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Practical Guide of Physical Education (1912 Edition)
by Georges Hébert
translated into English by Pilou and Gregg
Pilou's Foreword and Warning
This is an amateur translation of Georges Hébert's
Guide pratique
d'éducation physique
, 2
edition, 1912. The original work is over 500
pages, encompasses everything from building training grounds to
muscular anatomy, and contains detailed theory and practical
information. Faced with such a task, I decided to start translating
things I was interested in, namely elementary exercises for building
strength and flexibility and practical exercises of relevance for Parkour
training. Meanwhile, Gregg started translating other parts of the book,
and by encouraging each other we managed to cover almost
everything. Gregg put his translations up on the APK forums, but I
kept going with this booklet which has been compacted to under 100
pages(!). The original book comes with many photographs, and I tried
to keep as many as I could in the text, although I didn't go through the
hassle to reference them in the text. The translation is far from literal
or complete, and thus contains some bias, although I tried to avoid
interpreting or modernizing any of the text. In the very few cases
Hébert's work seems at odds with modern knowledge or when extra caution seems needed, I added
notes mentioning the differences, but did not change the original text. I included Gregg's more literal
translation with some minor smoothing, and tried to indicate who did what.
Now, here must come a warning. Georges Hébert's legacy is much richer than a few guidebooks of
physical education, and there is obviously more to the natural method than this. Followers of Georges
Hébert are still active in France and Belgium, and one should seek their help and teachings to fully
understand the natural method. This book merely offers a first taste of the method, incomplete and
imperfect in many ways, and reading it will make no one a true expert of the art. Nevertheless, I hope
it will intrigue and inspire traceurs and traceuses to explore Hébert's ideas on physical education,
complement their training with some of the exercises described, and seek out Hébert's followers to
learn more.
Pilou, November 2009
[translator's note: the following chapters are from Gregg's translation, with a bit of polishing for the
French expressions. Apart from the foreword, I have also removed or shortened repetitive sections or
other lengthy descriptions, according to my own personal judgment. Some edited parts are indicated,
and I recommend that you go to Gregg's m literal online version for more details on the theory part.]
The driving thought behind this Practical Guide of Physical Education was to compose a method, a
practical system to reach full physical development through the most effective, fastest and simplest
ways. This method is no theoretical essay, it is the result of more than five years of practical, daily
teaching and training thousands of subjects of various ages, strengths and walks of life, from school
children to French navy officers.
It is important to understand that the exercises of our method are not new: in any culture where
physical prowess is valued, such exercises have been used. Progress in physical education does not
come from inventing new exercises, but from understanding well the effects of the existing ones and
combining them to reach more efficiently the goal of physical improvement. It is mostly a better way of
working. Our approach includes:
- an essential part made of eight practical exercises: walking, running, jumping, swimming, climbing,
lifting, throwing, and defending.
- a preparatory part made of elementary exercises which target the different parts of the body: simple
and combined movements of the arms, legs, and trunk, allowed by the normal play of joints,
suspensions, planks, balancing, hopping, respiratory movements;
- a complementary part made of games, sports of all kinds, and the most common manual labor.
The eight practical exercises don’t have the same importance. It is evident that the exercises which
develop physical endurance by augmenting the power of the heart and lungs are the most useful and
practical. Running is the primary exercise in our system. Elementary education exercises develop the
body, but don’t overestimate their value. They produce many of the effects needed for the practical
exercises, but are insufficient by themselves to reach full physical development. You don’t get the
coordination needed in practical situations by analyzing muscles and organs separately. Games,
sports, and manual labor complete the method and provide the means to learn all the branches of
physical activity.
Our method of work is very simple and practical. It is appropriate for everyone. It is applicable
everywhere: it doesn’t require special installations. It depends more on the manner of training, the
wise use of the resources, location and terrain we have. Our physical education method includes
training against the effects of cold and bad weather. It is done naturally by working bare chested as
often as possible, and taking air baths in all seasons. The air bath is a powerful means of hardening
the body while maintaining good health. After the excellent results we’ve seen, we can’t recommend it
too much. In summary, our method is essentially practical, and tends to form strong beings capable of
executing all the practical exercises and possessing a minimum degree of aptitude in relation to their
age and constitution. We define this minimum degree in a precise fashion.
One of the most important and original parts of our method is in determining physical aptitude and
recording the results. It’s indispensable to know at any time a subject's practical value and to have a
clear idea of his physical power or absolute general force. We created a form to register the results of
twelve classic tests, listed according to a determined level of aptitude. The twelve tests are combined
so that together they determine in a sufficiently precise fashion, and evaluate numerically, the general
physical worth or degree of physical aptitude of a particular subject. If one considers that the principle
elements of physical power, or absolute general force are: endurance, muscular strength, skill and
coordination, as well as nervous and moral energy, it is very evident that such a determination or
evaluation, presented in numeric form, is a difficult problem to solve. We don’t claim to have the
solution, nor the defining formula to evaluate the power of the human machine. But this form gives a
fairly accurate measure of physical aptitude. Only long experience permits the modification or
completion of this form and awards the coefficients of each test.
