Intermixed in world history are the parallel desires of man to stimulate a greater, healthier physical being. Whether it was creating the stronger soldier for war or conquering diseases, exercise was a more integral part of our forefathers than most of us believe. Historical exercise revolutionists had to endure blood, sweat and sheer adversity to promote their causes. It was the conquest of individuals and not formal institutions or bureaucrats that caused changes in attitudes towards early exercise. Nineteenth Century revolutionaries with enlightened self interest, and not profiteers of trend and fraud, shaped the pattern of exercise in Europe that eventually made its way to the United States. The institutional systems of gymnastics (the original word for exercise) in the United States can trace their roots back to Europe. It was there that the beginnings of strategically designed medical and orthopedic gymnastics had their auspicious start.
It was in Sweden that Per Henrik Ling, a self-taught anatomist and physiologist, fatefully began experimenting with a mixture of the bayonet, fencing, and gymnastic movements. Ling, referred to as the father of the Swedish Movement Cure was born on the 15th of November, 1776, at Smaland, Sweden.
Upon his early exposure to a higher classical schools, Ling was a venturous Youth. He was an original thinker always in pursuit of the written word. His educational eagerness led to interests ranging from language to literature and onward to written poetry and prose. However, his first love affair was with languages, which led to work as a tutor. His infatuation with his chosen career created a need for satisfying his obsession for travel.
Along the way, in his quest abroad for knowledge, Ling endured difficult living conditions. He eventually discovered there was no glamour in being a nomadic scholar. Ling survived, in spite of a diet in the form of sea rations and owning virtually only one shirt to wear and wash himself with.
Ironically, it was volunteer work on Danish ships that exposed Ling to his first observation of one-to-one bayonet duels or fencing. The curious Ling was intrigued by the physical prowess of the combatants. Inspired, Ling soon became a competitor himself and shortly dominated all comers.
As a complete fencing culturalist, he won his matches based upon his analytical strategic approach which led to his technical expertise. Around 1805, as a result of his success, Ling was invited to teach and be the professor of fencing in his homeland at the University at Upsala. During his domain as professor, it is believed that a personal bout with gout in his arm was cured by his own fencing. However the investigative Ling also observed that fencing allowed for unbalanced and one-sided, asymmetric loading inherent in the sport. His time between instruction allowed him to further research his theories on bodily exercise. In time, he found that fencing was in fact not the most complete physical regimen.
At the turn of the 19th Century, Ling's homeland (Sweden) joined allies in a battle against Napoleon. Ling's patriotism towards his country was channeled more so into his exercise, so he turned his focus towards what he labeled military gymnastics. (Military gymnastics, according to Ling was a combination of bayonet fencing and marching movements.)
After failing in war, with the loss of territorial boundaries that had been theirs for centuries, Sweden was desperate for any ideas to revive the national constitution. King Charles XIII became receptive to anything that would create the ultimate soldier. News of this reached Ling, and with his years of experience, he set off to the capital to launch his proposal on exercise. Ling's presentation of strengthening the soldiers with carefully designed systems was unsuccessful at first. Ling, undaunted in spirit, drew upon his persistent and consistent nature to further his cause. Upon his second attempt, Ling was honored by the King and granted his support. Born (circa 1813) was the Central Institute of Gymnastics, where Per Henrik Ling's exercise revolution finally began.
Per Ling's system of exercise was based on interpersonal concentric and eccentric actions. Ironically, it was Ling himself that originated this terminology. (Exercise physiologists and therapists alike use these terms of apparent sophistication, not knowing that their usage dates back nearly two hundred years.) The techniques of medical gymnastics used for physical defect improvement, was Ling's supreme technique. Medical gymnastics or orthopedic manual resistance was then taught to and applied by experienced medical assistants with careful consideration of individual bony lever weaknesses and strengths.
This interpersonal structural muscular loading proved to be beneficial at first. However, this detailed strategy was flawed by the mere fact of the accuracy of human application left less to be desired. Dosage of exercise was inconsistent based upon the fatigue of the practitioner serving many patients. At the end of the day, it became unsure who was the recipient of the exercise.
