Training and Diet
Beneficial athletic training is nothing but a building-up process of the nerves and muscles. Every man starts with a certain quantity of each, and if he wishes to add to his supply he can easily do so by judicious treatment. The main questions with ambitious athletes are what shall I eat, how often shall I practice, how much shall I take, and how am I to know when to stop. These are pretty hard questions to answer, for men vary so in the amount of exercise that they can take.
In treating to show that training can this subject my intention is a method of healthy body easily be followed by the average business or professional man who has athletic propensities. The great drawback to most essays on athletic training is that a mode of life is advised which is too far out of the way of a manís ordinary routine to be followed with comfort or even success. The average amateur can afford neither the time nor the inconvenience to train the way a professional would. College men as a rule, train very much as professionals do, for they have the time and generally the enthusiasm. When a manís training becomes irksome it does him no good, for the state of his mind prevents his system from being built up. The ideal training is the kind that is taken with no especial object in view, for there is no fear then of its being overdone, and the amount of physical work a man can take with profit is a question that can be solved Ďwith a little experience by himself in a better way than others can do it for him.
The first question generally asked concerns the diet. Novices imagine that, before one can get strong food eaten by average humanity must be given up, and only stale bread, underdone meat and a little water or tea be taken. They are given this idea by many who are known to have had no practical experience, but who are always willing to give advice. When I first commenced taking part in competitions nine years ago I had been given exaggerated notions about diet, but it did not take long to see that the inconvenience did not pay. For two weeks previous to a certain contest I denied myself of water, and even went so far as to take only half a cup of coffee for breakfast. I had a continual thirst and this made my meals unrelished. At the contest my performance was not so good as I had expected, and this rather discouraged me. I then went back to the normal fare, and drank all the water, milk, tea or coffee I wanted, and, continuing gymnasium practice, I improved very rapidly.
Since then I have never varied my diet in the least, with the exception of the meal just previous to a competition, when a point should be made to take only plain food. To sum this question up I will say that the diet is not important enough to think of, and anything that is usually on your table will do. If one made athletics a business it might pay to have special dishes of plain cooking served. but the difference in the effect between any dish that could be prepared and the ordinary false would be so slight that one is better off without the inconvenience. After exercise the throat is apt to be dry, caused somewhat by the increased breathing with your mouth open. The temptation then is to pour down fluid enough to deluge the supposed thirst. If you wait a little while you will not be so thirsty as you thought you were, except in hot weather, when you may be continually thirsty. It is not considered good to drink much of anything, for a great deal of fluid deadens one so. However, eatables and drinkables are of little account as compared with exercise and rest. There is no doubt about the benefit that can be derived from the proper usage of the muscles irrespective of diet, and the more they are properly used just so much more will one become impressed with the fact that they will stand much more than one had expected of them, without trouble.
The object for training being to solidify oneís muscular system, it cannot fail to be profitable to seize nearly all opportunities met with in the daily routine for any exercise that will make one strong and enduring. The only way that one can improve physically is to have his exercise and his ordinary daily duties not conflict, and although outdoor recreation needs daylight, the gymnasium does not.
It is safe to say the average amateur is through his evening meal at 7 p. m. He may then for an hour and a half remain comparatively quiet, for it is not well to work hard, either mentally or physically, immediately after eating. Visiting a gymnasium at, say, 8:30 p. m., gives one ample time to collect himself and get a little rest after his dayís work. One cannot fail to be handicapped to a more or less degree if he is hurried or worried in finding time for exercise. On this point alone the gymnasium has a great advantage over an athletic field in universal popularity, and the number of men who take exercise would be largely increased if places for that purpose were more convenient to them.
