Sled Pushing

Posted on Tuesday, July 24th, 2018 by John Wood
Oldtime football players used to push wooden sleds to build leg strength and stamina. This was good for conditioning although not so much for football technique — either way, it’s a great workout. This picture shows the Harvard football team training circa 1910. Sleds like these are actually still made for training purposes although if you don’t have one, you can always push a car for a similar effect.

PHYSICAL TRAINING IN 1899

Posted on Sunday, November 20th, 2016 by John Wood
PHYSICAL TRAINING IN 1899
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

All Contents, Including Images and Text, Copyright © 2005-2018 by John Wood and Thunderdome Media Inc., Not to be reproduced without permission, All Rights Reserved
Author: John Wood. All contents, including images and text, copyright © 2005-2018 by John Wood and Thunderdome Media Inc. Not to be reproduced without permission. All rights reserved. We will most likely grant permission but please contact us if you would like to repost. IMPORTANT: Equipment and books, courses etc. pictured in blog posts are generally not available for sale unless specifically noted.

Gasnier Visits Harvard

Posted on Sunday, October 18th, 2015 by John Wood

A Surprise to Harvard

Last Tuesday afternoon, a number of Harvard students were given a great surprise by a sturdy little French athlete Pierre Gasnier, whose exhibitions of strength have been one of the features of the great Barnum & Bailey shows for the past six years. Gasnier was introduced to Professor Sargent. After Professor Sargent had made a thorough examination and taken the different measurements of the tremendous athlete. Gasnier, in the presence of over 150 of Harvard’s best athletes performed feats of strength which called forth unstinted applause from the students and caused Professor Sargent to step forward, shake the hand of Gasnier and exclaim “Gasnier, you are a physical marvel!”

Among the more difficult feats accomplished by the sturdy Frenchman were the breaking of a piece of chain which had been tested to sustain a weight of 750 pounds by expanding the chest… breaking a similar piece of chain with his biceps… stretching three strands of rubber out to arm’s length while the combined strengths of five students could only stretch then four inches… lifting and placing at arm’s length above the head, with one hand, a dumb-bell, the largest and heaviest in the gymnasium, weighing over 200 pounds… and many more feats of strength just as extraordinary. Considering the size and weight of the man, Professor Sargent says “all of his feats of strength are marvelous,”

Pierre Gasnier stands a little under 5 feet 3 inches in height and weighs 137 pounds yet his chest measurement is 47 inches.

– The Boston Post, Nov. 17, 1903.

All Contents, Including Images and Text, Copyright © 2005-2018 by John Wood and Thunderdome Media Inc., Not to be reproduced without permission, All Rights Reserved
Author: John Wood. All contents, including images and text, copyright © 2005-2018 by John Wood and Thunderdome Media Inc. Not to be reproduced without permission. All rights reserved. We will most likely grant permission but please contact us if you would like to repost. IMPORTANT: Equipment and books, courses etc. pictured in blog posts are generally not available for sale unless specifically noted.

The West Point Gymnasium, 1895

Posted on Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 by John Wood
In the early 1800’s, the physical education program of the The United States Military Academy was sporadic, and lagged behind other institutions of higher education such as Harvard and Yale. To address this discrepancy, in 1885 West Point hired its first professional physical education instructor, Herman J. Koehler, who revitalized the program and made it one of the finest in the country.

One of Koehler’s major contributions was to secure funding for the building of a new gymnasium which, when completed in August of 1892, was superior to any in the world at the time. The rare shot shown above was how it looked in 1895. Look closely and you’ll see Indian clubs, wall pulleys, climbing ropes, tumbling mats, climbing ladders and many other pieces of classic gymnastic equipment.

Koehler was a member of the famed Frankford Squad.

Grip Dynamometer

Posted on Monday, August 6th, 2012 by John Wood
Grip Dynamometer

The early physical training pioneers were very interested the study of Anthropometry, or the measurement of various aspects of the human body. The device above, a grip dynamometer, which was designed and used by Dudley Allen Sargent at the Hemenway Gymnasium, was used to measure the strength of the hand and forearm musculature. Squeezing the two handles together compressed the springs which caused a small dial to turn and register the applied amount of force thus giving the amount of grip strength (or lack thereof) possessed by the user.
All Contents, Including Images and Text, Copyright © 2005-2018 by John Wood and Thunderdome Media Inc., Not to be reproduced without permission, All Rights Reserved
Author: John Wood. All contents, including images and text, copyright © 2005-2018 by John Wood and Thunderdome Media Inc. Not to be reproduced without permission. All rights reserved. We will most likely grant permission but please contact us if you would like to repost. IMPORTANT: Equipment and books, courses etc. pictured in blog posts are generally not available for sale unless specifically noted.

Aaron Molyneaux Hewlett

Posted on Sunday, August 28th, 2011 by John Wood

Aaron Molyneaux Hewlett

Aaron Molyneaux Hewlett was the first African American on the Harvard University staff and the director and curator of the Harvard Gymnasium from 1859 to 1871. He also taught gymnastics, boxing and the use of dumbbells.

Hewlett is pictured here with the tools of his craft: boxing gloves, Indian Clubs, Dumbbells, medicine balls and the wooden wand. It should also be known that this picture represents the very first time a medicine ball was photographed in the US (taken around 1860). Interestingly, at the time most physical culture figures generally recommended very light apparatus work but Hewlett appeared to favor much heavier clubs and dumbbells. Also of note are those pretty nifty “dumbbell clubs” on the left.

Two other items of interest about Mr. Molyneaux: His daughter, Virginia married Frederick Douglass. In 1900, his son, E.M. Hewlett, became the first African American lawyer to win a case before the Supreme Court of the United States (Carter vs. Texas).