As a result, the Ling Revolution did not catch on like wildfire in Europe. Although it was a recognized system, other countries had already developed their own gymnastic systems. Physical education had already started in England, Switzerland, and France and in parts of Germany. So as the Ling Technique spread through Europe, many resident expert physiologists reacted as though professionally threatened.
In England, the major impediment was the cultural rejection of the hands on approach. Hygienic conditions during those days of epidemic disease was a major concern. In France, it appeared that the intelligent physiologists noted foundational inconsistencies in Ling's system. The French, many of whom were master exercise physiologists, attacked Ling's approach based on the fact that they were offended by his reference to mind/body rationale.
Back home, with the continued support of the King, and loyal worshippers, the Ling system was unopposed for years. However an analytical inventor/genius had an idea that would reshape history. Based on all previous ideas, sans the metaphysical, mechanical appliances would reshape exercise history. A genius with ideas way beyond his time, now had a purpose to challenge the prevailing ideal.
With the raging interest left behind by Ling, one Gustav Zander, a physical medicine genius, appeared on the forefront. Zander was born in Stockholm, Sweden (March 29, 1835). As a youth, Zander was exposed to gymnastics and exercise from day one. The young Zander was slight in build and was eager to find any way to make his body less sickly. When exposed to early schooling, Zander exhibited extreme intelligence and rose to the top of his class. University work was eminent, and upon his studies at Upsala, Zander graduated from medical school. He became a licensed practitioner by 1864.
However, it was back in the 1850's that Zander, the gymnast, began to experiment with springs and weights attached to pulley systems. Zander was an expert gymnast, and quickly found that the use of the Ling manual therapeutics lacked consistency and were very inefficient. His ideas were inspired by the many early physical mechanical apparatus that he saw. He noted that the apparati that was used, mirrored sports and recreational activities. He knew that was against the real concept of Specificity. It was time to devise a diametrical scheme, a mechanical strategy to apply to the muscle /joint functions of the body.
He experimented with iron springs, but he observed and concluded that resistance when applied to the muscular structures as at it's greatest when the muscle was at its weakest. He quickly rejected the springs and was aware that these inconsistencies of loading could result in muscular imbalances. Pulley weights seemed to be the solution at first, but the constant resistance was not quite good or accurate enough. Continuing his investigative scientific research, Zander found that the solutions were much easier than what he first warranted.
He saw that the body was a system of levers in which the muscles act upon the bones based on physical law. Zander designed his mechanical approaches to match. He designed a lever system with wheels and weights at exacting locations to provide meaningful loading to the appropriate muscular structures. He utilized graduated levers with a sliding weight load that varied in accordance with individual weaknesses and strengths. Soon the world would be exposed to the first genuine variable resistance system ever.
Zander's plan of exposure started by putting his machines to work at a nearby school, to work with children. (Ironic similarities to Arthur Jones' early work with the Nautilus Machines at the Deland High School in the early 1970's.) Marked improvements in the strength of many pupils, as well as attitude and appetite, inspired him to open his Medico-Mechanical Institute (circa 1865), which included 27 machines.
As Ling had experienced before him, Zander and his system was not exactly welcomed with open arms. The medical profession was extremely conservative towards what they deemed was a stilted approach. At first glance it could be understood that Zander had his work cut out for him. He countered by simply proving them wrong by playing their game.
Regular employment of Zander apparati showed effectiveness at correcting the Medical condition of scoliosis and relieving what was called cardiac strain. It's use also created efficient and less problematic delivery in pregnant women. Many medical conditions that previously showed no improvement from conventional or manual treatments now exhibited marked improvement with regular Zander implementation.
The therapeutic efficacy of Zander Treatment then found its way into the industrial labor front. Rehabilitation was in its infancy and was a major concern. Large corporations of the time were in need of a system to return the injured or disabled back to work. Zander Therapeutics proved to reduce medical treatment of twenty weeks or more from 50% without the use of mechanical, to a mere 2% within a five-year period. This effectiveness alone allowed for the Accidents Act of 1884, which stated that large corporations could make use of the Zander institutes.
