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.