The muscles may be used not only to produce those general
influences which are necessary to the maintenance of health,
but also to produce desirable special effects, among which the
prevention and correction of faulty carriage and action are of
great importance. In considering the use of muscular work for
this purpose, our subject naturally groups itself under two main
divisions: first, faults of form or carriage of the body at rest,
- in other words, a bad figure; and second, faults of handling
the body while it is in motion, - in other words, awkwardness
12. The Shape or "Figure"
of the Body.
The human body may be chiseled in marble or molded in bronze,
and the statue thus formed may recall to the mind the shape or
figure of the person it represents. But the shape of the living
body is not rigidly fixed, as is that of the statue. The bony
skeleton is sometimes called a framework, which supports the
muscles, viscera, skin, etc. While this is to some extent true,
the organs are not rigidly supported by the skeleton, as the
canvas is supported by the poles and ropes which constitute the
framework of a tent. In other words, the bones of the skeleton
are not rigidly joined together; they do not of themselves make
a self-supporting framework; the strong ligaments which pass
from one bone to another simply limit or guide the movement of
the bones they do not, strictly speaking, bind them together.
If all organs save the bones and ligaments were removed, the
skeleton would collapse. It is itself held upright by the muscles,
which determine what position the bones shall have with regard
to one another; and it is more correct to say that the muscles
support the skeleton than that the skeleton supports the muscles.
13. Round Shoulders as a Type
of Faulty Carriage. Their Cause.
carriage of the shoulders well illustrates the closing statement
of the last paragraph. Some people have square; while others
have sloping, shoulders; in some the shoulders are held back
so that the upper portion of the back is approximately flat,
while in others they droop forward, thus causing the upper chest
to be more or less contracted and the back "round."
To some extent, these differences may be due to hereditary structure;
but they result, for the most part, from causes which are largely,
if' not entirely under individual control. There is little or
no excuse for round shoulders in healthy people, and the marked
effect of training is evident in the fine bearing of well-trained
soldiers. The truth of this statement is seen when we consider
how the deformity is usually acquired, the chief causes being
Faulty Posture. - Round shoulders are uncommon among people whose
work requires an erect carriage of the body; for example, among
those who carry things upon the head. With most, however, the
occupations of daily life lead to bending forward over work;
writing, drawing, sewing, lifting, gardening, paving, machine
and tool work at once occur as examples. The trunk is held in
such a position that the shoulders tend to fall forward of their
own weight. This tendency is aided by the wrongly curved backs
of most chairs, - which seem as if planned especially to force
the shoulders forward, - and in boys, by the use of many forms
(b) Improper Balance in the Play of Antagonistic Muscles.
- The position of the shoulders with reference to the ribs, vertebral
column, and breastbone is largely dependent upon the action of
several groups of antagonistic muscles, the most important of
which are those of the breast and those of the back. Figures
106 (above) and 107 show the general antagonistic action of these
muscles. The contraction of the (a) great breast (or pectoral)
muscle pulls the shoulder forward and nearer the breastbone;
the contraction of the (b) back muscles (rhomboideus,
trapezius, and others) pulls them backwards and nearer the backbone.
Both groups of muscles are kept in a state of sustained moderate
contraction (or tone) by the nervous system; but if the back
muscles relax, while those of the pectoral group remain in tonic
contraction, the shoulder will be pulled forward and the back
will be round. Obviously, the maintenance by the nervous system
of the proper balance in the action of these and other antagonistic
groups of muscles is essential to correct carriage of the shoulder.
Arrows indicate the direction of the pull, the feet serving
as a fixed basis of support. The muscles A, B, H, and C keep
the body from falling forward; D, E, F, and G keep it from falling
(c) Deficient Use of the Back Muscles, with or without the
Excessive Use of the Breast Muscles. - Most occupations and activities
involve greater use of the breast muscles than of the back muscles.
Striking a blow with a bat or an ax, throwing a ball, and similar
actions are more usual than acts, like pulling taffy, which extend
the arms and draw the shoulder blades closer together. Movements
of the first kind obviously strengthen then the breast and stretch
the back muscles; those of the second kind have the opposite
effect. Consequently, any marked preponderance of pectoral action
tends to elongate the back muscles; and unless this is counteracted
by movements of the opposite character, which stretch the breast
muscle, the pectoral and back groups become "set,"
as we may express it, in improper relative lengths.
Correct and incorrect positions of the shoulder girdle.
