The New International Encyclopædia/Gymnastics

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GYMNASTICS (Lat. gymnasticus, from Gk. γυμναστικός, gymnastikos, relating to athletic exercises, from γυμνάζειν, gymnazein, to train). Indoor exercises for the development of physique by the aid of suitable appliances. A room or building set apart for such purposes, and furnished with the requisite appliances and paraphernalia, is termed a gymnasium. In the training and development of the athlete, indoor exercises occupy a position of paramount importance; indeed, supremacy in field sports, or outdoor games, is rarely possible unless the progressively systematic exercises of the gymnasium are made a part of the training. The preëminence which classical antiquity gave to systematic training, and which resulted in the physically magnificent specimens of humanity common to the Greek games and Roman gladiatorial combats, became lost to the world with the decay of those nations. Gymnastics as practiced to-day may be said to date from the middle of the nineteenth century, and to be a product or result of modern life and conditions. The increasing number of densely populated cities, the stress of industrial conditions requiring a correspondingly complex and exacting mental or technical preparatory education, as well as a lifetime spent under conditions frequently injurious to good physical health or development, have all contributed to render the practice of gymnastics an absolute necessity to the individual, and a subject of serious importance to the nation at large.

At the beginning of the twentieth century it is an important feature of the educational system of every nation in the world, receiving its original impetus in Europe, but reaching its highest development thus far in America. Gymnastic exercises may be divided into three general classes: (1) Free gymnastics, under which is included every exercise that is performed without apparatus; (2) Calisthenics, under which are included exercises with dumb-bells, Indian clubs, wands, etc.; and (3) Gymnastics proper, by which is meant every exercise in which the body is the resistance moved, and in the execution of which a fixed apparatus is necessary. Indiscriminate gymnastic exercises are rarely beneficial, and frequently injurious, if indulged in by any one who is not qualified by physical capacity, or who has not the knowledge or experience necessary for profitable practice. A physical examination is always a wise preliminary to a course of work in the gymnasium, and where possible a system of exercise should be outlined which will be within the physical capacity of the student, and at the same time beneficial to his physical condition and general health. A physical director or instructor in gymnastics is now a regular officer in every well-equipped modern gymnasium; and his presence is the more indispensable when the fact is borne in mind that while some particular muscle or group of muscles may be developed by one form of exercise, another exercise may result in stiffened joints. In a well-arranged system the exercises are such as will gradually develop the athlete from a condition of weakness to one of long endurance, producing powerful muscles and general suppleness of body. Gymnastic exercises, moreover, play an equally important part in the general health of the body by helping the system to throw off its waste material, improving the circulation of the blood, and promoting growth by feeding new material to all parts of the body, thus supplying the entire system with exactly what its needs demand.

In order to make the gymnasium a popular institution, and supply a needful variation in its work, the different exercises are usually arranged with a view to making them as entertaining and amusing as possible, the monotonous drills of dumb-bells, Indian clubs, etc., being performed to music. An important principle is that gymnastic exercises, if they are to be of permanent benefit, shall be practiced every day; but where this is not possible, some of the exercises of free gymnastics will be found particularly profitable. After each period of exercise a short rest should be taken, or if the heart gives signs of being distressed, the gymnast should gradually reduce the severity of his drill by milder exercises, rather than cease work suddenly. Heavy gymnastic exercises should never begin nor stop suddenly, and in any case should not be continued beyond the first slight sense of fatigue. Authorities are all agreed that the best time for exercise is as follows: For school-children, during the intermission between studies; for adults, the morning hours from 10 to 12 when possible; and for those whose occupations will not permit any daytime exercise, the hours from 8 to 10 o'clock in the evening are considered more helpful than any hour before 7 in the morning. Care should be taken, however, that when exercising at night a sufficient period should elapse before going to bed, in order that the excitement incident to the exercise may have subsided. Gymnastic exercises should never be attempted immediately before or after meals.

