A History of Exercise Equipment

For millennia, people didn’t give exercise much thought; daily living required it of them. They couldn’t live without hunting animals, ploughing the fields, building shelter, making their clothing and food and all the other things that made life possible.

Exercise and Physical Activity Through History

Most of early man’s subsistence was in harsh physical environments and physical development was determined by the practical demands of daily living; mere survival involved the constant need to avoid threats (weather and predators), and seize opportunities for survival.

The strength and mobility of early man was not developed through structured workout programs programs, methods, or schedules, but rather was forged by the daily, instinctive, necessity-driven practice of highly practical and adaptable movement skills.

The agricultural revolution, and with it, the dawn of civilization, led to dramatic changes in the types, and level of physical activity. The ability to grow and raise food increased the use of repetitive tasks, and negated the need for complex movement in pursuit of food hunting and gathering.

Between 4,000 BC and the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, civilizations rose and fell through war and conquest. Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, and later on, the Greeks and Romans all imposed physical training on boys and young men. The purpose? Preparing for battle.

Ancient military training had similarities to the movements performed in nature by our cavemen brethren, but with more structure and a different end goal. Young men practiced fundamental skills such as walking and running on uneven terrains, jumping, crawling, climbing, lifting and carrying heavy things, throwing and catching, unarmed fighting, and weapons training.

Civilized populations valued physical culture for sports as well. Records of athletic competitions exist from ancient Egypt, and of course, the ancient Greeks famously created the first Olympic games. Not surprisingly, these early sports were all based on practical, natural movement skills and were fundamentally related to the preparedness needed for war — the Greeks strove to best each other in running (sometimes with armor and shield), jumping, throwing (javelin or discus), and fighting (striking and wrestling).

Outside of military training and sports, Greeks, and later the Romans, celebrated the body’s beauty and strength and embraced physical training as a philosophical ideal and an essential part of a complete education. They celebrated the idea of having a sound mind, in a sound body. Physical culture started to rise beyond practical necessities to become a means to an end.

Lasting from the 5th to the 15th century, the Middle Ages were a chaotic period with a succession of kingdoms and empires, waves of barbarian invasions, and devastating plagues. The teachings of Christianity spread the belief that the primary concern of one’s lifetime was preparing for the afterlife. The body was seen as sinful and unimportant — it was a man’s soul that was his true essence. Education was overwhelmingly connected to the Church, and focused on cultivating the mind rather than training the body.

Under feudalism, the dominant social system in medieval Europe, only nobles and mercenaries underwent physical training for military service. Similar to ancient times, their training centered on natural movements and martial skills.

The rest of the population were mostly peasants obliged to live on their lord’s land and work extremely hard in fields using rudimentary tools. Their “exercise” came through hard labor.

The Renaissance Era (from around 1400 to 1600) prompted a much greater and open interest in the body, anatomy, biology, health, and physical education.

The Industrial Revolution, marking the transition from manual production methods to machine-based manufacturing processes, began around 1760 and quickly generated social, economic, and cultural trends that changed the way people lived, worked, and of course, moved. As people became more sedentary, a new movement towards intentional physical exercise arose. This movement was given a boost in the 19th century from the rise of a nationalistic fervor in many counties in Europe. Staying healthy, fit, and ready to serve in battle became a point of civic duty and pride.

Modern Options

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.

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. 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”! Though Dr. Zander wasn’t alone in realizing the market for machines that would aid in exercise — and though exercise equipment as a more general thing has been around since long before the Greeks and their gymnasia — it was Dr. Zander who popularized the connections between physical exertions and overall well-being.

 

Exercise Equipment Choices

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.

Today, most of those activities are things we couldn’t do if we tried, much less do we have to do them to survive.  That leaves us in a situation where exercise doesn’t come quite so naturally, but our bodies still require it.  That’s why we know that we have to make time in our sedentary day to actually move.

And it’s not that easy.  Because we’re not required to use various muscle groups extensively in order to sustain life, we come up with various routines and methods for working those muscles.  Some simply require that you move your body in a certain way, while others require tools to make the exercise work.

Exercise equipment is something we are all familiar with, and have all used, some of us more than others.  There are an incredible variety of machines, devices and tools that man has come up with to help us to use our bodies in a way that strengthens them and makes them healthier, giving us the ability to live longer, fuller lives.

Dumbbells

Dumbbells are some of the most basic exercise equipment available.  The simple matter of lifting weights over and over in order to strengthen the muscles is one of the very earliest and most basic forms of exercise.  All types of free weights can be used in different ways to work different muscles.

Treadmill

One of the great inventions in exercise equipment would probably seem completely superfluous to our ancestors.  The treadmill allows us to run any time night or day in the shelter of a building.  Treadmills can change pace, incline, record the distance run and even monitor your heart rate throughout your workout.

Stationary Bikes

The stationary bicycle that was in almost every household half a century ago is still in use, but it’s had a makeover.  Today’s exercise bikes have a lot of different options and what used to be a solitary form of exercise has become a group one with spin classes.

Ski Gliders

Ski gliders have been around for a long time and are still being used.  They give you a great full body workout.  Now there are a number of other machines that are similar but different.  Of course they are all modernized and have very smooth movement and other features.

Elliptical Machines

Elliptical machines are very popular.  They essentially combine the motion of a stair climber and a glider and are somewhat like a standing bicycle.  They have a very smooth motion that is low impact and very good for those with arthritis, osteoporosis or other conditions that can make exercising difficult or dangerous.

Compact Home Gyms

If you do want a home gym but lack the space to get all of the equipment that you want or need, then going for a compact option could work out very well for you. In recent years there have been quite a few advancements made in compact home gyms making them a much better option than they were in the past.

Compact home gyms today often offer a wide range of exercises that can give you a close approximation to what you could expect if you went to a gym and engaged in regular circuit training. While there has yet to be a home gym build, especially a compact one, that can match a full gym, they can come much closer than most people realize.

Exercise Balls

There are many different types of portable exercise equipment.  One of the simplest ones is the exercise ball.  There are many different exercises that can be done using the ball to strengthen the core and increase balance.  Although it is extremely simple, it has many uses and is a great addition to any home gym.

Conclusion

Overwhelmingly, exercise is a mere chore, not a pleasure; it’s something people have to force themselves to do, not a natural expression of who they are.

Last but not least, many who try to address their fitness needs are confused as to what modality to choose. We have lost clarity and simplicity. We have lost a sense of practicality. We have lost naturalness.

If you’re considering to train at home, you need to look into some home workout equipment that allows you to do a fair variety of exercises so that you can train, basically, all the muscles of your body.

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