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Exercise Equipment History

The history of exercise equipment dates back to the time of early civilization. Before then, the need for survival kept people in great shape regardless of whether they were hunters, gatherers, or farmers. When they began to live in large groups and specialise, their day-to-day workload changed and for many the need to exercise was born. Physical training began with the early Greeks when Hippocrates wrote “what is used develops, and what is unused wears out.” In other words, use it or lose it.

Physical training was introduced through two types of competition that arose between groups of people: games and war. Military conflict and athletic competition between city-states created a need for gyms, calisthenics, strength training, and exercise equipment.

The first exercise equipment consisted mainly of weights and tools for gymnastic training. Rocks, sandbags, water jugs, various yokes, and bars formed the components of early weight training equipment. Early gymnastics tools were precursors to modern equipment consisting of swings with bars, ropes, and rings. A variety of solid balls were also used for coordination and strength training. Running and calisthenics were commonly used to build coordination and stamina. Additional power and speed was developed going up and down hills and mountains.

Much later, the Greek physician Galen described strength training using a primitive type of dumbbell. But the history of exercise equipment doesn’t really begin until the late 19th century with the appearance of the barbell. The first weights were made from hollow balloons filled with water or sand. Around the same time, modern gymnastic training equipment appeared in Germany with Friedrich Jahn’s equipment that included wooden horses, balance beams, and parallel bars.

Serious exercise equipment began to appear in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The first exercise bike was made in the 18th century and was a large machine that worked both the arms and the legs. The first rowing machine appeared in the mid-19th century and looked like the midsection of a boat.

Later, in the early 20th century, fitness machines arrived. Many of the machines were adapted from previous applications. The treadmill, for example, was initially invented with industrial applications in mind, during a time when steam engines were impractical and before electric motors were in widespread use. Later, this and other weight and pulley systems were adapted for use in gyms as exercise equipment and as features to improve safety in strength training. By 1933, the treadmill was in widespread use, and by 1952 it was being used in medical applications.

Also in the 1950s, Jack LaLanne created several new exercise machines, including the cable pulley machine, the Smith machine, used in weight training, and the leg extension machine.

The step treadmill came on the market in 1983. It was a revolving stair, similar to an escalator and was called the stairmaster. Modern stair machines with individual foot platforms appeared soon after with the development of the Stairmaster 4000 in 1986. These machines provided an excellent cardiovascular workout along with lower body strength training.

Finally, the history of exercise equipment leads to the development of modern home gym equipment that includes universal machines such as the Solo-flex and Bowflex, along with devices such as the mini-ladder. The Mini Stair is a device that offers all the advantages of the treadmill in a small portable device that can be easily moved and stored.

After the Bowflex and the stepladder, what new wonders will be added to the history of exercise equipment? Without a doubt, there is a group of inventors who work diligently to show us and take their place in history.

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