Back in 1899, all the great figures of Physical Culture decided to have a conference at Harvard University in an attempt to establish some sense in the training world. There was plenty of confusion and arguing about what was “best” (just like there is today which goes to show you how little has changed.)

Anyhow, one of the keynote speakers and organizers of the conference was Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent, who was the director of what was undoubtedly the finest training facility in the world at the time: The Hemenway Gymnasium (on the Harvard Campus).

Amongst his peers, Sargent pointed out a manner of thinking about training which was valuable at the time and certainly still very much so a century later… Instead of making wild assumptions about training and what was possible (which was commonplace then and now), Sargent relied on what he had been observing throughout all his years in service.

Over time, Sargent noticed that certain patterns started to become very obvious — and it was from this information that he drew these conclusions (which I would whole-heartily agree with):

(1) The person should be sufficiently interested in the exercise to give it his attention in order to secure the necessary volitional power to start the movement. Whether the exercise is interesting in itself is a matter of little consequence.

(2) There should be a weight or resistance to overcome in order to bring out the working force of the muscle. In using a weight the muscle gradually acquires the force with which it tries to contract.

(3) The exercise must be performed with sufficient vigor and rapidity to engage the energetic contraction of the muscles employed. When this is done, old tissue is broken down, and its place is supplied with new material in increased quantity, thus augmenting the size and strength of the muscles.

The brain gains the power and energy which the exercise requires it to put forth.

(4) Weak parts must first be strengthened, and then as many muscles as possible must be brought into action in order to secure a full-orbed and harmonious development of the whole body. One-sided development is usually attained by robbing some other part of its just share of the body’s nutriment.

Most persons in their daily occupations use the flexor muscles more than the extensors — thereby cramping the vital organs and interfering with their functions. To remedy this tendency the muscles should be made to act from the centre as far as possible in all forms of artificial exercise.

(5) A sufficient number of muscles should be called into action at one time to stimulate the action of the heart and lungs and increase the circulation and respiration. This is one of the most important considerations to bear in mind in regard to exercise.

To keep up this increased respiratory activity, and to aid the heart in removing the waste material and hastening forward the new, the limbs and walls of the chest must be absolutely free from any ligatures or constrictions.

The slightest interference with the action of the respiratory muscles at this time embarrasses the functions of the lungs and heart. This is the reason why loose clothing is always advised for exercise.

(6) As a latent period precedes the contraction of a muscle, so a momentary period of rest should as far as possible precede movement in exercise. This is best secured where there is an alternation in the movements, as in walking, running, rowing, etc. All tetanized movements, such as holding weights, attitudinizing, standing or sitting in a constrained position, etc., tend to impair the tone of the muscles by interfering with the nutrition of both muscles and nerves.

(7) The exercise of the young should be of such a composite nature as to bring about the co-operation and co-ordination of the muscles. This involves principally the training of the central nerve system. All gymnastic sports and athletic games that require skill, dexterity, coolness, courage, and presence of mind, are included in this list, and are exceedingly valuable to any system of physical training, as adjuncts in the development of character.

(8) All vital processes depend largely upon the maintenance of animal heat. But animal heat is now known to be generated in the blood while passing through the muscles, and not in the lungs, as was once supposed. The full contraction of the muscles greatly aids this function, and helps to force the warm blood through the tissues and back again to the heart.

(9) In order to realize the best results from physical exercise and keep up the general nutrition of the body, all muscular effort should be followed by a hot bath or massage.

(10) In every kind of physical exercise the qualities at first required are the qualities at length developed. Thus, if the exercise requires strength, strength will be the result; if courage is exacted, courage will be the outcome; if quickness, quickness; and so through the whole range of faculties exercised.

Interestingly, I would have come to many of the same conclusions in my comparatively brief physical training career. Of all these observations though, one that I would put particular emphasis on would be #10 – that sums up a lot of things in only a few words…

Train hard,

John Wood