Suitable clothing for the gymnasium for men consists of a pair of loose-fitting trousers, a light sleeveless undershirt, and a pair of canvas shoes, without heels. Care must be taken, if a waist-belt is worn, that it is not so tight-fitting as to prevent the free play of the body, and particularly that of the abdominal muscles. The dress for women should be sufficiently loose to afford every possible freedom of action, but where exercises with apparatus are performed, the divided skirt will be found to be preferable.

The most effective exercises in free gymnastics are those used in the physical training of the soldier, which are so arranged as to exercise every muscle and joint of the body, develop the chest, strengthen the lungs, and conduce to an erect and easy carriage. They may be easily arranged and adapted for either sex or any age. Calisthenic exercises with dumb-bells (q.v.), the weight of which may vary from a few ounces upward, although heavy ones are used only for trials of strength and are opposed to effective work in developing muscle, are very effective when performed in class work with musical accompaniment. They are, however, of exceptional value for home or private exercise, and should be used regularly. The ordinary dumb-bell should never weigh over six pounds. There are many exercises arranged for them, in addition to which nearly every physical exercise in free gymnastics can be used with them to very great advantage. Exercises with the wand are also very beneficial and very interesting, but are almost entirely confined to school-children. The wand may be an ordinary broom-handle or cane, but is usually a specially manufactured smooth stick, about four feet long, nearly an inch in diameter, and perfectly straight. During the many exercises, nearly all of which may be easily improvised, it is held in both hands, the palms downward. Indian clubs are made of wood and shaped like a wine-bottle. Originally they were weighted with lead, but this practice has long been discontinued, and exercises to develop speed and quickness of movement have taken the place of those originally designed as an exhibition of strength, supple joints taking precedence of enlarged muscles and biceps. The number of movements and exercises which may be performed with the clubs is practically unlimited, and almost any beginner can, if necessary, invent an exercise for himself. Nearly every movement must of necessity consist of combinations of three distinct motions or circles — the straight-arm circle, the bent-arm circle, and the wrist circle. In the first of these movements the club is swung at arm's length, while in the second the movement is made with the arm bent at the elbow, and in the third the hand is the centre of the circle through which the club is moved. These latter circles are made by the muscles of the forearm and hand. Care should be taken that every circular movement should be as near a plain circle as possible. A good club-swinger is able to stand close to a wall without hitting it with the clubs while he is swinging. ‘Inside circles’ are those in which the club moves first in the direction of the swinger's head; ‘outside circles’ are movements in the opposite direction.

Heavy Gymnastics, or Gymnastics with Apparatus. Before discussing the appliances familiar to every gymnasium, mention must he made of the many forms of wall apparatus which play so important a part in the gymnasium of to-day. They are designed for chest development, weight-lifting, wrist and finger strengthening, foot and ankle development, and for the reducing of superfluous weight. Some are in the form of a quarter-circle, others are known as intercostal machines, others as rowing-machines (the seat of which, together with the positions of the feet, is on the rowing principle, the resisting weights being suspended from the wall). Another machine, is the traveling parallel. The wrestling-machine is also a friction appliance, the tension of which, like all other wall machines, is capable of regulation to any desired degree. Pulley-weights, or, as they are frequently called, chest weights, are made double for the special purpose of exercising both sides of the body at the same time. It is probably the most important single piece of apparatus for general physical exercise that can be used. The weights are adjustable so that there need be no danger of straining. A good exercise with this apparatus is as follows: Take a handle in each hand and stand facing the apparatus at such a distance as will leave the hands about twelve inches from the pulley when the arms are extended, then, raising the arms to a perpendicular position, return to the original position and repeat the process as many times as desired. Other exercises are as follows: (1) Extend the arms as far apart as possible and return them to the first position. (2) Lower the arms to the sides and return to the first position. These exercises may be combined in any way that the gymnast feels would best advance his scheme of practice. Good exercises for the legs may be obtained by putting a foot in each handle, stirrup fashion, and marking time with the feet or using one foot at a time, balancing with the other leg. In this latter exercise, many movements may be executed, and valuable exercise for the legs and hips thus derived.

