Calisthenics

Part III (Published 1904)

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Nature. -Under the titled, calisthenics, or graceful movements, are classed those light exercised having in view the same object as heavier gymnastics.

Convenience. -Calisthenics may be carried on without the use of machines, or with the aid of such movable appliances as are easily obtained and readily transported. In some respects calisthenics are at a disadvantage when compared with machine gymnastics; in other respects they possess advantages.

Suitability. -They are better suited to children than heavier gymnastics also to delicate adults, especially females, and can be practiced in large classes under the direction of an instructor, or alone and in private. They can also be practiced on an open porch, near an open window, or out in the air, in such a way as to secure the greatest amount of vitalizing oxygen. Again, there is economy in calisthenics, for there is no expensive apparatus, the only need being a few inexpensive appliances.

THE DUMB-BELLS.

Dumb-bell ExercisesVariety. -Of the simpler forms of apparatus, dumb-bells are among the more ancient and popular. There are many varieties of dumb-bells -heavy, light and middling. They also differ as to substance -iron, wood, etc. The value of each variety depends on the mode in which it is used.

Preferable Varieties. -For the elaborate and complicated movements designed for bringing all the muscles into play, light wooden dumb-bells are preferable. On the other hand, when dumb-bells are employed in energetic exertion and in a brief space of time the heavier kind are preferable.

Rule for Beginners. -A good rule is to begin with dumb-bells, each one equal to one-fifteenth of the weight of the body for males, and one- twentieth for females. After a few weeks, if implements of this size are not found to call forth a sufficient amount of muscular energy they should be substituted for heavier ones. It is advised to increase the weight of the dumb-bells about fifty per cent every time a change is made. The best way of all is to make such alterations of the resistance to be over only under the direction of a medical man or an instructor in physical education.

Advantages of Dumb-Bell Exercise. -McLaren thus sums up the advantages of exercise with dumb-bells:

    1. The dumb-bell is familiar to everyone, and has been in use from time immemorial. Its weight and substance are easily recognized, and the exercise it affords is real and effective.
    2. It admits of being exactly proportioned to the individual strength of each learner.
    3. It can be adjusted to the advancing capacity of the learner, the weight of the bar and bell being augmented as the strength increases.
    4. Its exercises give fair employment to all parts of the body and to both sides equally.
    5. They are capable of being executed by an entire class.
    6. The positions and movements are of the highest value as exercises, and directly and powerfully conduce to erectness of carriage and freedom of limb.

Among the many varieties of dumb-bell movements, the illustration shows, first the posture of body to be assumed when the right-hand movements are about to be practiced; second, the posture when the bells are used, one in each hand, to be raised and lowered straight down by the sides; third, the posture when a single bell is to be manipulated first with the right and then with the left hand; fourth, the posture when the bells, one in each hand, are raised and lowered, with alternate steps forward with right and left foot.Wands and Sticks

Wands and Sticks. -In French gymnastics, exercises with simple wands and sticks are in great favor, as imparting grace of carriage and movement in the upper part of the body. The shoulder joints are especially improved in suppleness, and their spheres of movement rapidly enlarged. As in the cut the wand or baton may be firmly grasped in the right hand, the other being placed on the hip. Elevate the wand to the full reach of the arm and strive to keep it in a true horizontal position. Next, grasp the baton in the left hand, bring it to a vertical position, with one end on the ground, bend the body and limbs without inclining the rod from its perpendicular. Pupils exercising in couples may combine their rods and pass through a series of pleasing and healthful arm movements, as seen in the cut.

Indian ClubsIndian Clubs. -A vast number of complex movements may be performed with these appliances. The illustration shows the postures when the clubs, one held in each hand, are to be extended straight forward the full length of the arm, alternately. Next, swing the clubs upward and then backward, letting them fall into position behind the upper part of the arm. A third exercise is to restore the clubs to the first position, circle them upward as high as the arms will allow, then carry them down over the back. The head should be kept well back and the chest expanded.

Swedish Movement Cure. -First, the arms are moved slowly upward and outward, till they attain a vertical position above the head. While raising them, the arms are gently rotated, so that the palms of the hands shall face each other and the fingers be extended when the highest point is reached. Head and chest are to be held erect. The effect is to cause a stretching of the back and neck, a pulling back of the shoulders and a bringing of the muscles of spine and neck into action.

Standing Arm-Circling. -This is a second exercise of the Swedish movement cure. The stretched arms are slowly moved straight forward, upward and sideways, then down again in such a manner as to describe a circle of which the shoulder joint is the centre.