The result is round shoulders. Consequently, one of the most
important things to have in view in gymnastic work is the use
of movements which train the back muscles and stretch the pectorals,
thus counteracting the effect of the one-sided use of these two
groups of muscles in ordinary occupations.
14. The Period of Growth Especially
Favorable for the Acquisition of Round Shoulders and Other Deformities.
The length of a growing muscle is determined largely by the
distance between its origin and insertion
during the period of growth. The breast muscle will grow to be
a longer muscle when the shoulders are held back by the back
muscles than when they are habitually allowed to droop forward.
In the former case, the pectorals grow to sufficient length and
do not tend to pull the shoulders forward and downward; and we
avoid the excessive length of the back muscles, which makes it
necessary for them to take up their own slack before they can
keep the shoulders in position.
The student, can now appreciate the fact that, it is in youth,
during the period of growth, that deformities are most readily
acquired and most easily corrected; for the muscles, the ligaments,
the bones, are then in their formative stage. In the case in
point, if the boy or girl holds the shoulders properly, the pectoral
and back muscles of each side adjust themselves to their proper
length; and the shoulders grow into the correct form, just as
the sapling which is not bent nor deprived of proper sunlight
grows into a symmetrical, beautiful tree. During the period of
growth, then, - say up to at least the twentieth year, -we can
hope to accomplish most in correcting and especially in preventing
deformities. The correction and prevention of round shoulders
evidently depend upon the... proper training and use of the muscles
which play upon the shoulder; it is therefore a legitimate part
of gymnastic training, for gymnastic training is largely the
art of learning to use the muscles properly.
Where there is a special defect to remedy or prevent, special
exercises are required. These are of the general character of
the setting-up drill of the soldier, and in the case
in point, we accomplish our purpose by using movements which
in the first place stretch the pectorals and even overextend
them; in the second place, give to the back muscles the exercise
which they fail to get in our ordinary occupations, and so bring
up their strength, their ability to withstand fatigue and to
maintain the tonic contraction demanded of them; and which, in
the third place, give us the knowledge of the correct position
of the shoulders.
15. Education of the Consciousness
of Correct Posture.
In explanation of the last point, we may say that when one
habitually carries the shoulders properly, he feels that he is
taking an awkward position when he allows the shoulders to droop;
on the other hand, the man who habitually allows the shoulders
to droop forward feels that he is in an unnatural position when
he holds his shoulders back. This is largely because in the first
case the back muscles and in the second the pectorals must be
put on a stretch; it is also due to the fact that the sensations
derived from the habitual posture, whether it be correct or incorrect,
have impressed themselves on consciousness as signs of the normal
conditions; to take any other position is to experience the feeling
of something unusual or abnormal.
We learn of the position of parts of our body with reference
to one another by sensations derived from the muscles, tendons,
joints, etc.; and the sensations of position which result when
we assume the habitual posture fix themselves in our thought
as signs of the normal posture. Our practical, working idea of
normal posture indeed, is nothing more nor less than our experience
of the sensations of position resulting from habitual posture.
The man who never carries his shoulders back really knows nothing
of their correct position, because the sensations from correct
posture are lacking; he knows no more about them than a man blind
from his birth knows of the color of a landscape. One of the
first steps in correcting this and similar faults must be to
experience the muscular sensations which come from correct carriage;
and the more frequently these sensations are experienced, the
better does the subject become acquainted with them, the more
likely are they to replace his erroneous judgment.
It is only through the sense of position that we can hope
to acquire the practical working knowledge of correct carriage.
What we learn by reading about the matter or by looking at pictures
or statues of the correct figure is of little use; for such ideas
come to us only through the eye, and we obviously cannot depend
on our sense of vision to inform us whether we are carrying ourselves
properly or not. We do not "see ourselves as others see
us"; generally we do not "see ourselves" at all.
It is only the sense of position that is capable of reminding
us the instant we go wrong; and this sense can be trained properly
only by actually assuming the correct posture.
16. The More Important Faults
of Form and Carriage.
We may now pass, to the consideration of the more important
deformities, which it is the aim of special muscular exercises
to prevent or correct.
The failure to hold the neck erect (allowing it to bend forward).
This results naturally from the fact that the weight of the head
will do this, provided the tendency is not corrected by the proper
training of the muscles of the back of the neck and trunk. The
position of the head usually taken in reading, sewing, etc.,
is another cause of this bad habit.
(b) Round or stoop shoulders. These defects have already
been sufficiently dwelt upon (see round
(c) Too great backward (dorsal) convexity of the spine
in the thoracic region, and too great forward (ventral) convexity
of the spine in abdominal region. A certain amount of such
curvature is normal in these regions; but there is usually a
tendency to excessive curvature because of the weight of the
parts of the body which the spine must support. Everyone knows
that it is an effort to sit erect; and this feeling of effort
comes from the fact that the spine is straightened, or rather
its curvature kept normal, by the action of a rather complicated
group of muscles, - the erectors of the spine. To sit, or stand,
or walk erect involves the activity of these muscles; when they
cease to act, the faulty curvature becomes more pronounced. Hence
the value of all exercises which tend to straighten the spine,
-exercises, for example, in which, while standing on the feet,
we try by our own, muscular effort to make ourselves as tall
as possible. They train and strengthen the muscles in question;
they stretch their antagonists; just as throwing the shoulders
back stretches the pectorals; and they impart to us by actual
experience the sensation of being erect.
(d) Lateral curvature of the spine. When the spinal
column and its attached ligaments and muscles are properly developed
there is little or no lateral curvature of the spine; the two
halves of the body are symmetrical with regard to the median
plane of the body, although a considerable amount of bending
of the spine as a whole to one side or the other is possible.
It is, however, quite possible, by maintaining incorrect positions,
to acquire a more or less pronounced lateral curvature in which
the muscles and ligaments of the concave side become shortened,
and those of the convex side lengthened. Perhaps, nothing is
so responsible for all these faults of curvature of the spinal
column as improper positions at the school desks, and much can
be done to prevent them by properly constructed school furniture
and careful attention to correct position. But, it is not wise
to depend on these alone. No desk has been constructed in which
correct posture can be indefinitely maintained with ease, and
we have still in any case to contend with the force of gravity.
Active exercises which straighten the spine should supplement
the other measures. Experience has well established the fact
that, the true preventive and remedy lies in movements which
elongate the spine.
(e) We have elsewhere pointed out the important action of
the muscles of the abdominal wall in supporting the abdominal
viscera, especially those like the stomach, the spleen, and the
intestine, which are suspended from the dorsal wall of the abdominal
cavity. Fig. 137 will at once make clear how the relaxation or
elongation of the abdominal muscles, by removing support from
these viscera, permits their weight to pull unduly upon the mesentery,
and so to stretch this support. It is also not improbable that
the tense mesentery at times, by pressing upon thin-walled veins
and lymphatics, interferes with the circulation of blood and
the flow of lymph in some organs, and so leads to trouble. A
pot belly is not a thing of beauty, and there is every reason
for thinking it to be undesirable from the hygienic point of
view. It is prevented in the first place, by every movement which
prevents undue lumbar curvature of the spine, and, in the second
place, by exercises of the abdominal muscles, which result in
their improved tone. These, however, like all corrective exercises,
must be followed up with maintenance of the correct position
of the trunk.
17. Special Exercise for the
Training of Nervous Coordination.
A man or woman may possess none of the deformities noticed
above, - the anatomical form of the body may conform to the best
ideals, - and yet the positions and movements of the body may
be awkward, inexpert, ungraceful. In other words, the muscles
may be well developed, but the individual may be deficient in
the power of easily coördinating their action in the accomplishment
of desired ends. After what has been learned of the part which
the nervous system plays in directing our actions, the brevity
of any reference to this purpose of physical training will not
mislead the student into thinking that it is of little importance.
We have learned that the maintenance of equilibrium, when the
body is at rest and when it is in motion, and the execution of
complicated movements, both require training of the nervous system
The range of activities for which we can train is very extensive;
playing upon musical instruments, the execution of gymnastic
feats on the parallel and horizontal bars, the traveling rings,
or the trapeze, are only a few examples of what can be done by
the training of the nervous system by practice.
A large part of gymnasium work consists in this sort of training,
and there is almost no limit to the forms of exercise to which
we may train, - vaulting, jumping, balancing the body on one
foot while various movements are made, the tricks of the parallel
and horizontal bars, trapeze, etc. Is there any principle to
guide us in the choice of what we shall do? In reply to this
question, we may say that the leading principle should undoubtedly
be that of training for what will be useful, and while we need
not discard all training which cannot be justified on this ground,
that which is useful should not be sacrificed to that which is
not useful. A large amount of skill is required to walk upon
the hands with the feet in the air, and the thing can be done
very gracefully by training; but it is certainly better to cultivate
the habit of walking gracefully upon the feet. And yet, one may
see professional gymnasts who are extremely graceful while performing
their tricks, but whose gait is clumsy and awkward.
