Walter Camp’s Daily Dozen

By | February 3, 2016

Walter Camp’s Daily Dozen exercise program (or regimen as you might see it sometimes) is the daily workout I chose to relaunch Internal Force Fitness in 2016. Why? Well, I wanted to go back to basics, and you don’t get much more basic than the Daily Dozen! Basic however, does not mean easy/waste of time!

Walter Camps Daily Dozen

Before Shaun T, Tony Horton and even Jack LaLanne were around with their slick ads and beautifully packaged and presented programs, there were ads like this one for the Daily Dozen:

The Daily Dozen builds shoulders and back muscles in which you can take pride.

Overweight? Ten minutes a day of the Daily Dozen to music will rid you of dangerous excess flesh.

Why be run-down, emaciated, half-alive? The Daily Dozen quickly builds you up. 

I never recommend taking a fitness program at face value however, so let’s take a closer look and see if the claims add up…

Who Was Walter Camp?

Walter Camp was an American football player, coach and sports writer, and is sometimes referred to as the “Father of football.” What is of interest to me however, 90 + years on from his death, is that Camp was a proponent of exercise for ALL, and not just for the athletes he coached. While working as an adviser to the United States military during World War I, he devised a program to help servicemen become more physically fit – the Daily Dozen.

Walter Camp’s Daily Dozen

I’m going to quote directly from an original manual, but I will clarify a few points here and there as it differs greatly from today’s method of instruction.

Walter Camp has just developed for the Naval Commission on Training Camp Activities a “short hand” system of setting up exercises that seems to fill the bill; a system designed to give a man a running jump start for the serious work of the day. It is called the “daily dozen set-up,” meaning thereby twelve very simple exercises.

Both the Army and the Navy used Camp’s methods to get fit – and that is a pretty good pedigree!

We may now consider the question of time-saving for those who may be obliged to largely forego pleasurable exercise and who yet desire to keep fit and well in spite of this deprivation.

As you can see, the ‘I don’t have time for exercise’ excuse is not a new one. You WANT to be fit, but circumstances (whatever the fitness gurus may say about MAKING time) mean you can’t give it a lot of time.

These exercises are intended to prepare the younger men for the more strenuous training which they are to undergo later; in the case of the older men, they are to be used before entering upon the ordinary day of business routine.

This was one of Camps primary points – the programme should not penalise the old over the young, or the light over the heavy, or the fit over the unfit. EVERYBODY would be able to do this programme and benefit from it.

What we must do now is supple him, to quicken his coordination, to improve his poise, and to put his trunk and thorax* into better shape. We must give him endurance, quickness of response, and resistive force.

*Thorax: The chest, basically.

No vitality should be taken out of a man by these setting-up exercises; he should not be tired out, but rather made ready for the regular work of the day.

I’ve always loved that bit – exercise that will wake you up, not tire you out!

What Walter Camp noted even 90+ years ago was that the general ‘building-up’ exercises prevalent at the time had failed to physically develop the youth of the US to an acceptable standard. Even in the early 1900’s Camp was calling the idea of working out with weights as a necessary tool to keep you fit and supple ‘antique’. (I’m going to add that while the idea of it being necessary may be antique, weight training, for those with the know-how, remains an excellent tool.)

[B]y special exercises, a man might increase his biceps two or three inches in a year and the calves of his legs an inch or two! Now what was the average man to do this for? What was the object? To admire himself in the mirror? Or did he intend to make himself a professional weightlifter?

Take a second to read that again, then think about it – what are you exercising for?

We now recognize how silly are such exercises taken for the mere sake of adding an inch or two to an already serviceable muscle…What we want is suppleness, chest expansion, resistive force, and endurance; and these do not come from great bulging knots of muscle nor from extraordinary feats of strength. Rapid shifts from severe training to a life of ease and indulgence is not Nature’s process…Every step she makes is a little one.

Aside from the language used, that paragraph could have come straight out of a modern day fitness magazine. Functional fitness is what it’s all about – fitness to help you carry out your day to day business with the minimum amount of exertion and the maximum amount of enjoyment!

It has been found in sports and athletic games that over-developed biceps, startling pectoral muscles, and tremendously muscled legs are a disadvantage rather than an advantage. The real essential is. After all, the engine, the part under the hood…lungs, heart and trunk.

As I mentioned earlier:

[I]t is found that many of the present setting-up exercises made an extraordinary wide variation of effort between heavy and light men. The light man would put in only a small amount of muscular effort, whereas the heavy man, in the same length of time and under the same exercise, would be taxed far more than he could comfortably stand.

Naturally it is out of the question to assume that the youth from eighteen to twenty-five and the man of fifty-five to sixty can take the same amount and the same kind of exercise. On the other hand, if we consider the work each is required to do in his daily routine, we can, so far as the setting up exercises are concerned, bring the two points nearer together.

In other words, regardless of our level of physical fitness, a lot of us do exactly the same type of work in our day to day lives. We all have to get out of bed and get dressed. We all have to walk up or down a number of stairs. Those activities do not respect age!

Has Exercise Not Moved On From The Daily Dozen?

That is an interesting question. These exercises may be old, but I see them in ‘NEW’ workouts every other week (or some slight variant). To some degree there are only so many ways to move the body, and the Daily Dozen exercises work to exercise all of the major muscle groups – the aim of practically ALL exercise routines, new or old. You could also ask if they are so good, why did people stop doing them? Well, Walter Camp’s Daily Dozen was a victim of its own success. While the Daily Dozen was popular, so too were a hundred other daily workout programs, many inspired by Camp. Then came WW2, fitness on TV and other, glossier, fitness books. It never really went away…it just got lost for a while.

Daily Dozen Redux: The Return of the Daily Dozen

2016 marks the year you can give the Daily Dozen a go supported by 21st Century language! I have put together a version of the Daily Dozen supported by more images and better descriptions.

Links to purchase the book on the Kindle, Nook and as a simple PDF can be found HERE.

Give it a go. As the ad says:

Ten Minutes’ Fun A Day Gives You Health, Strength and Vitality!


Daily Dozen Exercise Program


Author: Richie Neville

My name is Richie Neville and I am not now, nor have I ever been, a professional athlete. I do not approach my fitness training as one who has ever had the external support of coaches, nutritionists, therapists and trainers. I am just a normal guy who wants to stay as fit as I can for as long as I can. None of the exercises I promote are 'insane' or 'x' rated. Join me at Internal Force Fitness to find out more.

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