A MODERN PHYSICAL SYSTEM
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but nations are suddenly awakened to the fact that what may have been good enough even a year ago is antiquated and out of date to-day.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.
[Illustration: Incorrect position, showing how most men slack in Swedish exercises by letting the back bend]
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.