Exercise For Womanly Strength
( Originally Published 1918 )
THERE are few women who have not coveted the beauty and development of form presented in famous works of art, but very few indeed who have really tried to make themselves the bodily equal of the Venus of their admiration. That beautiful bodies are the exception rather than the rule is due simply to lack of interest in, and neglect of, physical training. All women can be well developed and strong. Health, beauty and strength are synonymous and can all be secured by diligent and continuous efforts. Of course the younger one is, and the earlier in life exercise is begun for the purpose of body development, the greater will be the results ; but in practically all cases improvement is possible, usually a surprising improvement, and the gain in health will more than pay for the time and attention given to this interesting and beneficial field of endeavor.
Girls should receive careful physical training from childhood, together with scientific health culture, if a race of strong women is to be expected. They should receive the same training physically as boys, and engage in practically all sports and exercises that are usually undertaken by the so-called stronger sex.
Systematic exercise of the voluntary muscles will stimulate the functions of every involuntary organ in the body. This is because of the in-creased circulation of blood and also because it relieves any contraction of tissue which may be interfering with nerve impulses.
The use of the muscles causes them to grow larger and also increases their firmness. We often see women who appear strong and well-developed, but a close examination shows that their apparent development is chiefly fatty tissue, their muscles making up but little of their bulk. As these women get older some of this fat is lost and their skin becomes wrinkled and relaxed, giving them a prematurely aged appearance. Of course a thin layer of fat is necessary to give the body a well-rounded appearance and to serve as a protection to the under-lying tissues, but the body bulk should consist chiefly of well-developed muscles. Those women who exercise regularly and systematically, and thus maintain the tone and bulk of their muscular systems, often retain their beauty until very late in life.
A woman's back and abdomen are usually her weakest parts, and we cannot too strongly emphasize the importance of exercise for the development of the muscles of these too often neglected and abused parts of her anatomy. Relaxed organs and disease of the digestive tract are often entirely due to weak abdominal muscles. There are several systems of therapeutics based entirely on the spine, and their principal method of treatment is adjustment and correction of defects and malpositions of the bones and ligaments of that region.
My experience has shown that exercise alone will correct many of the lesions that usually take one to a medical practitioner; and, in fact, if the spinal muscles are kept in condition, lesions are impossible, or if they do occur will quickly return to normal.
The use of the corset is nearly always responsible for weak abdominal and spinal muscles, and before any improvement is possible this must be discarded.
Exercise simply means the use of your muscles, and there is no particular "system" that is any better than any other. Having decided that you are going to exercise for body development and strength let nothing deter you from your purpose. It is best to select some time of day for your exercise that is most convenient and use that time every day. Some prefer to exercise just after getting out of bed in the morning and some just before going to bed, but it makes little difference, provided you exercise regularly. It is well to omit systematized exercises on one day of the week and reserve that day for walking or outdoor games. This will prevent your tiring and becoming "stale."
In addition to your regular exercise you should walk several miles daily, and when occasion offers, run for short distances. This will help to develop endurance and lung capacity.
If you are one that tires easily of exercise and find that you cannot maintain your interest, try to get some member of the family, or a friend, to exercise with you. This will develop a sort of rivalry which will help in keeping both of you at it. Another way to keep up interest is to change your form of exercise every week, or every month. Almost every issue of
PHYSICAL CULTURE contains an article on exercises which may be followed until the next appears, and ,one can easily invent forms of exercise that will vary the regime enough to prevent its becoming tiresome. Music is a great stimulus to exercise, even if it only takes the form of a phonograph reproduction. Try it.
We have selected a few exercises which will be found effective in developing strength and promoting health, and which will form a basis of the health-building regime. Each movement should be taken a sufficient number of times to produce a slight tired feeling, but they should not be carried to the point of fatigue. The gain from exercise depends upon the amount of blood which is pumped into the muscle, and when a muscle is used so long that it cannot further respond to the nerve impulse because of fatigue, it means that it is poisoned by the retained waste substances produced by its use, and rest is necessary to restore it to normal.
