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How Treadmills and Ellipticals Evolved

The first treadmills were made of round stones and animal hides. These early cave man versions can clearly be seen in The Flintstones. Though finding an outlet was a problem, the fitness craze was underway.

The History of Treadmills

Treadmill use was first documented use as a form of punishment in American prisons in the early 19th century. They did not catch on until much later, though, perhaps as modern day self-imposed punishment. But they were used by horses to power pumps for agricultural purposes. The next known use of treadmills with humans actually on them was for the diagnosis of lung disease in the early 1950s. Dr. Quinton and Dr. Bruce of the University of Washington are credited with this clearly productive use. Dr Bruce has been credited with the invention of the cardiac stress test. Thereafter, treadmills spread from hospitals to health clubs to homes, perhaps all in efforts to avoid the treadmills at the University of Washington.



The hugely successful Aerobics was published in 1968 by Dr. Kenneth Cooper. Cooper invented the term “aerobics,” as well as popularized the idea of preventing disease through exercise. In the following decades, the dangers of smoking and being overweight became better appreciated. Health clubs catering to things like racquetball and swimming started adding exercise bikes and then treadmills to the activities offered to members.

Before long, machines with moving stairs morphed into steppers on which the steps went up and down, instead of just going down. Cross country skiing motions were simulated in a widely-advertised machine. As the production technology for these machines improved, the cost of manufacturing these machines dropped so low that it became possible for average consumers to buy their own for home use on a large scale.

Elliptical trainers were not invented until the early 1990s. These machines improved on the ski machines by eliminating the ropes and other moving parts that could make use complicated. The first ellipticals did not have upper body arms. Now elliptical trainers work the muscles of both the upper and lower body while giving a cardiovascular workout. As a result, they have become the fastest-growing category of exercise equipment. Computer technology was not far behind. Various programs built in to both treadmills and elliptical can coach the user through his workout and automatically change the programmed settings on the machine during the workout. What’s next? Maybe generating electrical power by training your dinosaur to run on your treadmill.



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