting these effects.
When a child abandons play for work, a sad change in the form of the body occurs within a very few years; the anatomical structures have as yet not acquired the proper degree of stability, and are, therefore, easily impressed by the injurious influences to which the body is subjected during work, by reason of onesided movements and incorrect positions.
The movements involved in ordinary work are never as large as to tax the full capacity of the muscles and joints; frequently a number of joints partake in the movements, thus making them appear larger, but in each individual joint they are usually small. There are, for example, no working movements that necessitate the stretching upwards of the arms to their utmost ability; no movements of ordinary work demand the flexion of the trunk so far forward or to the side as possible.
In short, the boundary line of the movements of ordinary work is drawn inside of the limits set by the full capacity of the muscles and ligaments, and when movements are never taken out to these limits, the power to reach them will be lost; the inability of the joints becomes restricted; we grow stiff; fingers that could once be fully extended, gradually become flexed from the grip on the tool, be it a shovel or a penholder. Shoulders that formerly were held in the proper “drawn back” position, are so frequently pulled forward during work, that the body becomes as flat across the chest, as it formerly was across the back; the back that used to be straight and capable of flexion in all directions, is held bent over the work for such a long time that it finally becomes stiff and incapable of being fully straightened out. If only small movements are made, the power of making large ones is gradually lost; stiffness ensues.
Where there exists a correct relationship between the various muscles and their antagonists, there is always a good posture, and no effort of the will is needed to assume and maintain a correct position. If, on the other hand, the muscles on one side of the joint become shorter than their antagonists through faulty training, and exert too strong a traction towards their side, the result will be an incorrect, unhealthy and ungraceful posture which cannot be corrected until the muscular harmony has been restored. A clearer understanding of this might be gained by considering the muscular arrangement of a special portion of the body, for instance, that of the shoulder region. We find here two sets of muscles, antagonistic to each other, the pectorals in front, and the muscles going from the spine and the shoulder blade to the tip of shoulder, posteriorly. Now, shortening of the anterior group will result in one of the most unhealthy and ungraceful bodily disfigurements, that of “round back,” by the forward traction of the shoulders. All portions of our body are subjected to similar results, when the muscular harmony is disturbed.
The work of ordinary occupations has a tendency to change the relation between muscles in such a manner, that the ones that bend the trunk forward and flex the limbs, become shortened, as an obvious result of this, the muscles straightening the trunk and extending the limbs become too long.
Gymnastics must adjust this disturbed muscular equilibrium, by applying such exercises that will stretch the shortened and shorten the lengthened muscles, until they acquire the proper relation.
When conducted on these principles, it is surprising how rapidly gymnastics will restore a correct carriage to a body, already disfigured through the usual neglect and carelessness, notwithstanding the short duration and the infrequency to which gymnastics is taken, as compared to the positions and movements of ordinary work, the effect of the former rapidly gains the advantage.
Gymnastics stimulate the physiological activities of the muscles, without wasting their strength, and increase the vital functions of the rest of the organs of the body; correctly guided, the gymnastic work never tires, but stimulates and strengthens.
It would be beyond the limits of this paper to enter into the details of hygienic gymnastics; the present purpose is to call attention to fundamental principles only.
I shall now state a few facts regarding the general physiological effects of gymnastics.
UPON THE ORGANS OF LOCOMOTION
1. Movements increase the blood supply of the working muscles, as well as of the bones and the articulations, resulting in an improved nutrition and an increase of the cellular activities; the organs of locomotion become stronger and more developed.
UPON THE CIRCULATION
2. Through reflex influences, movements bring about more forceful and complete contractions of the heart, the arterial pressure is increased and the circulation accelerated; the heart muscle is developed and strengthened; such an enlargement of the heart should not be considered pathological; on the contrary it is desirable, as the circulation becomes more vigorous, the heart more endurant and not so easily fatigued by exertions.
Excessive exercises cause overexertion of the heart, in which case this organ, like other muscles, becomes weaker instead of stronger; palpitation will follow the least exertion, and finally, circulatory disturbances will manifest themselves.
Movements also promote the flow of blood in the veins of the systemic circulation:
“a” working muscles when contracting, press upon the neighboring veins, driving their contents towards the heart; at the relaxation of the muscles, the pressure ceases, the veins are refilled, and again emptied in the direction towards the heart by the next contraction.
“b” During exercise there occurs an alternate lengthening and shortening of the veins, crossing the joint, in which the movement takes place; the capacity of a vessel being increased or decreased by moderate lengthening and shortening, a pumping action will thus be accomplished, which propels the contents of the veins in the physiological direction.
“c” By accelerating the respiration, movements indirectly increase the flow of blood in the veins toward the heart, by raising the negative intra-thoracic pressure at each inspiration.
“d” The increased pressure in the abdominal cavity during inspiration, especially in diaphragmatic respiration, also contributes towards promoting the portal circulation.
UPON THE RESPIRATION.
“3” By reflex action (increased need of oxygen and the accumulation of carbon dioxide) the respiration is accelerated by gymnastics, in turn producing the following results:
“a” A marked development of the respiratory muscles, whereby their capacity for work and their endurance are increased.
“b” Greater mobility of the thoracic articulations, which, combined with the increased strength of the respiratory muscles, renders the respiration deeper, even at times when movements are not taken, as a consequence both the supply of oxygen and the elimination of carbon dioxide are increased.
“c” Increased pulmonary circulation and improved nutrition of the lung tissues; every inhalation lengthens all the bloodvessels of the lungs, thereby making them more capacious, in consequence of which the emptying of the right ventricle is facilitated by the reduced resistance; the expirations shorten the vessels and lessen their capacity, thus aiding the propulsion of the blood toward the left auricle.