EXERCISES FOR THE SPINE
Stand erect on the toes; stretch the arms up over the head, putting as much tension in the spinal muscles as possible. Try to stretch as far upward as possible, stretching and relaxing alternately for a number of times. From the position mentioned, bend forward and touch your toes, returning to erect position. Repeat a number of times. Stand with legs apartóbend downward and forward and try to touch the ground behind the heels. Repeat until tired. Stand with feet apartóclasp hands behind head and bend body from side to side as far as possible. Standing in same position, rotate the body to the left and to the right, as far as you can. Stand erect, depress your chin and move your head backward as far as you can, putting tension in the muscles of the back of your neck, and the small of the back. Lying on the stomach, raise the arms and legs as high as possible. This is a hard exercise at first, but should be persisted in, as it is valuable. Lying in the same position, make swimming movements until tired.
EXERCISES FOR THE ABDOMEN
Lying on the back, raise first one leg and then the other. Raise both legs together. Lying in same position, raise up and touch the toes, repeating until tired. Raise both legs to the vertical, separate legs as far as possible, bring together, and return to position. Lying on the side, raise the leg as far as possible. Repeat on the other side. Lying on the back try to bring the toes above or back of the head and touch the floor. Many of these exercises are of benefit in strengthening not only the abdominal muscles, but at the same time the pelvic region and the organs of sex.
There is another form of exercise for strengthening the abdominal region that is particularly important in this connection. This is what I might term internal contraction exercise, and consists in the contraction of the internal muscular structures from the diaphragm down.
As you know, the interior of the body is to a considerable extent muscular, as, for instance, the heart. The alimentary canal is very largely muscular in make up. The diaphragm likewise is one of the most important muscular structures of the body, and may be made very powerful. Female weaknesses we have seen to be largely the result of laxity of muscles, ligaments and other internal parts. Weakness of the back, the entire pelvic region and the external abdominal walls, combine to produce faulty posture, and in many cases a prolapsed condition of all the organs of the lower part of the trunk. This laxity and weakness can be corrected, not only by external exercises which give one better carriage and strengthen the abdominal walls, and indirectly affect the internal structures, but especially by internal contraction exercises which directly involve the parts concerned.
Everyone knows the action of the diaphragm in breathing. If your waist is unrestricted by clothing, and there is complete freedom for expansion of the body, you know that by inhaling the breath deeply, through the downward contraction of the diaphragm, the body expands at the waist-line and in the abdominal region. As you exhale, the abdomen is drawn in or retracted, and the girth of the waist diminished. A little practice in diaphragmatic breathing will enable you to get good control of the diaphragm.
Now, if in connection with this breathing you will, when inhaling, increase the downward contraction of the diaphragm and expand the abdominal region very forcibly, and then when exhaling force the breath out more vigorously, drawing in the abdomen as far as you can, you will find that you have a first-class muscular exercise for these internal parts. It will pay you to give a great deal of attention to this type of exercise.
For one exercise you can merely expand and contract the waist-line as energetically as possible, drawing the abdomen inward and pressing outward as much as you can. For another exercise you can give special attention to a merely downward pressure in the entire region, alternating with a lifting-up impulse in which you make the endeavor to draw the stomach and other organs up into the chest cavity, or as nearly so. as possible. Repeat each of these a number of times and practice them at different intervals during the day. The circulation will be so quickly improved and all of the tissues so strengthened that in a few weeks' time you will be astonished at the degree of vigor that you will have developed. A case of prolapses was entirely remedied by the practice of the internal downward-pressure exercise alone.
EXERCISES FOR GENERAL BODY-BUILDING
These consist of movements of all of the limbs and all of the joints in every possible direction. You should start with the fingers and flex and extend, rotate and bend each joint in turn a certain number of times, until you have gone over the whole body. In this way you will have exercised all of the larger groups of muscles. These may be followed by stretching exercises, in which you try to extend each limb as far as you possibly can. We would advise that you take the spinal and abdominal exercises on one day and the general exercises on the next and so on alternately.
Following your exercise a dry rub with a rough towel, or a cold wet sponge bath, should be taken, or, if facilities are at hand, a warm and cool spray may be taken.
An occasional day of resting should be observed on which you take no form of voluntary exercise at all. This will save nervous energy and you will return to your exercise with renewed interest.
Many women have taken up exercise, only to lose interest in a few weeks and months, and I have always felt that it has been due to lack of variety in the exercises and failure to understand the nature of the benefits to be expected, as well as to close confinement at their daily occupation. One should not make a task of exercise. It should always be enjoyed. If such is not the case a period of rest is advisable, after which the exercise may be gradually resumed.
One of the greatest benefits to be derived from exercise is that of keeping the joints flexible. If only enough exercise is taken daily to ensure the free movement of very joint, including those of the spine, the benefits will be great.