A Third Swedish Movement. -This is designed to overcome the tendency to stoop-shoulders. The position of the arms at first is with the clenched hands just in front of and almost in contact with the shoulders, which should be well drawn back. From this posture, the arms are to be suddenly thrust upward to their full reach, and then slowly returned to the primary position. The process should be repeated from eight to sixteen times daily, and it's beneficial effects upon the vigor and beauty of development are often speedily apparent.

Wing-Standing. -Another exercise of the Swedish movement is known as wing-standing. It is for invigorating the flat muscles on chest and back. The hands are placed on the hips, the thumbs forward and fingers backward, elbows a-kimbo. From this posture, the elbows are moved slowly backward as far as possible, then allowed to resume their original position. The movement should be repeated eight or ten times.

Further Swedish Movement Cures. -Standing, arm bending and stretching movements are particularly relied upon to increase suppleness of joints and impart strength to muscles.

For Rheumatism. -They are recommended as a specific remedy against weakness and rheumatic pains in the joints concerned in performing these movements. To individuals whose breathing powers are feeble, as is so apt to be the case with those who lead a sedentary life, these exercises are exceedingly valuable, not only on account of their invigorating the organs of respiration, but also in consequence of their stimulating effect upon the digestive functions, so useful in all cases of nervous and general debility, and of impoverishment of the blood.

For Catarrhs, -in cases of chronic catarrh or bronchitis, these exercises are also useful for relieving the engorged lungs of blood, which is forced out of the thorax into the active muscles of the arms. Persons with weak chests must, however, employ them with due precaution, and in patients with severe disease of the heart or lungs they should not be resorted to without the special advice of a physician. In order to render the exercise more arduous, and its effects therefore in suitable cases more actively beneficial, the exercise may be modified by flexing and extending the arms in these directions alternately instead of together. Under such circumstances, the respective positions of the arms should be exchanged several times during the performance.

For Thoracic Troubles. -A simple but useful movement, valuable for strengthening the shoulder-joints and muscles of the arms, as well as for relieving the thoracic organs when engorged with blood, is that called cross-standing arm-rotation, inward and outward. During this exercise, the arms, previously stretched out at right angles to the body, are rotated round their long axes inward in pronation, and outward in supination.
This rotary movement is executed partly in the shoulder-joint, and partly by the radius being rotated around the ulna, carrying, of course, the hand with it.

Walking. -Among the most evident effects of a brisk walk we notice that generally the color comes into the cheeks, the temperature of the body is raised, the breathing is quickened, the pulse beats more frequently, and the skin grows moist. Subsequently, as a rule, the appetite is increased, and the digestion improved. Most of the important muscles of the frame, except those of the arms, are more or less brought into play whilst walking. The body must be held erect by the muscles of the trunk, and, of course, those of the lower extremities are in full activity.

Leaping and JumpingLeaping. -To leap height, take a position a short distance from the barrier, bring the arms upward and forward to their full reach above the head, the hands being closed, and swing them downward again their full extension, at the same time bending the knee, until they project over and beyond the toes, raising the heels, and bringing the weight of the body on the forepart of the feet. Repeat this movement three times, and after the third depression of the body,spring from the feet and clear the barrier.

Leaping Width. -To leap width, take a posture of attention, with the toes at the edge of the transverse mark. Next, bring the arms slowly upward and forward to the line of the shoulder, the fists being firmly clinched. Swing them again downward and backward to their full extension, at the same time flexing the lower limbs, and repeat these movements three times. Leaping PoleThen spring from the feet, with the entire force of propulsion of the lower limbs, and at the same instant throw the arms to the front, as seen in the illustration. Lastly, descend lightly, but let the entire soles of both feet meet the ground at the same time.

The Leaping Pole. -To leap width, take a position one pace from the mark, with the pole held horizontally across the body, the arms bent, the butt of the pole directed slanting toward the front. The hands should grasp the pole about a foot apart, the right one in front, the palms being upward, the fingers and thumbs meeting, or with the palm of the right hand downward. Next, step forward with the right foot to the edge of the mark, advance the butt of the pole to its utmost reach, and fix it in the ground without displacing the feet, or changing the grasp of the hands. Then spring from the feet and pass by the left of the pole, the whole body and lower limbs being held straight and extended in one line when crossing it. Descend gently, and as the feet meet the ground, raise the pole to the horizontal position in which it was held at the beginning of the evolution.


Richardson JG, Ford WH, & Vanderbeck CC (1904). Physical Exercise And Culture And Their Bearings On Health And Strength (Book VII), Medicology Or Home Encyclopedia of Health, A Complete Family Guide., University Medical Society, pg 861-888.


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