The Wide Exposure of the Zander System of mechanical exercise allowed for a changing of the guard. The medical profession and experts of the Swedish manual system were then impressed to the degree of becoming total converts. Books that were written on the sole context of the manual method were totally revised to include parallel descriptions of the corresponding Zander appliances. Within a few years, nearly all medical authorities agreed that Zander Apparatus was indeed the superior means of a cure.
On the European front, experts from Sweden, Germany, France, Italy and Austria summed up Zander Treatment in these very principles:
First: The Zander Apparati are constructed to be the medium where by passive and active exercise may be given to the patient in the most perfect manner and in accordance with anatomical and physiological laws.
Second: The resistance on the active apparatus is easily controlled, therefore easily increased in accordance with the improvement made by the patient. This increase or decrease can be graduated by means of a special set-screw whose needles points to a number which corresponds to the number on the patient's prescription. No guesswork is permitted; exactness and precision governs the treatment from start to finish.
Third: This particular resistance varies in accordance with the varying strength of the muscle.
Fourth: The work of each apparatus is strictly limited to a certain group of muscles, or to a certain joint.
Statements made to the effect by the turn of the century simply indicate that:
Zander apparatus treatment is of a scientific nature, and as such is endorsed by leading medical authorities.
Zander treatment is generally and successfully practiced at all prominent health resorts and most cities throughout Europe. The aliments which are benefited by Zander Apparati are very numerous.
A considerable number of these ailments cannot be successfully treated by any other method.
This valuable treatment can be carried on a large scale, yet be of a precise and scientific nature.
The Zander Apparati are ingeniously constructed in accordance with physiological and anatomical laws, therefore they are safe and suitable to employ in the treatment of the sick.
Unfortunately, the fate of Zander's mechanical system was severely damaged over time as a result of two world wars, the death of Zander, the Great Depression, and the Great Influenza Epidemic. Ironically, the man who is known, in some part, as being the father of modern physical therapy, Thomas Delorme, MD, indirectly made us aware of Zander and his mechanical methods. However, in the absence of Zander Apparati (which disappeared decades ago), physical therapy has evolved to the concept of functionality or exercise to exemplify real-life movements. Zander's sophisticated exercise philosophy based on muscle/joint function was brilliant beyond belief and showed an example of a man that was born too soon.
Whether rehabilitation, muscle structural enhancement, or the maintenance of bodily health, this brief treatise on exercise history indicates that physical law simply does not change. We must credit Per Ling for paving the way to ultimately what was legitimate exercise. Ling's systematized progressive gymnastics opened the door for the mechanical genius Gustav Zander. Zander elaborated on Ling's technique by the introduction of mechanical apparatus. Analyzing his rigid principles, Zander, it is noted, made no reference to athletics, prolonged physical exertion, or indirect or direct concern of arbitrary heart rate elevation. He evidently understood these notions were irrational and irrelevant. Zander's obvious objective was to address bodily debilities by the stimulation of muscular hypertrophy.
Today, concepts of "cardio," group circuit training, Spinning, Urban Rebounding, and whatnot combined with arbitrary heart-rate protocol alludes to an impressive sounding premise. Unfortunately, these errant activities dominate today's mainstream exercise physiology, physical therapy, and cardiac rehabilitation. There is an array of other nonsenses such as plyometrics, explosive training, and isokinetic exercise to name a few. Ideally and chronologically this whole mishmash of pseudo science was likely evident in the form of recreation before Ling and Zander formed their own strategies. Further research may expose the fact that these or other similar "exercise modalities" that exist today, did indeed exist before the turn of the 18th century, where they soon disappeared in favor of Ling/Zander protocols.
It takes the underlying intelligent objectives of the critical investigator to battle today's misplaced ideas on exercise. Sadly, the fads and follies of today's mainstream physical educators dominate today's unethical scene.
© 2010 David Landau
© 2010 David Landau