The increase of interest in all kinds of sport and pastimes has had a noticeable effect in furnishing easy means for participation in such things, but the day is still very far off when the average businessman will find time to do anything requiring preparation such as visiting a gymnasium is known to necessitate. So many incidents and duties prevent oneís taking what might be considered a proper amount of physical recreation, and the mind is not allowed to dwell on a twohoursí pastime in a gymnasium or on a field. Then, after a while your muscles, if they were once strong, will lose their vigor, and you are apt not to care whether you exercise or not. If one is working hard during the day, and feels like keeping quiet in the evening, it would be foolish to take physical exercise when energy had been spent in other ways. I have always followed the rule that exercise should not be taken unless one feels like it, and for general health it is a pretty safe rule; but you must not mistake a slight indisposition to exercise for a genuine fatigue. Everyone knows that after a hearty meal, or drinking too much of anything, the very thought of exercise is distasteful, but several hours after one might gladly relish some physical work.
The best examples of good results of athletic training are those who take general work. Men who do this cannot, as a rule, make a great record at a special event, but they are stronger and last longer than those who let certain portions of their bodies go to waste, simply to build up a part used in their favorite event. The secret of getting strong and active is to tone the muscles with exercise, and then to have plenty of nervous energy to back them up, so to speak. There is no earthly use in big muscles if there is no nervous strength behind them. Having big muscles but no nervous force is like a perfectly-constructed boiler with no steam, and there are plenty of cases of men who have more than the usual enthusiasm continuing their athletic practice when they have spent all their steam. They then feel weak and often wonder why it is that they do not improve, or even do as well as formerly, especially as they say that they are taking regular practice. This is a state called overtraining; or staleness, and nothing but rest will cure it.
The bad results of overtraining are, as a rule, exaggerated, for although there are plenty of cases of temporary staleness, they are made so by the fact that the subjects feel weak and their performances being thereby prejudicially affected they gradually grow disgusted and stop exercise.
I have seen that happen often, but it is safe to say that overtraining as a rule corrects itself, for very few will have enthusiasm enough to continue practicing for an event when their performance at it grows worse at each trial. Sometimes a man will be stale for one event and perfectly fresh for some other. This is not a case of spent nervous force, but simply a sign that the particular muscles used in an event were overworked and needed rest. Temporary fatigue is very much like overtraining in effect upon one, and it might be called the first symptom of staleness, for if much daily practice is still taken with the thought that one is doing what is right, vitality will become impaired and it may take weeks or months of rest to feel as good as formerly. Three or four days of non-attendance at the gymnasium or on the field when one has temporarily overworked muscles will generally put him right again, especially if he is in good condition.
Just enough gymnasium work, but not too much, will make a man active, strong, vigorous and enduring. His system will become used to diversified work, and many kinds of exercise can be tried at a momentís notice. Healthful exercise not only builds up those muscles used, but it attracts just so much extra energy. A man may visit a gymnasium and use pulley weights until he acquires large biceps and triceps. He will become strong in the arms, and his general physical tone will be raised. Those muscles which are being given such healthful treatment pay their share of energy into the total muscular system. Imagine nearly every muscle on a manís body paying a proportionate share of energy. What would be the result?
Just so long as the man continued building up or nursing all of his muscles, he would be so stocked with energy that he could expend a huge quantity on a certain day and be thoroughly recuperated the next day. People would call him indomitably tireless, unusually enduring, most hardy or vigorous, and use other similar terms.
If a man who was so built should devote his attention entirely to a certain branch of exercise he would have all this energy to draw upon for use in his specialty until the many unused muscles should deteriorate, when they would cease supplying their accustomed share. These muscles having been once developed would continue contributing energy for some period after neglect was shown them. Continued lack of use would make them flaccid, and they would comparatively waste away. They might not decrease so much in size, but their vigor would vanish. The next question is: What better way is there of getting the entire muscular system in a state to attract or furnish energy than indulging in general athletic or gymnasium work? If athletes were better acquainted with the functions of the human body there would be little discussion whether all-round exercise in winter injured proficiency in a special exercise during the summer.
