George F. Jowett, The Truth About Exercise (c. 1925)


It takes all kinds of people to make a world, but some we often feel should be given an island, to make a world of their own. There are people who apparently are born with the pessimistic germ in their systems. They just cannot help taking a contrary view of the situation. You find them everywhere, and antagonistic to the popular beliefs of life, law and religion. I agree that the major part of their criticism is destructive rather than constructive, but why worry about them if you know you are right. You may say, “Look at the harm they do.” But I do not believe that. Like attracts like is my belief. Some people prefer to believe that black is white, so let them believe it. We have the same spirit to contend with in teaching the valuable precepts of physical training.

I happened to know a man who had an argumentative belief that exercise was harmful; he accosted a heart specialist on the question, with whom I am familiar. The specialist informed him that the causes of cardiac conditions were reduced to four, none of which were caused by exercise. The only time sports or exercise are liable to injure the heart are when the heart is out of condition. Then anything would injure it. More often bad eating, but rarely right exercise, which is constructive. The other man replied that just the same he believed exercise hurts the heart. Now a wall would have to fall on such a man before he would believe it had fallen. And, as an angel could not convert such a person, why worry about it?

If you believe in statistics only, then we find the Harvard University reports are convincing proof that exercise and athletics are greatly beneficial in improving the body and preserving longevity. The report reads that if there is any effect upon the health, the effect is beneficial. How can it be otherwise. A machine will rust from non-use more quickly than it will wear out, and the same explanation stands good for the body. The muscles deteriorate with non-use. If they stopped with their own deterioration it would be bad enough, but unfortunately the internal organs become bereft of their protection, which places them in the same class as the soldier without his steel helmet. The truth of exercise lies in the value it accumulates, and like a steadily growing bank account, it develops and earning power. No logical minded person disapproves of putting a little bit away for a rainy day. If a horticulturist has an attractive bloom he does not forget to water it, and till the soil that surrounds the plant to fertilize the roots. The key thought is cultivation. If you have any good talent you cultivate it to preserve and make it more effective. If it is not as good as it should be, you study how to make it so by careful cultivation. Exercise is just another term for cultivation. By cultivating the body you prolong its usefulness. Some say that once exercise is commenced, it has to be kept up. Well, now, you never see the thrifty individual draw upon his financial resources, or the horticulturist forget his bloom, or the owner of an apiary forget his bees. Then what reason should there be for a person to neglect what he has. The battle is always to the strong, and the “survival of the fittest” is based upon how long the individual can retain his superiority over the rest. The same law is in existence, but in a more cultured sense, and as it claims a natural origin, it must have a natural existence. The mere theory of a man cannot change the fundamentals of the natural law, which demand preservation or consignment to the junk pile.


There is a religion attached to body culture which is every bit the equal of soul culture. Longfellow wrote that “the voice was the organ of the soul.” Equally so is the body the expression of your life and living. You must remember that there is all the difference in the world between being born right and living right. Nature may have been very bountiful at birth, but if neglect to preserve what was inherited comes with the succeeding years, then that individual is doomed to fall by the wayside. Some of our finest examples of physical cultivation were unfortunate in not being born right, but they lived right. These men recognized the fact that exercise held a truth, so they followed it. Clean living, right living, or truthful living, whatever you want to call it, will not stand for any dictation from man. You are the one who must obey. One of the great Christian prophets admonished man to “Keep sacred the body, even as the soul,” and another instructs us “The body is the holy temple of the soul.” It is not my intention to discuss religion, beyond that of the body. It is merely my desire to prove to any who may be skeptical that the merits of body culture have always been considered on a par with soul culture. The Platonic age of Greece was only created by the study and universal acceptance of body culture, and that state disappeared when they began to neglect those principles.

The biggest obstacle to the mind of the average layman is to determine the best method of exercise. Of course we hear a lot of different beliefs and they all hold a certain amount of truth. The greatest benefit of exercise, as I see it, is not in merely doing just this and that to keep normally fit for the day, as much as it is in the creative value of storing up energies within ourselves to meet the approaching years with all the vitality of
youth, so far as this is possible. This being the object, what we should look for is the method that is naturally going to give us the best results with the least expenditure of time. I cannot see the value of training two or three hours every night, or making every bodily movement a physical exercise, when intensive training for about thirty minutes every other night will do better. It is proven that it does better. A method that involves numerous repetitions is not apt to be intensive, and the “every movement physical” idea involves a nervous depletion if carried too far. In either case, no natural gains are registered in the store room of physical energy. We know that muscles must have strength, and strength is another name for ability to overcome resistance. The muscles must have resistance to stimulate their motive powers.

There is an old saying that “Strength begets Strength.” Such being the case, it is only logical that strength methods should be used. You cannot use strength without resistance, and this resistance must be intensive, simply because the muscle are built to more than take care of the body, so it is only logical to substitute weights to give the additional resistance. The progressive weight policy is to coax the muscles, and give the weight increase with the proportionate increase of strength, and not to exert all the power in one or two struggling efforts.

