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Kraus first visited the U.S. in 1934, spending much of his time studying the techniques used to treat fractures at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. "I was enormously impressed," he says. "These Americans were so far ahead of us in their surgical practices. I was bowled over by their brilliance. I decided then that I would come to America and get more involved."
He returned to Austria in the mid-'30s, and then departed permanently in 1938 after the Anschluss. He served for many years on the staff of Columbia-Presbyterian and has also been affiliated with two other New York City hospitals, Bellevue and Metropolitan. And he has been an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at New York University's College of Medicine.
In the early 1940s, Kraus and a colleague at the Posture Clinic at Columbia-Presbyterian, Dr. Sonja Weber, designed a set of minimum-fitness tests to measure the muscular strength and flexibility of those visiting the clinic. This was the famed Kraus-Weber test, six simple exercises that were designed, as Kraus explains, "to determine only the minimum levels of muscular fitness, not the optimum levels. The tests determine whether or not the individual has sufficient strength and flexibility in the parts of his body upon which demands are made in normal daily living." The original tests involved 4,264 American children, who were compared with 2,870 kids tested in Austria, Italy and Switzerland. The findings were devastating: No less than 57.9% of the American youngsters failed one or more of the tests, while only 8.7% of the Europeans did so. A total of 44.3% of the U.S. kids failed the flexibility test, compared with 7.8% of the Europeans, and 35.7% of the Americans flunked one or more of the five strength tests, as opposed to a mere 1.1% of the Europeans.
There was almost no official interest in such tests in those days, and Kraus spent thousands of dollars of his own money to underwrite the study. But after the results were revealed to the President in 1955, an alarmed Ike established the President's Council on Youth (now the Council on Physical Fitness and Sports), which successfully focused attention on the fact that this health-conscious nation was, in fact, producing a generation of weaklings. As Kraus said at a White House luncheon back then: "We're paying the price of progress. The older generation was tougher because it had to undergo adequate physical activity in the normal routine of living. We have no wish to change the standard of living by trying to do away with the automobile and television. But we must make sure that we make up for this loss of physical activity. In other words, let's take the sting out of the benefits."
Fittingly, last year Kraus was given the Distinguished Service Award of the President's Council. Yet, despite the fact that more than a quarter of a century has passed since the first report stunned President Eisenhower, Kraus is still banging the same drum, insisting that the level of U.S. fitness may not be high enough to meet the demands of normal life in the 1980s—particularly, normal life among Americans who want to participate in sports on a regular basis.
In his new book, Kraus presents another series of very simple (one critic calls them simplistic) tests, designed to measure muscular strength and flexibility, plus the likelihood of injury in athletic activity. Kraus writes ominously, "If you fail even one of them, you're a prime candidate for injury. What do you do then? Instead of playing sports, start the conditioning program indicated for each test.... [Then, when you are able to pass all seven tests,] you can start to play sports. If by chance you can't pass those tests but have been playing sports without injury, don't think I'm wrong calling you a candidate for injury. You're playing on borrowed time, and you're likely to end up in the doctor's office."
Kraus' preachments and theories in this book deal almost exclusively with muscles. He composes a veritable symphony of fitness when he writes, "Your muscles allow you to move and express your thoughts. Your use of your muscles affects your metabolism.... An athlete in training can consume up to 6,000 calories a day without gaining weight. Vigorous exercise relaxes both your muscles and your mind. Fifteen minutes of exercise that causes the heart to beat 100 to 120 times a minute has been shown to have measurably greater tranquilizing effect than 400 milligrams of meprobamate, the generic name for Miltown and Equanil...."
Kraus warns that the muscles are easily—and adversely—affected by the frustrations and (perhaps worst of all) the mechanization of modern life. "As a result of the constant assault of irritations and the inability to work them off in the course of daily living," Kraus writes, "many people lead the lives of caged animals. Their muscles become more and more stiff and tight because they don't work off the accumulated tension."
Kraus categorizes four different kinds of pain that occur in muscles. "If you appreciate the difference," he says, "you can treat the pain appropriately. I cannot stress this enough because muscle pain is often baffling to both athlete and physician." (Dr. Nagler, for instance, points out that 80% to 90% of all back problems are not caused by any pathology, but are of muscular origin.)
The four kinds of muscular pain defined by Kraus are: