Exercising Without Exercises!

The following article about exercising without exercises, was written by the master physical culturalist Edwin Checkley at around the turn of the twentieth century. It is still relevant in our day when many people engage in heavy weight training in order to gain health and strength. However, this idea may be the wrong one as Checkley points out that health and longevity have nothing to do with muscle building (advocated by most fitness coaches today), but rather with flexible, supple muscles which retain their cellular integrity to the highest degree. The secret to longevity and health is the conservation of energy and training oneself to constantly resist gravity and not to slump under its effects.



THE common mistake of the man who would exercise for health is that he chooses some sort of physical exertion which becomes pure work, and nothing else. This is the reason that riding, rowing, and a dozen other physical pastimes so often fail to benefit the man who adopts them to regain health. The prevailing opinion is that any sort of effort which destroys cellular tissue will aid in the restoring or maintaining of health. To see that this is not true one only needs to look at the average farmer, drayman, or laborer. These are engaged in the hardest of physical effort day after day — destroying tissue at a great rate — yet they are seldom more healthy than office men; they are clumsy and have little mental control over their muscles. Organic weaknesses, too, are common among them. Likewise the “strong man” often dies in what should be the prime of life with some muscular or nervous trouble, while the acrobat, too, plays out early.

The failure of such efforts to bring health lies in the fact that they ignore the true principle of physical culture — the conservation of physical energy. It is unnecessary to state that such a principle cannot be carried out by practicing anything that will cause the rapid destruction of the bodily tissue. To economize physical energy, and retard as long as possible the causes that produce disease, and develop the being so as to retain as long as possible the numberless small cells that make up the human body as a whole in healthy state, so that each cell will live and perform its proper duty as long as it is conducive to the welfare of the being, is, or should be, the tribe aim of exercise. Medicine and similar artificial means, such as using apparatus or training in the general sense of the term, seldom if ever produce the results desired. The stimulation that comes from forcing the circulations of the body, by such means, may and does make the person feel better, but the point is, such conditions do not last, and too often the relapse leaves the individual worse than before.

The means of proper exercise are ours from our, earliest years. It does not consist of apparatus or medicine, but of arms, legs, body, and, above all, the intelligence. These are all the necessary apparatus to gain physical health and strength, and if used rightly will be productive of results that may seem marvelous.

I cannot, in the space allowed to this article, take up the details which should be followed out in what seems to me the ideal system of exercise. Those will be supplied as part of the course of personal instruction given free to new subscribers to Outing. It may be laid down, however, as a general rule that careful attention to the everyday bodily actions goes a long way toward giving one health, strength, and proper activity.

The mere resistance of gravity — that omnipresent pulling machine, which pulls on every muscle and organ at once —furnishes the best exercise of all. Really this resistance of gravity is one of the main works of every man’s life, and to do it with the least possible waste of force is to carry out the principle of exercise which I laid down in the beginning. The primary, and perhaps the most important, form of gravity resistance comes in the balancing of the body. This can never be accomplished without flexibility in the joints and elasticity in the muscles. And these can only be acquired through coordination of mind and body. For unless the mind can control the movements of the body in a positive manner and at will there can be no thorough poise, or bodily balance. Such an attention to everyday action seems affectation, perhaps in the beginner, and may be laughed at, but after all it is the forerunner of grace, poise, and health later on. In sitting, standing, walking, let mind and body work together to give poise, and to make each movement on the shortest line with the least possible waste of power.

Such training shows itself in power to maintain equilibrium in high places, while looking down at the ground, or to rapidly whirl three or four times about and then immediately walk a straight line without faltering.

Fencing, swimming, riding, and similar forms of training are physical accomplishments and nothing more; for throughout the process, those who study such things with a desire to become skilled do not learn to sit, stand, stoop, walk, or breath in a manner that will enable them to maintain flexibility of the body and give health and strength through the mere expenditure of their physical energy throughout their daily life.

These, after all, are the functions for which we should train; for it is in these that we use our organs correctly or cramp and render them shapeless, by improper attitudes. These actions become habitual and we spend our lives in them. If, therefore, it is desirable to take a correct attitude in sparring or fencing, that our breathing capacity shall be as great as possible and our muscles shall have the freest and fullest play while so engaged, how much more so that habitual postures and attitudes be such as shall give the best organic action to every organ our whole lives through?

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