The history of the treadmill

Treadmills are a must-have item in any gym or home fitness set up. These machines have been around for centuries. Why? Because they are proven to get results for people of different ages, fitness levels and goals.

Early History of the Treadmill

Although no one has ever put an exact date on when the first treadmill was invented, we do know that the evolution of technology and science and created such a sophisticated and powerful device that can transform your health journey.

Treadmills started as a horizontal beam that would have been attached to human slaves or mules. The person would then turn the vertical shaft. Another type of treadmill was a vertical wheel with steps inside that was similar to a hamster wheel. Lastly, a third type of treadmill used back in the old days was a sloped, moving series of steps made from wood planks, rope and pulleys. Much like a stair climber we might see today in some gyms.

The treadwheel, by the Roman Empire, used these inventions to build spectacular architecture like castles. A treadwheel crane had the capacity to lift as much as 3000kgs with several men operating it at once. By the mid-19th century, farmers were using various types of beast-powered treadmills to draw, pump or lift water, and later, ground grain – most notably in the form of the rotary grain mill. In fact, a horse treadmill’s basic design, which was patented in 1834, is still used today in racehorse training.

The Prison Treadmill

In 1818, a guy called Sir William Cubitt – a convict during the time when hard labour was the only practical way to “rehabilitate a prisoner’s soul and cure them of their criminality and idleness”. So, Cubitt invented the prison treadmill. Hapless jailbirds were lined-up on a six-metre paddle wheel and forced to walk up a steep stepped incline that encircled a 2 metre cylinder. Chained to a banister for stability, they climbed (depending on their degree of punishment) for up to ten hours a day (roughly 4,300 metres). Countless collapsed from exhaustion and sometimes died, and it became an instrument of fear in English and American prisons. Eventually, after the degree of cruelty came to be understood, it was phased out.

Treadmills for Exercising Pets and Humans

An American patent was issued on a treadmill-style ‘training machine’ in June 1913 and treadmills for the home pet took off in the early 1930s. It was not until 1952 before anyone decided to reintroduce treadmills for humans. Dr Kenneth H Cooper wrote a book called Aerobics in 1968, stating that everyone should own a treadmill if they want to stay healthy and live longer. And sure enough, an entrepreneurial mechanic from New Jersey, read Cooper’s book and saw a gap in the market for affordable home treadmills – he built one, dubbed it the PaceMaster 600, and called up his buddy Dr Cooper to test it out. Sales went gangbusters and treadmills became a must-have device for the modern exercise buff, which remains true to this day.

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