The New Gymnastics

My object is to submit, for the consideration of the readers of the "Atlantic," a new system of physical training, adapted to both sexes, and to persons of all ages and degrees of strength.

I did not say aloud what was passing in my mind,--that the danger to his patients might be less than he imagined; but I suggested, that most men, as well as most horses, had duties in this life which involved the necessity of rapid and vigorous motions,--and that, were this slow movement generally adopted, every phase of human life would be stripped of progress, success, and glory.

As our artificial training is designed to fit us for the more successful performance of the duties of life, I suggest that the training should be, in character, somewhat assimilated to those duties. If you would train a horse for the carriage, you would not prepare him for this work by driving at a slow pace before a heavy load. If you did, the first fast drive would go hard with him. Just so with a man. If he is to lift hogsheads of sugar, or kegs of nails, as a business, he may be trained by heavy-lifting; but if his business requires the average activity and free motions of human occupations, then, upon the basis of his heavy, slow training, he will find himself in actual life in the condition of the dray-horse who is pushed before the light carriage at a high speed.

Perhaps it is not improper to add that all this talk about expenditure of vitality is full of sophistry. Lecturers and writers speak of our stock of vitality as if it were a vault of gold, upon which you cannot draw without lessening the quantity. Whereas, it is rather like the mind or heart, enlarging by action, gaining by expenditure.

When Daniel Boone was living alone in Kentucky, his intellectual exercises were doubtless of the quiet, slow, heavy character. Other white men joined him. Under the social stimulus, his thinking became more sprightly. Suppose that in time he had come to write vigorously, and to speak in the most eloquent, brilliant manner, does any one imagine that he would have lost in mental vigor by the process? Would not the brain, which had only slow exercise in his isolated life, become bold, brilliant, and dashing, by bold, brilliant, and dashing efforts?

A farm-boy has slow, heavy muscles. He has been accustomed to heavy exercises. He is transferred to the circus, and performs, after a few years' training, a hundred beautiful, splendid feats. He at length reaches the matchless Zampillaerostation of William Hanlon. Does any one think that his body has lost power in this brilliant education?

Is it true, either in intellectual or physical training, that great exertions, under proper conditions and limitations, exhaust the powers of life? On the contrary, is it not true that we find in vigorous, bold, dashing, brilliant efforts the only source of vigorous, bold, dashing, and brilliant powers?

In this discussion I have not considered the treatment of invalids. The principles presented are applicable to the training of children and adults of average vitality.

I will rest upon the general statement, that all persons, of both sexes, and of every age, who are possessed of average vitality, should, in the department of physical education, employ light apparatus, and execute a great variety of feats which require skill, accuracy, courage, presence of mind, quickness of eye and hand,-- in brief, which demand a vigorous and complete exercise of all the powers and faculties with which the Creator has endowed us; while deformed and diseased persons should be treated in consonance with the philosophy of the Swedish Movement-Cure, in which the movements are slow and limited.

It is but justice to the following series of exercises with dumb-bells to state that not only are they, with two or three exceptions, the writer's own invention, but the wisdom of the precise arrangement given, as well as the balance of exercise in all the muscles of the body and limbs, has been well proved by an extensive use during several years.

By way of illustrating the new system of dumb-bell exercises, I subjoin a few cuts. The entire series contains more than fifty exercises.

The pupil, assuming these five positions, in the order presented, twists the arms. In each twisting, the ends of the dumb-bells should, if possible, be exactly reversed. Great precision will sustain the interest through a thousand repetitions of this or any other exercise. The object in these twisting exercises is to break up all rigidity of the muscles and ligaments about the shoulder-joint. To remove this should be the primary object in gymnastic training. No one can have examined the muscles of the upper half of the body without being struck with the fact that nearly all of them diverge from the shoulder like a fan. Exercise of the muscles of the upper tart of the back and chest is dependent upon the shoulder. It is the centre from which their motions are derived. As every one not in full training has inflexibility of the parts about the shoulder-joint, this should be the first object of attack. These twistings are well calculated to effect the desired result. While practising them, the position should be a good one,-head, shoulders, and hips drawn far back.

In our attempts to correct stooping shoulders, one good series of exercises is found in thrusting the dumb-bells directly upwards. While performing this the positions must be varied. A few illustrations are offered.


As effective means by which to call into vigorous play neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs, I submit the following exercises.


BEARING burdens on the head results in an erect spine and well-balanced gait. Observing persons, who have visited Switzerland, Italy, or the Gulf States, have noticed a thousand verifications of this physiological law.

Cognizant of the value of this feature of gymnastic training, I have employed, within the last twelve years, various sorts of weights, but have recently invented an iron crown, which I think completely satisfactory. I have it made to weigh from five to thirty pounds. It is so padded within that it rests pleasantly on the head, and yet so arranged that it requires skill to balance it.

The skull-cap, which is fitted to the top of the head, must have an opening of two inches in diameter at the crown, so that that part of the head shall receive no pressure. If this be neglected, many persons will suffer headache. The skullcap should be made of strong cotton, and supported with a sliding cord about the centre. With such an arrangement, a feeble girl can easily carry a crown, weighing ten or fifteen pounds, sufficiently long, morning and evening, to secure an erect spine in a few months.

The crown which I employ is so constructed as to admit within itself two others, whereby it may be made to weigh nine, eighteen, or twenty-seven pounds, at the pleasure of the wearer. This is a profitable arrangement, as in the first use nine pounds might be as heavy as could be well borne, while twenty-seven pounds could be as easily borne after a few weeks.

The crown may be used at home. It has been introduced into schools with excellent results.