18. Balance Exercises.
It is evident that by far, the greater number of our customary
coördinated movements are made on the feet. Hence, the value
of so-called balance exercises in the widest sense, whether they
consist in the execution of difficult movements while standing
on one foot or on the" walking beam," or in making
a proper landing from a jump or a vault; all of them afford training
of those reflexes by which we retain control of the body in motion,
thus securing grace of posture and carriage.
The general purpose of training these reflexes is the same
as the purpose of those exercises which correct deformities;
they do for the nervous mechanism of the movement what the others
do for the skeletal parts and the muscles which play upon them;
they give the training of use and prevent atrophy from disuse.
Both these ends, the corrective and the so-called coordinative,
are best secured by the use of gymnastic movements; and the increasingly
sedentary character, of much of our modern life correspondingly
increases the value of gymnastic work, especially in the period
of youth. It is well to learn and understand the most useful
exercises, and even in adult life to have resort to them two
or three times a week in order to hold fast what has been gained.
19. The Gymnasium as a Means
of General Muscular Exercise.
Under the conditions of city life, especially in winter time,
the gymnasium is also useful in supplying general exercise in
the form of running, gymnastic games, etc. It is better to seek
outdoor work as far as possible for this exercise, but there
are times when those living in the heart of crowded cities cannot
get into the country, and outdoor exercise in town is not all
that is to be desired. While there is sometimes a tendency to
extol unduly the value of gymnastic work, there is equally marked
ignorance in other quarters as to what the gymnasium may accomplish.
Our cities are vastly better off for their Y.M.C.A. and other
gymnasia, and we cannot afford to discourage any means of properly
directed physical training.
20. Hygienic Value of Corrective
Before leaving the subject of corrective and coordinative
work, we may answer a question which is frequently asked: Has
it, after all, any hygienic value? All will readily grant that
this part of physical training has an æsthetic value, and
that the cultivation of the taste for correct form and carriage
in one's own person is to be commended. But is a man less healthy
for being round-shouldered? The answer is that, he may or may
not be less healthy. The deformity of round shoulders carries
with it the lessened use of the upper ribs in breathing; and
while one man or woman may escape dangerous consequences, another
may not, - indeed we know does not, and it is the part of wisdom
to avoid the danger as far as possible. In one, a pot belly may
be consistent with perfect health, while in others it is not.
One may go through life with some faulty curvature of the spine
and not suffer from it; but thousands of persons have to consult
physicians every year because of such faults. Many a man wears
improper shoes without bad results; hundreds pay for it with
flat foot and suffering which at times amounts to torture. There
is not a single deformity enumerated above which may not prove
a serious matter; and when it is so easy to avoid most of them,
it would seem from a hygienic point of view well worthwhile to
The hygienic value of corrective and coördinative work
is justified, however, still more effectively on another ground.
The tendency to take general exercise is directly proportional
to the excellence of the neuromuscular mechanism of the body.
The man who is awkward and clumsy, who can make but few movements,
does not enjoy general exercise as does the man who has good
control of his muscles and can make many movements. It is probably
not too much to say that, a very large proportion of the people
who settle down to a sedentary life with the coming of their
thirty fifth or fortieth year do this because they can do so
little with the body, and because exercise is consequently monotonous
and distasteful. We can undoubtedly preserve more readily the
love of movement for its own sake when we have a body which can
move freely and easily, skillfully and joyously, than when we
have one which is never so much at home as in an easy-chair or
upon a soft bed; and we have shown above (see enjoyment
of muscular activity) how valuable is this joy of movement
to the body as a whole.
Insertion: Where a muscle is attached
by its two tendons, the point of attachment against, which it
usually pulls or is fixed is known as its origin, while the one
it usually moves is known as its insertion. Thus the origin of
the pectoral muscle is the breastbone and ribs, its insertion
the shoulder and the upper arm.
Hough T & Sedgwick WT (1906). Muscular Activity (Chapter
XVII), The Human Mechanism Its Physiology and Hygiene and The
Sanitation Of Its Surroundings, Ginn & Company, pg 321-333.