Examining the tests of the form shows that:
1. force of resistance is evaluated by five tests: the 100 m run [speed], 500 m run [speed and
endurance], 1500 m run [endurance]; the 100 meter swim [speed and endurance]; diving under the
water [respiratory power]. As well, executing all exercises required by the series of twelve tests in the
same day also engages the subject’s force of resistance;
2. Muscular strength is represented by the two-handed weight lifting, the throw, and rope climbing.
3. Skill, agility, flexibility, the coordination of movements are indicated by the four types of jumps:
standing high jump, running high jump, standing long jump, and running long jump, and by the running
and swimming as well.
4 – The energetic qualities are seen in the execution of the series of the twelve tests without failing
and with, on the contrary, giving to each of them one's maximum effort.
The choice of tests is made to give the force of resistance and agility priority over muscular strength.
In other words, for equal muscular strength, the more resistant and the more agile of two subjects
submitted to the tests obtains a superior total number of points. This is logical and corresponds to our
definition of a strong and complete man; strength lives more in the heart and lungs than in the
Even though it is not a perfect evaluation formula for physical power, the form is, in all cases, a very
practical way to control and observe the results. It permits to follow easily one's progress, to direct the
work in the needed direction, to uncover all the weak points of one's education. Each subject can not
pursue his physical education without periodically submitting to the twelve classic tests which measure
the value of his general physical state and the scope of his progress. The form is at the same time the
control instrument of the work accomplished and the device to register the results obtained. It is the
major guide of the instructor and the student.
In short, the form presents the following advantages:
1. It marks the physical aptitude, which has for immediate consequence to make progress tangible, an
essential conditions to keep the instruction interesting.
2. It clearly states the qualities which characterize a strong and complete man, and gives a fair idea of
what makes up strength. It removes all the prejudiced points of view, while having practical
significance. The subject who succeeds at the series of twelve tests proves at the same time his
aptitudes in the most important natural exercises: He can run (and walk), jump, swim, climb, lift and
3. It provides for each test aptitude levels which give valuable indications to students and teachers.
The figures given in the rating of performance are established for the average of the weakest subjects.
4. It shows, by age, the minimum degree of aptitude to be possessed to be more than a physical
5. It forces to neglect nothing in the search of the qualities which make up physical development; it
prevents all absolute specialization.
Having proposed this, one is all surprised to see champion specialists of all kinds asked to prove their
skills through the twelve tests present a low general physical value, often even lower than subjects
who only have average skills in all domains. Why be a champion jumper or a special team member in
any sport, if you cannot climb or swim?
We differentiate the subjects by giving them an idea of their value, not by a simple sentimental
appraisal as is done in almost all gymnastics competitions or examinations, but by executing a series
of measurable tests. When several subjects receive equal ratings, from a general physical value, then
we use the defense exercises, boxing and wrestling, to differentiate them. In a word, with equal
general physical values, the stronger is the winner in the defense exercises. It immediately creates
emulation by clearly indicating the concrete goal to achieve, in giving everyone the measure of their
value and proving to the weak their uselessness, which excites their self-esteem.
Our method is designed and developed in such a way that with the concepts contained in the book,
and without possessing superior physical skills or special knowledge, it is perfectly possible to teach or
to conduct exercises in a very rational manner. The role of the educator is certainly difficult: it can only
be fulfilled perfectly by people with a profound knowledge of anatomy, physiology, hygiene, and the
science of the mechanics of movement. They must be, in addition, skillful and experienced
practitioners. This category of specialists is still extremely rare. They are evidently necessary to take
education in an enlightened direction, to make progress and help form professors and instructors. But
under the pretext that these are the type of educators we need, we should not assume that physical
education presents insurmountable difficulties and remains the exclusive domain of such specialists.
We argue, on the contrary, that those who already have care of souls: parents, teachers, professors,
officers, directors of companies and so forth., may well, with our book, conduct physical exercises. It is
sufficient that they go to the trouble to understand deeply the spirit of the method and that they commit
firmly to exercising themselves. They will soon see that there is no need to be an exceptional subject
for walking, running, jumping, swimming, etc. and correctly execute most of the exercises. They must
also be persuaded that with work first, with care and precautions following, it is possible to achieve
excellent results. There is no example of subjects who, having worked with perseverance during the
required time, did not come to perfecting themselves, if not completely, at least sufficiently.
