Saturday, March 15, 2014

Moving With the Times - Homes Exercises

As promised, here is the "Home Exercises" article, published in Harper's Weekly, July 11. 1857.

While reading this, it was startling how similar it is to the articles being published in magazines today - the language certainly a bit more formal, but the message the same: We all need to make time to exercise, to improve our health and well-being.


It has happily become almost unnecessary to prove to Americans the great benefits resulting to mind as well as body from regular physical exercise. It is only, however, within a few years that gymnastic and calisthenic exercises have found a place on the school programmes of our best educational institutions. And most writes on hygiene are content to insist on the necessity of such exercises for the proper development of the physical and mental powers, to great extent losing sight of the fact that their pursuit to preserve in healthful condition the matured power of body and mind as it was to aid in their proper and graceful development.

If young girls while at school have practiced calisthenics, they almost invariably lay this aside with their studies, and, on entering into social life as young ladies, cease those exercises which have aided so materially on making them the graceful, rosy, buoyant beings they are, or ought to be.

It is a truth not to be denied, and to which the short duration of the health and beauty of American ladies bears sorrowful witness, that these healthful exercises should be continued regularly by all whose pursuits do not otherwise necessitate the needful health-giving stimulus of blood and muscles. The employment of American women, especially of those resident in cities, are so entirely sedentary, that they do continual violence to the laws of nature; and it is only surprising that we see so much of happy health as we do among our female friends.

Many doubtless feel the need for calisthenic exercise, but think themselves unable to spare the time, and urge farther the impossibility of attending public institutions if such were in existence, and the impracticability of finding room in a house of moderate dimensions for the paraphernalia of a gymnasium.
As regards to the question of time, we shall only say here exercise is quite as necessary to health as personal cleanliness; and as ladies find time for the bath, and the multifarious duties and pleasures of toilet, so they can make time for the daily calisthenic exercises. That which may be begun as a duty will very soon become a pleasure-giving habit, which will be no more be omitted than any other necessary attention to the body.

As for space, and preliminary preparations necessary to be provided in order that the ladies and female children of a family may have the proper degree of daily exercise, all that is needed is the usual sitting-room and the following articles: a stout broad-baked chair; a stout movable roller, fitted into brass sockets neatly fixed in the door lintels about three inches below the top of the door; a light mattress; a light round staff four and a half feet in length, and half an inch in diameter; a set of light dumb-bells; a set of battle-doors and shuttle-cocks; and an Armstrong’s chest-expander. Which outfit may be obtained for about ten dollars or less, and can be stowed away out of sight in any closet.

The sitting-room will be the scene of operations. Premising that most of the exercises which space permits us to denote here are intended to strengthen the chest and abdomen, we will begin be calling attention to figure 8. 

Let the person exercising assume a horizontal position; then, extending the arms above the head, raise herself slowly to a sitting posture, as from b to a. In a similar manner, without moving the lower part of the body, extending the arms as in Figure 8, permit the body to glide slowly from a to b. Draw a deep breath before each repetition of this movement, as this will contribute materially to the purpose of the exercise, which is to strengthen the muscles of the chest, back, and abdomen. If you have a companion, let her hold your knees firmly, and then, extending your hands, as in Figure 8, you can practice the circular motion denoted by e,d, in which only the upper portion of the person is to be moved. This is to be performed first from right to left, then from left to right.

A further extension of the same principle is the chair exercise, as shown in Figure 1.

 Resting the person upon the hands and feet, move it slowly from the position b a to c a. This will expand the chest and strengthen the abdominal muscles greatly. It should be used moderately at first, but repeated daily or at regular intervals.

The roller exercise is shown in figure 7.

 Besides swinging by the hands, which will bring into play nearly every muscle of the body, the hands should be moved while swinging the body from side to side. Thus, with practice, the hand grasp may be changed to a, to b, to c, and to d, and back.

With the staff a number of easy and graceful movements may be performed; all of which tend to strengthen the muscles of the shoulders and the vertebral column, and remedy or prevent the deformity known as round shoulders, at the same time expanding the chest. The chief of these exercises is that shown in Figure 6. 

