No pain, no gain. Then again, in the case of treadmills, that little phrase can be too literal.
Depending on who you ask, treadmills are superb inventions to help you lose weight, or they’re instruments of the devil.
Rewind to two hundred years ago, and people would tell you that treadmills are a creation of hell.
JSTOR has got the scoop on this modern-day exercise equipment’s original purpose:
The treadmill was invented in England as a prison rehabilitation device. It was meant to cause the incarcerated to suffer and learn from their sweat. It would mill a bit of corn or pump some water as a bonus.
Yup, the treadmill – which can feel like a torture device after a 40 minute run on the thing – is actually a torture device.
It was created in 1818 by a chap by the name of William Cubbitt, a civil engineer. Obviously, he didn’t intend to make the damn treadmill look any glamorous in his many attempts to perfect its design:
[Cubitt’s] most popular edition, which was installed at Brixton Prison in London, involved a wide wheel. Prisoners pressed down with their feet on steps embedded in the wheel, which moved it, presenting them with the next step.
Picture it like the sport of log-rolling, only the log-like wheel was fixed in place. The Brixton treadmill was hooked up to subterranean machinery that ground corn. It wasn’t fun.
Well, no shit.
This treadmill could busy as many as 24 prisoners, standing side-by-side along the wheel. Some devices at other prisons were smaller, and most treadmills soon included partitions so convicts could not socialize [sic]. They slogged for 10 hours a day in summer, and a mere seven in winter.
Prisoners were forced to undergo the treadmill as a means of reforming them. By 1842, treadmills became popular and were being used in 109 of 200 jails across England, Wales, and Scotland.
However, it soon became clear that the treadmill did fokol for reformation, and its popularity dwindled:
The focus on breaking the body and mind was giving way to a more thoughtful approach to rehabilitation and to a focus on education. A series of prison acts passed throughout the 19th century increasingly restricted how long prisoners could be subjected to such devices, and the act of 1898 called for an end to their use. By 1895, there were just 39 in use across Britain, and merely 13 by 1901.
So ends the tale of the dreaded treadmill.
Or does it?
It resurfaced in America in 1913 with a US patent for a “training-machine.” The 1960s gave rise to the PaceMaster 600, a treadmill that could be used in the confines of your house.
Fast-forward to the present, the treadmill is now the top-selling exercise equipment in the United States.
Now you know, my friends: you’re officially trying to lose weight by using a 200-year-old prison torture device.
Hope your exercise regime doesn’t look less fun after this. If not, be assured that you can still get your laughs from watching your friends wiping out on the things.
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