Excessive exercise causes fatigue and overexertion of the respiratory muscles, diminishing their working power; this again gives rise to a lack of oxygen an dan accumulation of carbon dioxide in the blood.
UPON THE DIGESTION
4. Through the general effect of exercises upon the circulation and the respiration, the metabolism of the whole body is rendered more active, consequently also that of the digestive organs. The gastric and intestinal glands are stimulated to greater activity, whereby the digestion is promoted. In addition it has been demonstrated, that movements performed by the abdominal muscles, excite reflexes, by which the involuntary muscles of the walls of the intestines are also brought into action, thus the peristaltic movements are promoted, and the intestinal muscles developed.
UPON THE ELIMINATION
5. The increased metabolism, through reflex influences, stimulates the skin, lungs, and kidneys to greater activity.
UPON THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
“6” The general improvement of the circulation and the respiration also causes an increased activity of the brain and the nerves. Each movement demands a very complicated work of these organs, which thereby are strengthened and in common with every working organ, receive an increased supply of blood. An excess of movements produces fatigue of the brain and the nerves. It now remains to discuss in asuperficial way, the mechanical and anatomical principles governing the technique of gymnastics.
From this point of view let us first consider such exercises, which have the specific effect of increasing the respiratory capacity through their power of producing free mobility, not only in the costo-vertebral articulations, but also in the joints between the dorsal vertebra; this latter point is rather important, as the power of extending or straightening the dorsal region of the spine in a large measure determines the expansibility of the chest.
As typical representatives of this class of movements may be mentioned: “trunk flexion backward” (preferably with arms stretched upward) performed in such a manner, that as much extension of the dorsal spine as possible occurs; “trunk flexion to the sides,” mostly in the dorsal region, for increasing the lateral expansion of the chest;” bending the head backward with only slight elevation of the chin, is very effective in straightening the upper dorsal region; “Arm-stretchings upward and sideqays,” Arm-swinging forward and upward; “Arm-lifting sideways and upward” also belong to this class, when taken in suitable positions.
The digestion is directly influenced by the so-called abdominal exercises; characteristic movements of this class are: “raising of the trunk” from the lying positions, “elevating the legs” from the same position; “trunk rotation” effecting the oblique abdominal muscles; “trunk rolling or circumduction” promotes the portal circulation, thereby aiding the digestion.
The general circulation is more or less influenced by all the various exercises, if taken in positions, allowing free respiration, and in which there occurs no long continued pressure upon large bloodvessels.
In this connection may also be mentioned the so-called “derivative movements,” such as “heel raising,” knee bending;” tiptoe march and other gentle and slow movements of the lower extremities; they are to be taken immediately after strong and violent exercises, in order to bring about an equal distribution of blood and to relieve a congested condition of the heart and lungs.
The nervous system is directly influenced by complicated movements and positions and by demanding strict precision in their execution. “Balance movements” in which the surface of support is limited to such an extent, as to render it difficult to maintain the equilibrium, also train the brain and the nerves in originating and conveying motor impulses, proportionate in strength to bring about an adequate response of the proper group or groups of muscles, which at a given instant are required to act, in order to restore a threatened loss of balance. The balance movements serve to bring about a healthy response between the muscles and the will, or in common everyday language, to give us perfect mastery and control of the body.
In administering gymnastics for hygienic purposes, we should by no means confine ourselves to one or two classes of movements; the keynote of correct gymnastics in harmony, and any deviation from this rule will render it absolutely inert and even injurious.
The “Materia Gymnastica” comprises an infinite number of movements, arranged into eleven classes, according to their respective physiological effects; a few of these classes have already been referred to.
Each day’s lesson or “gymnastic prescription” is made up of exercises selected from all these eleven groups, beginning with the easiest and least complicated, gradually progressing toward the more difficult. The movements entering into this gymnastic prescription succeed each other in a well defined order, calculated to bring about a distinct hygienic result.
Only when these principles are carried out can we expect ideal results; only then gymnastics will give us a strong heart, supplying well oxygenated blood to a harmoniously developed muscular system, perfect organs of elimination, affording a proper drainage of waste matter, a healthy response between the will and the muscles; in short, an harmoniously developed body, anatomically and physiologically.
Medical gymnastics, or the application of gymnastics in disease is conducted on the same fundamental principles, with such modifications as each individual case demands; to this branch of gymnastics belong also the various passive and resistive movements and manipulations, as massage, vibrations, spinal nerve stimulation, etc., all of which are performed by an operator upon the body of the patient. According to indications, one or all of these last mentioned procedures enter into the program of exercises, with the other indicated movements. A gradual progression should be observed, as already explained.
It is not within the province of this paper to discuss medical gymnastics; the above reference to it, simply serves to show the relation between the two principal branches of gymnastics.
I trust I have defined the true principles and purposes of gymnastics distinctly enough to establish the facts, that it has nothing in common with athletics in the ordinary acceptation of the term; that it bears no relation to the numerous so called “physical culture systems” of recent origin; that the term “gymnastics” does not stand for individual bodily exercises taken at random, but for their application in accordance with the principles, elucidated in this paper; that its very kernel is the harmonious development of the body, and that every procedure is based upon well established anatomical physiological and mechanical principles.
If I have succeeded in this short paper to present my subject energetically enough to substantiate these assertions, I am positive that such a progressive, tolerant and impartial element of the medical profession as is represented at this meeting, will award to it the recognition it deserves.