It is lack of facts that gives some people that illogical idea. The strange part to me is the lack of balance we see in some people. They may be very sincere, but when you see them struggling to the point of fatigue, trying to chin themselves a number of times and then hear them say that progressive bar bell methods are too strenuous, it cannot help but raise a smile. For at no time will a bar bell user misapply his power in one whole session like the chinning fiend, who never thinks of building his body up proportionately in order to make him more efficient for that test. Others argue that weight lifters strain themselves when lifting. If one does, he is better fitted to do so than any other athlete, because he develops all his powers. He always has a respite between each lift and the lifts are few and quickly done. None are the protracted exertions displayed by the runner and sculler. You never saw a weight-lifter collapse during a contest, or at the close of one, as is frequently the case with runners and scullers, and it is a proven fact that weight-lifters recuperate faster than any other athletes.


This subject is not by the way, it merely goes to prove that if weight-lifting as a sport does not entail greater exertions than other sports, it proves how safe bar bell training is for body building purposes. It is vastly superior to the routine of a chinning or dipping fiend. The bar bell athlete has the study of muscular economy brought down to a science, and the value of distribution is evident to a greater degree because one group of muscles are not developed at the expense of another, as in other sports. Intensive exercise develops

all the muscles. I have heard field coaches disapprove of the body builder who shows an outstanding development of all his muscles, but just get him talking about some of his track stars, and he will point with pride to the legs of his sprinters, the shoulders of the hammer throwers, and the arms of the shot putter. I do not believe in specializing on one group of muscles to make a man efficient at one sport only. Such a body is like a one track mind.

Muscular team work is what delights one, and it is because the bar bell exerciser has the finest team muscles of all athletes that he is the best all round man. He certainly is the strongest and the most supple, which makes him a capable weight-lifter, wrestler, hand balancer and tumbler. He has every bit as much stamina and endurance as the marathon runner, and is not as liable to fatigue. As a jumper, he can meet them all despite the
heavier bodyweight handicap. There are Willoughby, Kingsbury, Betty, Bevan, Levan, Berry, Coulter, Gauss, Hoffman, Steinborn, Marineau, Fournier, Gorner, Cadine, Miller, Londos and a host of other crack bar bell men I can mention, who are superb swimmers, jumpers, shot putters, hammer throwers, scullers, boxers, wrestlers and many of them are ten second men in the hundred yard dash. Show me a boxer or a man who concentrates on track events or who relied upon methods of training, other than the intensive system as supplied by bar bells, as accomplished as the bar bell athlete.

Some wise critic said that it took two blows of a boxer to put out a  wrestler, and one for a weight-lifter. That makes me laugh. What would the boxer say if we were to put it this way. The lifter will lift fifty percent more than a strong wrestler, and three times more with one hand than a boxer will do with two hands. Right away, he would say that was the lifter’s game. Well, it is a poor man who can’t beat another at his own game, but make it a rough and tumble fight, a free for all, and the best boxer is hopelessly beaten. I have seen on more than one occasion, a world’s champion thrashed by third rate rough and tumble men. The sport of lifting weights is so closely allied to bar bell exercise because we are enabled by it to test the value of the progress made, in much the same manner as a sprinter who finds the improvement in his start, stride and finish, cuts down his time over the hundred yards.

I have often seen reference made to the great strength of porters and baggage men in handling big trunks, etc., but that is mostly a question of counterpoise rather than strength, although there is undoubtedly a certain amount of strength involved. I know that a husky weight lifter or a bar bell exercise fan, with a little practice, will easily exceed the professional porter. There is less comparison between a lumberjack and a porter than we have been taught. There is less chance of employing counterpoise in handling logs than there is in handling trunks.

If it was dangerous to exercise at all, and particularly on the intensive system, it would be dangerous to make any kind of lift. Go back into history and you will read where barbaric races terrified the Romans by the huge rocks they hurled upon them. It was a pastime of the ancient Gauls to compete in raising the largest stone overhead with both hands and throw it the greatest distance. Actually the progressive principle dates further back than the story of Milo of Croton. A friend of mine who is a great student of Egyptology and has been a member of various research and excavation parties, in Egypt, told me that in one tomb they came across a miniature plate loading bar bell made in wood. On the other hand, we find the Chinese, whose dynasties date further into antiquity than those of Assyria or Chaldee, retain a peculiar ancient custom that probably dates from Confucius. Piled up in a part of the town or village are a series of stone bar bells, each one weighing more than the other until a certain weight is reached. It is the Chinese custom for the young man to graduate in this lifting school before he can claim to have reached manhood.


The human race is naturally progressive, and when nature outlines the method of progress it must be right, and as we have full evidence of the natural method of progression in developing the physical state, the progressive method of intensive training, as practiced today on a more scientific basis, must be right. Perhaps it is this natural method of physical progression that has improved our physical state that has brought forward the statement from scientists that the modern man is healthier than the ancients. Further investigation proves to us the great possibilities to which a human being can develop his strength by following the same natural law, providing you are willing to recognize the abilities of some races who apply themselves to manual work more than we do.