A good machine for strengthening the muscles of the neck is one in which a pulley weight is used, having a small semicircular net at the end of the rope. This is placed on the back of the head, which is moved backward and forward, lifting the weight. In this particular exercise the muscles in the back of the neck derive special benefit, but the position may be easily shifted so that the other neck muscles may be similarly exercised.

Dynamometers, or strength-measurers, are machines for testing the muscles; a spirometer, or breath-measurer, is a similar contrivance for gauging the capacity of the lungs. These and similar machines are common in every thoroughly equipped gymnasium, and by their aid the gymnast is enabled to keep an accurate record of his progress and development.

The heavy apparatus usually consists of a horizontal bar; a pair of parallel bars: a trapeze; a pair of hanging rings suspended from the ceiling or bar; a horse or vaulting bar; horizontal, perpendicular, and inclined ladders; and a climbing pole, or rope. The horizontal bar is usually made of hickory, or some other hard wood, and is about six feet long by one and three-quarter inches in diameter. It is sometimes so arranged that it can be adjusted to any height by sliding it up or down the upright posts to which it is fastened. The bar should be placed at such a height that the feet will be clear of the ground, and while some instructors maintain that it is best to hold on to the bar with the thumb on the opposite side from the fingers, it is generally found to be more advantageous to grasp it with the thumb and fingers on the same side. The first exercise with the horizontal bar should be that of drawing the body steadily up until the chin is above the bar, and then lowering it slowly until it hangs again at full length. This exercise should be frequently practiced until the beginner can succeed in raising himself several times in succession without any undue effort. This accomplished, he may practice hanging from the bar, using each hand alternately, or ‘walk’ along the bar hand over hand, or practice swinging the body backward and forward until he can attain almost a horizontal position. Having thus become familiar with the ‘feel’ of the bar, he may next proceed to its exercises. To mount, the body must be raised until the chin is above the bar, after which the left leg is raised and thrown over the bar, knee bent. The other leg is now swung until it gains sufficient impetus to aid the gymnast in securing an upright position above the bar, which passes between his legs, after which he may throw the right leg also over the bar, and practice balancing himself on it by sitting in various positions without holding on by his hands. After this, numerous exercises will suggest themselves. A much more difficult apparatus is the hanging or trapeze bar, which is similar to a horizontal bar except that it is supported by two ropes, swing fashion. The same exercises may be performed on it, but with very much more difficulty.

Parallel bars are two bars side by side supported on posts. They are usually from 4½ to 5 feet high, 3 or more inches in diameter, and from 16 to 20 inches apart. They are sometimes oval and sometimes round. An elementary exercise is to practice supporting the weight of the body with a hand on each bar, arms held rigid; after which should be practiced ‘walking’ along the bars, taking a step alternately with each hand. Care should be taken that the body is perfectly erect, head well up, eyes to the front, legs rigid and close together, and toes pointing to the ground. Another exercise is to allow the body to drop a little by bending the elbows, and allowing them to point backward on a level with the shoulders, the gymnast advancing along the bars by a series of jumps, both hands striking the bars at once. In this exercise considerable reenforcement is obtained by drawing the feet up in readiness to aid the arms at the instant of jumping, and then kicking them straight down. There are a great variety of exercises possible with the parallel bars, which are at the same time among the most profitable of the entire gymnastic curriculum. The vaulting horse may consist of a block of wood, rounded at the top and shaped so as to resemble a horse's back. Two pommels, so constructed that they can be removed when necessary, are fixed on the back, saddlewise. The numerous exercises with the horse range from vaulting it by placing the hands on the pommels, to jumping over it, starting with a run. Hanging rings, or traveling rings, are leather-covered iron rings suspended from above by a rope. Ordinarily, several are suspended in a row so that, commencing with the first one, the gymnast may swing himself to the second, after which he lets go of the first, and so on down the line. There are many positions in swinging, each one of which has its own advantages, while with two of these rings many of the exercises on the horizontal and parallel bars may also be features of gymnastic training. In climbing, the rope is grasped with both hands, one above the other, the rope hanging between the feet, which are crossed. As the hands pull the body up, the rope is allowed to swing between the feet, which proceed to grasp it tightly, permitting the hands one at a time to be moved to a new grip; so that the body is first supported by both hands, followed by the left hand and the feet, and finally by the right hand and the feet. In descending, the feel act as a brake to regulate the speed of the descent, the hands being lowered one past the other. Pole-climbing is more difficult than rope-climbing, owing to the thickness and rigidity of the pole. Horizontal or inclined ladders are used for ascending and descending with hands and feet, or by hanging by the hands alone. They are fixed usually about eight feet above the ground, either vertically or inclined at an angle. Frequently two of them are inclined together.