Physical education starts at a young age and is pursued manhood. When perfection is attained one
does not rest, but trains to stay in shape and maintain health by proper hygiene and a sufficient dose
of exercise. There is interest to begin methodical physical education as early as possible, because
children who engage in a good time of physical exercise always become robust men. However, even
up to an advanced age, one may do physical re-education with success, taking precautions a
physician may recommend. The results are obviously less good, but they are no less significant. All
the genres of indispensable utility exercises may be practiced by children, as long as the work dose is
intelligently regulated and a very gentle progression is consciously observed during the execution and
especially during the apprenticeship. An exercise, whatever it is, is not violent if we chose to make it
so. We must not show too much fear about teaching practical exercises to young children. Indeed, a
child has to learn to handle all the situations his life will bring. He may need to escape from danger, to
bring aid to his one of his comrades, defend himself against an aggressor his age, etc. He often even
seeks, by instinct, exercises said to be violent. Although the Practical Guide to Physical Education is
specially written for male subjects, most of the exercises in this book, particularly the basic educational
exercises, can be practiced by girls and women. Understand that training subjects following the
principles exposed here should not have infirmities or serious hereditary defects (hernias, heart
problems, etc.). In the latter case, doctors should always be consulted and asked what to do.
Finally, we must add that a complete physical education is not limited solely to the teaching and
practice of physical exercises of all kinds in our book. It also includes: rules of hygiene and
maintenance of good health; and teachings of physical duties,constituting what might be called
"natural morality". All these parts of education, important because of their influence over the entire
existence, should be the teaching goals of doctors.
Complete physical education includes the development of moral or manly qualities which make true
men. We have indicated these qualities throughout this book without examining in detail the best ways
to acquire them. But we wish to be very precise on this subject: moral or manly education is
inseparable from the purely physical education. The school of physical exercises should be at the
same time the school of energy, commitment, courage, composure and daring. The teacher must be
an example of these qualities; he must struggle against laziness, softness, inaction and must seed in
all a love of work and a healthy competitiveness.
Seek to be strong not only physically but morally. Here is the great duty of man to himself, to his
family, his homeland and to humanity. Only the strong will become useful in difficult circumstances of
life, dangers, evils of all kinds, wars, etc. When you are in normal physical condition, there is no
reason, no excuse to stay feeble when reasoned and methodical work permit you to become strong.
There is, as noted above, an individual and social duty to fulfill. We would be very happy if we are able
to help this accomplishment in our readers.
Practical Physical Education Theory
[translator's note: starting from here to the exercises
descriptions, the original text is very repetitive as Georges
Hébert was fighting hard to defend his views; the following
translations have been seriously edited and shortened. Please
check Gregg's online translation for the full version.]
Activity is a law of nature. All living beings, obeying the natural
need for activity that is in them, come to a complete physical
development by the simple use of their organs of locomotion,
their ways of work and defense. The man in the state of nature,
forced to lead an active life to support himself, realizes a full
physical development by doing only useful and natural
exercises and executing the most common physical labor.
Development is generally adapted to the conditions and needs of the environment in which the
individual is required to move. The value of this development varies depending on the original skills of
the individual, his temperament, his constitution, the climate of the place where he lives, and the
challenges he encounters to provide for his needs or to ensure his safety.
In civilized countries, social obligations, conventions and prejudices move man away from the natural
life outdoors and often prevent the exercise of his activity. His physical development is slowed or
halted by these obligations or conventions. Those who have the leisure to exercise sufficiently and
regularly can reach, without any method, their complete development by simple practice of natural
exercises or their derivatives and by the completion of common manual labor. In this they imitate men
living in the state of nature, with the difference that they do for pleasure what other people do out of
These subjects are obviously the exception. In general, the prejudice and habits of modern life restrain
rather than encourage physical activity from childhood on. Ease of existence and comfort encourage
physical laziness. We can find examples of subjects who acquired without method an almost complete
development, but they generally had excellent natural dispositions and achieved such a result mostly
from games and sports involving natural exercises and their derivatives.
For an average inhabitant of the civilized country to reach a complete physical development while
remaining faithful to social conventions and obligations, he must subject himself to two main
requirements: to devote enough time daily to the culture of the body, and to make efficient use of that
time by avoiding useless activities. The ideal is to produce, within a given time and without harming
the organism, a dose of activity roughly equal to a full day of outdoor life in the state of nature.
The culture of the body made in a steady, continuous and progressive manner is physical education.
Without order or method, the physical development is acquired haphazard and its final value is highly
uncertain. Methodical or rational education enhance accuracy, avoids guesswork, rejects everything
that is unnecessary and monitors results. It allows you to walk with confidence towards the goal of full
physical development, especially important when activity time is limited.
Choosing exercises according to the knowledge of their effects on the body, classifying and regulating
their dose make the method of education. The uncivilized subject perfected himself, first by imitation,
then by using his personal experience, mostly instinctively. The method, by contrast, helps from the
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