Let us consider the main method of transportation in and around Constantinople, and over the Balkans as carried out by the Armenians. A certain body of these men form what we would call a Guild, and among this Balkan race it is a very ancient order. It is composed of none other but carriers, who do all the transporting of supplies. The amount of weight some of these men carry day in and day out on their back is almost incredible, I have seen them walk along the streets of Constantinople ofttimes with a crier going in advance of them for the privilege of the road to which they are
entitled. Their legs almost seem to bow under the load upon their back,
which is anywhere from six hundred pounds to one thousand pounds. I saw the report of an American resident of the suburb of Constantinople, who reported an amazing incident in his diary. He had ordered five tons of coal to be delivered to his suburban home, and to his surprise the delivery was made by five men who each made two trips, which would run them about one thousand pounds a trip for each load.

On the Isle of Cyprus is an order of monks, who among other things have dedicated their lives to perform everything by manual labor. They hitch themselves to the plow to cultivate the soil and have been known to carry loads varying from five hundred and sixty pounds to nine hundred and fifty pounds upon their backs at one time. They are endowed with remarkable physiques and are long lived. Why some should be so insistent in promoting the belief that people who exercise die young, is ridiculous to me, when statistics show otherwise. They pick out a few athletes who have died rather prematurely, but they never advance the statistics that show the terrible percentage of men who die in their twenties and thirties from preventable diseases. What are a few solitary exceptions among a multitude of facts? We have no way of knowing how long those few athletes who die young would have lived if they had never taken up the study of body culture. Most of them that I know of died of neglect. It is a fact that is recognized

by insurance companies that athletes do not take sufficient care of themselves. They think because they are so strong they can overcome everything and never give in until it is too late. Such was the case of Arthur Saxon.

After the war was over, from which he had already suffered, he joined a carnival giving numerous shows daily. It was here he contracted pneumonia by exposure and negligence during inclement weather, and in this state he tried to go on day by day with his act, refusing to throw a robe over his shoulders between the other acts despite his weakness and profuse perspiration. A strong man who was with him at that time told me that Saxon actually died on his feet. Breitbart died of septic poisoning. He tore his leg on a nail and went on daily with his act, scorning treatment. After he contracted this dreadful sickness, he actually lived three weeks, which is an unheard of circumstance, as septic poisoning is supposed to kill in about twenty-four hours. When his life could have been saved by amputating his leg, he refused. Sandow had no kick coming. The best medical specialists in Europe only gave him eighteen years to live, and he survived until he was sixty. When he died, it was the result of an automobile accident.

The government of the United States spends huge sums of money annually to promote the teaching of physical training throughout the schools, army and the navy. Universities and colleges consider the subject of physical education a very important part of a student’s learning, and everything is done to encourage a student to devote time to cultivate his body as well as his mind. Since this system has been fostered the statistics from the universities and colleges have been able to show a higher rating for every student both mentally and physically. These facts must prove to the most skeptical that if these great institutions find physical training such a vital part of a person’s education, to such an extent that they spend millions of dollars annually, there must be some greater value attached to exercise than is generally conceded. If exercise was merely a whim with no apparent value, it is a certainty that the government and these other institutions would not consider it. If it was dangerous to the individual they would quickly crush the movement altogether. Commander Byrd, who led the MacMillan Arctic expedition and who recently flew over the North Pole, realized the necessity of keeping his crew and himself physically fit. On each of these Arctic expeditions, Commander Byrd wrote to me asking me to supply them with the necessary equipment and instructions. Intensive training on the progressive bar bell plan was practiced by these hardy adventurers as a necessary part of their plans to keep them fit in order to help clinch success in their hazardous undertaking.


Exercise can be better understood as man building. The benefits accumulated are not just physical, they are manifold. The mental and organic system are developed along with the nervous and physical system, and the senses are all intensified. I mean the co-ordinating senses that control confidence and reliance, which all must be considered as part of the quota that goes to make a man one hundred percent physically efficient. There is no “open Sesame” to body culture. Everybody has to work for what they get and by their efforts will their results be measured. The young man who thinks he can burn the candle at both ends is going to regret it. Youth has an abundance of buoyant vitality, but this should be conserved and not expended.

Because fools rush in where angels fear to tread, is no reason why another should think it safe to emulate them because of youth being in their side. The days when “wild oats” were supposed to have been a necessary part of a young man’s education has long since passed away. We live in the age of doing things, where the great lesson is conservation and the ability to meet emergencies and still carry on. Reserve is needed and this must be the ammunition supply of the body like the bandolier for the rifle. The truth of all these things lies in the proper understanding of exercise. In the following chapters I am giving you the truthful fruits of my knowledge and investigation of exercise, so
that you can put them to good account and be another successful exponent of man building.

Source: George F. Jowett, Keys to Might and Muscle (Chapter Two, c. 1925)

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