The Delsarte system of gymnastics is more properly a system of physical expression, and will be found treated at length under Physical Training. In analyzing the organism, Delsarte (q.v.) taught that the voice was the language of physical life; gesture the language of emotion; and articulation the language of reason. Motion from the individual as a centre he termed excentric; motion to a centre, concentric; and motion between these two extremes, when they are properly balanced, normal. The exercises are so arranged as to develop to its fullest extent the ability of each organism to perform its part in the sensitive, moral, or intellectual transmission with which it is charged. The system commences with a series of aesthetic gynmastics, which include decomposing or devitalizing exercises for the fingers, hand, forearms, entire arm, head, torso, foot, lower leg, entire leg, entire body, eyelids and lower jaw; the harmonic pose of hearing as standing, change of centre of gravity forward, back, and sideways, rotation, and poise when seated; gestures from the significant zones, mental, moral, and vital; standing in significant attitudes; as well as the whole gamut of expression in pantomime. The Delsarte system is of particular importance in training for the stage, but it is also regarded as of great general value in the cultivation of nerve-control, as well as for physical expression.

The term Swedish gymnastics is usually applied in America to a system of physical training in the education of childhood and youth, which directs the muscular activity of the child toward the development of the mechanism of accustomed movements, such as walking, running, etc.; and subsequently the performance of exercises which employ large masses of coordinate muscles, and the cultivation of manual dexterity. The system does not aim to supply an athletic training, although it is an excellent prelude to such training. In Sweden the claim is made that they do not adapt their work to an apparatus, but their apparatus to their work; and that while they do not encourage the practice of difficult feats on fixed floor apparatus, they are enabled by their system to conserve the physical man during the period of his mental training, and thus endow him when he arrives on the threshold of manhood with a body physiologically capable of sustaining him in the work of his life. The Swedish system was first developed by Ling, who died in 1859, but it was not until between 1860 and 1870 that the several important discoveries of physiology were thoroughly incorporated into the training, and give it the value it subsequently acquired.

Bibliography. Wood, Manual of Physical Exercises (New York, 1867); Frobisher, The Blood and the Breath: A System of Exercise for the Lungs and Limbs (New York, 1876); Lewis, The New Gymnastics for Men, Women and Children (18th ed., Boston, 1882); Ling, Swedish Gymnastics for Schools (London, 1883); LeMaire, Indian Clubs and How to Use Them (London, 1889); Alexander, Modern Gymnastic Exercises (London, 1890); Jenkins, Gymnastics (New York, 1890); Posse, The Swedish System of Educational Gymnastics, trans. (Boston, 1890); Stebbins, Delsarte System of Expression (4th ed., New York, 1892); Lewis, Home Gymnastics (New York, 1892); Stebbins, Dynamic Breathing and Harmonic Gymnastics (New York, 1893); Posse, Special Kinesology of Educational Gymnastics (Boston, 1894); Nissen, Rational Home Gymnastics for the Well and the Sick (Boston, 1898).