Instead of this iron crown, a simple board, with an oblong rim on one side so padded with hair that the crown of the head entirely escapes pressure, may prove a very good substitute. The upholsterer should so fill the pad that the wearer will have difficulty in balancing it. It may be loaded with bags of beans.


WEAR it five to fifteen minutes morning and evening. Hold the body erect, hips and shoulders thrown far back, and the crown rather on the front of the head.

Walk up and down stairs, keeping the body very erect. While walking through the hall or parlors, first turn the toes inward as far as possible; second, outward; third, walk on the tips of the toes; fourth, on the heels; fifth, on the right heel and left toe; sixth, on the left heel and right toe; seventh, walk without bending the knees; eighth, bend the knees, so that you are nearly sitting on the heels while walking; ninth, walk with the right leg bent at the knee, rising at each step on the straight left leg; tenth, walk with the left leg bent, rising at each step on the straight right leg.

With these ten different modes of walking, the various muscles of the back will receive the most invigorating exercise.

Wearing the crown is the most valuable of all exercises for young people. If perseveringly practised, it would make them quite erect, give them a noble carriage of the head, and save them from those maladies of the chest which so frequently take their rise in drooping shoulders.


AFTER the exercises with the crown, those with the new gymnastic ring are the best ever devised. Physiologists and gymnasts have everywhere bestowed upon them the most unqualified commendation. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive any other series so complete in a physiological point of view, and so happily adapted to family, school, and general use.

If a man were as strong as Samson, he would find in the use of these rings, with another man of equal muscle, the fullest opportunity to exert his utmost strength; while the frailest child, engaged with one of equal strength, would never be injured.

There is not a muscle in the entire body which may not be brought into direct play through the medium of the rings. And if one particular muscle or set of muscles is especially deficient or weak, the exercise may be concentrated upon that muscle or set of muscles.

Wherever these rings are introduced, they will obtain favor and awaken enthusiasm.

The rings are made of three pieces of wood, glued together with the grain running in opposite directions. They are round, six inches in diameter with body one inch thick, and finished with a bard, smooth polish.

The first series with the rings consists of a number of twisting exercises with the arms. Not only are these valuable in producing freedom about the shoulder-joint, which, as has been explained, is a great desideratum, but twisting motions of the limbs contribute more to a rounded, symmetrical development than any other exercises. If the flexors and extensors are exercised in simple, direct lines, the muscular outlines will be too marked.

In twisting with the rings, the arms may be drawn into twenty positions, thus producing an almost infinite variety of action in the arm and shoulder.

Two of the positions assumed in this series are shown in the cuts.


In this exercise, the rings are made to touch the floor, as shown, in alternation with the highest point they can be made to reach, all without bending the knees or elbows.

The hands are thrust upward, outward, and downward with force.


The hands are thrust forward and drawn backward in alternation as far as the performers can reach. It will be understood than in none of these exercises are the performers to maintain the illustrated positions for a single moment. As in dancing, there is constant motion and change, while the music secures concert. When, by marks on the floor, the performers are kept in linear rank and file, the scene is most exhilarating to participants and spectators.

The above are specimens of the many charges with the rings. Shoulders, arms, back, and legs receive an incomparable training. In constant alternation with the charges, the pupils rise to the upright position; and when the company move simultaneously to the music, few scenes are so brilliant.

In most exercises there must be some resistance. How much better that this should be another human being, rather than a pole, ladder, or bar! It is social, and constantly changing.


A STRAIGHT, smooth stick, four feet long, (three feet for children,) is known in the gymnasium as a wand. It is employed to cultivate flexibility, and is useful to persons of all ages and degrees of strength.

Of this series there are sixty-eight exercises in the new system, but I have space only for a few illustrations.



The use of small bags filled with beans, for gymnastic exercise, was suggested to my mind some years since, while attempting to devise a series of games with large rubber-balls. Throwing and catching objects in certain ways, requiring skill and presence of mind, not only affords good exercise of the muscles of the arms and upper half of the body, but cultivates a quickness of eye and coolness of nerve very desirable. Appreciating this, I employed large rubber-balls, but was constantly annoyed at the irregularities resulting from the difficulty of catching them. When the balls were but partially inflated, it was observed that the hand could better seize them. This at length suggested the bean-bags. Six years' use of these bags has resulted in the adoption of these weighing from two to five pounds, as the best for young people. The bags should be very strong, and filled three-quarters full with clean beans. The beans must be frequently removed and the bags washed, so that the hands and dress may not be soiled, nor the lungs troubled with dust.

Forty games have been devised. If managers of schools are unwilling to study these games, and organize their practice, it is hoped they will reject them altogether. If well managed, a school of young ladies will use the bags half an hour every day for years, and their interest keep pace with their skill; but mismanaged, as they generally have been, it is a marvel, if the interest continues through a single quarter.

The following cuts may serve to illustrate some of the bag-exercises. It will be observed that the players appear to be looking and throwing somewhat upward. Most of the exercises illustrated are performed by couples, - the bags being thrown to and fro. It has been found advantageous, where it is convenient, to suspend a series of hoops between the players, and require them to throw the bags through these hoops, which, being elevated several feet, compel the players to assume the positions seen in the figures.


With the bean-bags there are numberless possible games, requiring eye and hand so quick, nerves so cool, skill and endurance so great, that the most accomplished has ever before him difficulties to be surmounted.

In a country where pulmonary maladies figure so largely in the bills of mortality, a complete system of physical training must embrace special means for the development of the respiratory apparatus. The new system is particularly full and satisfactory in this department. Its spirometers and other kindred agencies leave nothing to be desired.

Physiologists and teachers believe that the new system of gymnastics is destined to establish a new era in physical education. It is ardently hoped that events may justify their confidence.

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