From the archives: How to stay fit and live longer, according to a 1920s authority on exercise

Original headline: "Keep Your Neck and Abdomen Strong and You Can Count on a Fifty Per Cent Longer Life than the Average Man."

Take heart, my lazy friends. Americans, it seems, have always been horribly unhealthy. Back in 1923, the self-styled national authority on exercise, Dr. C. Ward Crampton, provided advice on strengthening the neck in order to increase the length of your life and well, you know, save us from becoming a nation of couch potatoes. We’ve republished here Crampton’s advice, plus instructions for his special “star gazer” pose and Popular Science’s nearly 100-year-old stick figures.

What Kind of Exercise Do You Need? Keep Your Neck and Abdomen Strong and You Can Count on a Fifty Per Cent Longer Life than the Average Man

AMERICA is a land of the physically un-fit. And one important reason for this is that Americans do not and will not take enough of the right sort of exercise. Do you really know what is the right exercise for you? I once wrote a prescription for a prominent banker who vowed that he would not exercise. That prescription, one of the best I ever wrote and one that helped make him whole again, was simply: “A cane and a dog to be taken daily on a walk for an hour before meals.”

Typical careless posture which the article explains is common to most of us, causing: hollow chest, drooping head, and protruding abdomen. To remedy these defects the “star gazer” exercise, shown here, is recommended. Correct posture—head up, chest high, abdomen in. The position should be natural and easy. Shoulders should not be forced back. You will fall into it more naturally if you practise the “star gazer” exercise. Popular Science circa 1923

Physical Failures

I’d like to prescribe exercise of a different sort for the fellow who says: “Exercise? I get enough exercise in my work. I go to bed tired enough at night. Don’t talk to me about exercise. I’m too busy.”

“Quite so, my friend,” I’d like to say to him. “You are the kind of man who was thrown out by doctors in the draft—on 9 of the 40 per cent Americans not fit to fight. We all know you. You are not patriotic enough to keep one and only one citizen in good condition. You are the reason for the recent man-power conference at Washington, where the Secretary of War, John W. Weeks, called us to consider the physical deficiencies of American manhood as revealed by the figures of Surgeon-General Ireland, and to devise remedies for.”

What Is Exercise?

And what is to be done about it? Proper exercise is one of the answers. At the outset, we must admit that exercise is a vague term. It may mean anything from flexing the fingers to playing football. Where the movements are the same or constantly repeated, muscular activity, of course, wears down. This is labor. Exercise, on the other hand, is activity used to stimulate repair and growth. It provides variety, a relief from the labor activity, of whatever nature that labor may be. Its chief benefits accrue after the exercise is over. Exercise causes waste, but it stimulates and cleans the tissue. Rest immediately thereafter provides opportunity for repair and up-building, restoration and readjustment.

The “Star Gazer” Exercise

These photographs were posed for POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY under the personal supervision of Dr. C. Ward Crampton to illustrate the beneficial effect of his “star gazer” exercise, designed to strengthen neck muscles, straighten the spine, raise the ribs to allow more space for lungs, and tone abdominal muscles.

Try this exercise, observing the following “counts”:

Position: Standing, hands behind the head (not on the neck).

  1. Head forward, chin to chest.

  2. Head up, “looking at stars.”

  3. Head back, chest up, abdomen in; don’t lean back from the hips.

  4. Head back as far as possible. Try to look at the back of your neck.

  5. Press up with hands and twist head first to the right, then to the left.

  6. Repeat No. 5.

If you don’t believe that I am right, just consider the report issued by the Carnegie Institution in collaboration with Lieutenant-Colonel A. G. Love, of the United States Army Surgeon-General’s Department. The report shows that 500,000 men were rejected by draft boards on physical grounds. About 2,000,000 recruits who were examined at military camps, were found to be physically defective. Rather a sweeping indictment of American physique, is it not?

exercise regimen for your job
Pairing the right exercise regimen with your big, manly job. Popular Science circa 1923

Five Simple Ways to Test the Fitness of Your Body

These energetic figures, drawn by Doctor Crampton, illustrate a series of tests by which, he says, you may gage your anatomical condition.

  • Stand with legs straight and touch your toes.

  • Sit with legs stretched out straight and touch your toes.

  • Bend back from knees, touching floor with your head and forming a bridge.

  • Lying on floor, curve your body and legs so that feet touch behind head.

  • Stretch legs forward horizontally while supporting your body with hands. Hold it 10 seconds.

The Three Elements of Exercise

Considered scientifically, these three elements of exercise are:

Anatomical: For correction and improvement of the body structure. An illustration of this is the coal-heaver’s arm and hand. Grasping the shovel handle as he does and working his muscles at the same time, the muscles tend to keep the fingers cramped in a grasping position, and it is difficult, if not impossible, for him to straighten them out. Similarly, he cannot completely straighten the arm because of the shortness of the biceps muscle.

Physiological: Stimulating organic activity. An amazing number of persons, either through lack of all exercise or too little exercise of the right sort, have allowed their intestines to stagnate, their nervous systems to get “on edge,” and their hearts to become tired through overwork.

Psychological: Interest, enjoyment, and fun. It is quite true that while you may be getting adequate exercise, you may lose its benefits just because it fails to interest you. The trouble with many men and women is that they do not know how to play when the day’s work is over. Psychological exercise containing elements of interest and enjoyment is what they need.

Having outlined these three elements of exercise—anatomical, physiological, and psychological—as standards, let us find out just why we need each one of them. Practically all of us need more anatomical exercise. Why? How many men, women, and children have you seen with hollow chests, sloping shoulders, drooping heads and protruding abdomens?

Unless you are a physical exception, at least two of these defects and possibly all of them, appear in yourself to some extent. This means that something is wrong anatomically. The structure of your body has developed faults—mechanical distortion or displacement of body parts caused by lack of exercise. And the result is that your vital organs are cramped and depressed. Exercise that will put them back in their proper places and keep them there is required exercise that will lift the head, strengthen the neck, raise the chest, straighten the back, and flatten the abdomen.

Faults Corrected by “Star Gazing”

There is one exercise for the back of the neck that every one needs because every one’s head is balanced, not in the middle, but toward the back of the skull. To correct the natural tendency of the head to pull forward, one of the most valuable exercises is that described and pictured on page 38 as the “star gazer” exercise.

The purpose of this exercise is to shorten and strengthen the muscles of the back of the neck which tend to elongate and weaken, causing the head to droop.

The same principles of shortening and strengthening muscles are applied to straighten the spine, to lift the ribs and thus make the chest more capacious, to tighten up the muscles of the protruding abdomen, and, in general, to make a man well toned instead of flabby—with a permanent high chest instead of a cavity where his chest ought to be.

If a man can keep his neck and his abdomen strong, he can safely be guaranteed a 50 per cent longer life than the average man, with 50 per cent more efficiency and 50 per cent less disease and pain.