The staff is loosely held, the hands being placed about a foot from each end. The body, and more specifically the head, must be motionless. The right hand is then raised, first breast high; then to the top of the head; then brought over, so as to hold the staff at a; and, lastly, lowered so as to bring the staff on line c. In other four motions it is brought back to the first position. The left hand will be used to perform similar motions. This, as well as all other exercises, will be found most beneficial if the performance is divided as above specified, and gone through in regularly-timed succession.

Dumb-bells may weigh from two to four pounds each. They are excellent for expanding the chest, and strengthening all the muscles of the arms, the chest, the abdomen, and the back. In Figure 2 several useful exercises are denoted.

 The first consists in the alternate extension and drawing back of the arms, as from a to b. A second position is from b, with arm fully extended, describing a semicircle along the line b c. The arms should be kept entirely clear of the body. The some motion is performed with arms drawn in, as from d to c.

Another series are the circular motions shown in Figure 5. 

Starting from the points a, the dumb-bells meet half way, both before and behind, the body being held as stiffly as possible. Also, the swing from a, in the direction of b and back, will be found of use.

Armstrong’s chest-expander is an India rubber strap, one and a half inch long and one quarter of an inch thick, fitted with convenient handles, as seen in Figure 3. 

The first exercise is shown in our engraving. The arms are extended along the body, and the strain is in the directions b and c. When the strap is extended as far as the strength of the arms makes it possible, it should be retained in that position for the space of a minute. As a farther exercise, either hand may be moved up and down along the line a d. A second form of this exercise is obtained by holding the arms out horizontally from the body, and then expanding them as far as the strength of the muscles can overcome the resistance of the India rubber. In a third, the arms are held straight above the head. The last two require more strength than the first, and may follow, after the first motion has been practiced some time. They will prove highly beneficial.

The game of battle-door and shuttle-cock may be engaged in by one, two, or any given number of persons. It necessitates various active movements of every part of the body and limbs, and will be found, if practiced daily, to have a very beneficial effect, not only upon the physical health, but also upon the spirits of the persons engaging therein. See Figure 4.

We have here given a series of exercises which may be graduated so as to benefit females of every age and condition of health, which are easy of performance, occasion n undue commotion in the house, take up no otherwise needed space for apparatus, and will be found pleasant – particularly if practiced by a party of three or four persons – and tending greatly to increase a graceful development and carriage of the body, and the general good health and genial spirits of those engaging therein.

There is no good reason why such exercises should not be introduced in every family throughout the Union. There is a certainty that, when regularly performed, the health and happiness of the ladies will be lastingly benefited, and their years of usefulness lengthened. What is lost in time will be more then saved in doctor’s bills. Those, however, who have the inclination will readily find the time.

Where a small party of three or four persons undertake these exercises together, it will be found an excellent plan to have a piano or other musical accompaniment. This will enliven the motions, and make a real pleasure of that which many will for a time look upon as somewhat of a laborious duty. Any simple and regular melody will be found suitable as an accompaniment. Those exercising should take turns in playing upon the instrument.

The space accorded to us here permits us merely to call attention to this subject. To those who feel sufficient interest in it, we can recommend the perusal of Miss Catherine Beecher’s “Physiology and Calisthenics,” in which volume they will find the subject of physical exercise treated in a through and practical manner.

The urgent necessity of physical exercise can not be too strongly insisted upon. The physical deterioration of the Americans, as a people, is remarked upon by almost every traveler who comes among us. Many blame it upon our climate, which is said to be more exhausting than that of any other country tenanted by civilized people. But the main cause all who have properly investigated the matter know to be the unnatural life led by the greater part of our ladies. In no country in the civilized world do the women of the wealthier classes idle away so much time in amusements positively injurious; nowhere do the children show so strongly the effects of the physical neglects of parents.

Will not our American fashionable ladies set a good example, and thus place the practice of “Home Calisthenics” upon a permanent footing in American households?     

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