Many amateur athletes claim they can do better performances in summer if they lead a life of physical idleness during the winter. The subject is open to a great deal of discussion, and if amateur champions of the present day are taken as examples it must be admitted that prominent field athletes do not show proficiency in gymnastics. There is a great difference in physique between the typical athlete and the gymnast. The former does considerable leg work; the latter is better developed above the waist. It seems pretty hard to combine good arm-and-leg development and yet have the athlete able to be as prominent in one line as in the other. Admitting that before an athlete can become prominent in a certain branch of exercise he must be a specialist, still nothing has been done toward determining whether varied exercise will in the end not make a man a better specialist than if he started right from the beginning to devote his attention to only one set of muscles. If this question is ever solved satisfactorily to athletes or gymnasts, then it may be expected that more uniform opinions will be found; but as it is now a certain prominent athlete favors gymnasium work during the winter, and an equally prominent athlete speaks just the reverse. My own experience is this: I soon learned that athletic excellence was simply a question of having plenty of energy. It does not seem to make so much difference how you exercise, but care must be taken to have a great stock of reserve force and one must keep himself in a condition that enables him to recuperate quickly after expending a lot of energy. It has always been a great relief to me to drift around in a natural way, after the evening meal, to the gymnasium and play with the different apparatus until I grew tired, and then go home and get nine hours of solid sleep and feel the next day as though I were supplied with so much extra energy. If I did not get as much sleep as I wished I would feel it by not wanting to take any exercise until the strong feeling came to me again.
The great point in acquiring any kind of athletic ability is to be able to stand a great deal of work. Well-developed muscles all over the body are sure to put a man in this enviable condition. Frequenters of gymnasiums find themselves growing strong and hardy before they know it. The fact that they try different kinds of exercise renders their becoming noticeably fatigued all the more remote; and the more exercise they take the more they seem to want, until they begin to overdo, when reaction sets in and they must rest or go slow again. It is well known that a man can tire himself in one branch of exercise much quicker than if he worked considerably harder in several branches. For instance, suppose an athlete were learning to sprint, and he commenced by practicing starting; after half a dozen starts, say of thirty or forty yards, the muscles of his legs would tingle with fatigue. If he should stop and take some exercise on the horizontal or parallel bars he would rest his leg muscles, and the change of the scene of increased blood action, from his lower limbs to his chest and arms, would be most beneficial for the general circulation of the blood. Fifteen minutes of diversified arm and chest exercise may make him feel like practicing starts again, and he may take half a dozen more trials without feeling any more fatigued in the legs than he did at the end of the first half dozen. If he took the full dozen starts at once without being used to the exercise, he would not only feel it very much at the time, but the leg muscles would be in a state of unusual soreness for some days afterward or, worse than this, some sort of strain might occur which would render exercise in the near future impossible. Growing strong and active is merely cultivating the muscles as far as the nervous system will permit, or so that both that and the muscular system are equal to each other. This condition is called the balancing point, and, having reached it, if you keep on exercising in the attempt to develop your muscles further you will pass the balancing point and become stale.
If, on the other hand, you fully realize that you are in as good condition as it is possible with you, and feel timid about doing too much, and ease up in your practice, you will then fall back down the path which you ascended. A man should learn to be his own judge in these matters, for he can easily tell bow he feels. I will mention some of the feelings, from my own experience, that an athlete will have from being on either side of the balancing point. One sign, which can be called lack of training, is that the athlete has a feeling of heaviness and inability to get around easily and do what he may be trying to do. He also has no confidence in himself and feels utterly at sea, and will be stiff after practice.
Too much training is accompanied with the same lack of confidence and heaviness, with a perpetual fatigue and thirst and a dull pain in those muscles which have been most used. Which ever side of the balancing point an athlete is on the result will be the same, but it is safer to have too little practice than too much. Do not exert yourself in practice, but leave the effort for the competition. In this way you give the muscles the necessary work without tiring them. This is the main point for thought, and if well understood will solve the question of how much exercise one should take. Plenty of light work is far better than a little heavy work. Three or four times a week is considered often enough for most men to practice, but it all depends upon the amount of exercise taken at a time. So long as a man feels well and strong it will not matter if he is taking hard practice every day. In extremely hot weather one should not train much, but the same advice about feeling like exercise will apply then as in ordinary weather.