In the quest to become physically fit, humankind has turned to various forms of exercise over the years. While early peoples were farmers, hunters and gatherers with little need of organized exercise, the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century is often attributed to the first decline in physical activity. This is because many of the daily tasks which required manual labor were replaced by automation. It was also at this time that the manufacture of machinery became quite common and many an enterprising businessman came up with various devices designed to improve bodily health.
The first exercise equipment to hit the market was often more torture device than something the average person would eagerly utilize for physical fitness or anything else. And honestly, there’s still some of those in use today (kettle bells come to mind). Here’s a recap of the earliest forms of exercise equipment and what they’ve been replaced with in recent decades.
Early Forms of Exercise Equipment
Perhaps the earliest pieces of fitness equipment, in addition to barbells and stationary bicycles, came from Gustav Zander, a Swedish doctor. In the late 19th century, Zander created a mechanical horse, which operated much like today’s Stairmaster, and a machine that punched the stomach with a pair of mechanical boxing gloves, which could be likened to a modern ab cruncher with a bigger “punch”. Talk about “no pain, no gain”!
Historically, treadmills actually were torture devices. Prisoners in labor camps were often forced to walk miles on a treadmill which turned a wheel and ground grain or performed some other agricultural task. Then again, prisoners were just as often forced to get on the treadmill as a form of punishment. It wasn’t until 1952 that Dr. Robert Bruce decided this torture device would be a great way to stay in shape. Gee, thanks Dr. Bruce! Luckily, by the 1980s, the modern Stairmaster was brought into existence, a step up from the earlier labor camp variety.
Exercise equipment really didn’t come into its own until about the 1950s, when Jack LaLanne’s fitness show started airing on television. LaLanne popularized such machines as the cable-pulley, leg extension and Smith devices, previously only found in commercial gyms (which were few and far between) used primarily for gymnastics and primarily found in Europe.
Thankfully we have numerous modern options when it comes to getting and staying in shape. From Suzanne Somer’s infamous Thigh Master to the “As Seen On TV” shake weights, you can find nearly any type of device for any type of fitness need readily available.
There’s another new fitness tool to hit the market in recent years and that’s a bodywrap system using far infrared ray technology to heat the body so it burns calories in order to produce sweat. A bodywrap system using FIR works much like a sauna, although it’s easier to breathe because of the lack of humidity in the room. The user simply slips into a special coat, turns on the machine, and after about an hour of time relaxing beneath the infrared rays watching a movie, sweats buckets and loses inches. You can find bodywrap systems such as this in many tanning salons.
In the early period of physical fitness, exercise equipment was more like torture devices. Today, fitness tools such as infrared bodywraps make “workouts” easy and even pleasurable. Aren’t you glad you are alive in the twenty-first century?