Guest Post: Fitness Trivia: A Brief History of “Old School” Fitness Equipment

For a long time, but especially in the last 40-50 years, the fitness industry has been growing and moving away from its humble beginnings. What was once just a way to maintain health and show off power has turned into a multi-billion industry. In order to show our appreciation for all things fitness, here’s a little trivial dump of the history of fitness equipment and how it managed to affect humanity:

Free weights

In the past, body-weight exercises and yoga exercises were beloved among Ancient Egyptians, Indians, Chinese and other developed cultures. However, Ancient Greeks are the nation credited with inventing the first free weight. Before the 5th century B.C. people used something called “halteres” for exercising. These weights were hand-held and contained a hole for gripping instead of a bar or handle that we’re used to today. Halteres were mostly used for boosting muscle strength and for long jump training.

Resistance bands

When we consider their simplicity, resistance bands saw the light of day pretty late, in the 1980s. First used by former football coach Dick Hartzell for training, resistance bands of today are slightly modified and equipped with handles and anchors that can attach to furniture and doors to mimic the work of many other fitness equipment pieces. However, what resistance bands always had was their low weight and size which makes them very practical for all fitness enthusiasts.


Now we’re going back in time to the early 1700s in Russia. At this time, strong men were eager to show off what their bodies can do, so they started organizing athletic competitions that included “girya”, what we today know as kettlebells. This training device was and is an amazing physical enhancing piece of fitness equipment and the way we use it today is not too different from what people of the past used to do with them. The only difference is that we can find kettlebells for sale in many stores and even get them delivered directly to our address. Even though simple, kettlebells today have a more attractive look and super durable build.

Resistance machines

It took free weights hundreds of years to go through advancements that will make weight training easier and safer for everyone. In the 1950s in America, Jack LaLanne, a famous fitness guru of the time, invented cable-pulley machines, the Smith machine and the leg extension machine. These resistance machines went almost unchanged from LaLanne’s times and many newer machines also use these mechanisms to this day.

Rowing machines

For centuries and all up until the late 19th century, cardio training involved only walking, running and cycling outside. But in 1871, William B. Curtis invented the Curtis rowing machine, the first piece of cardio gym equipment for indoor training. This inventor was a passionate rower who needed the machine to train his skills indoors. Therefore, he invented the rowing machine that allows rowing training all year round. Curtis’ machine was very primitive, involving a flywheel and ratchet system, and even though we have much more advanced machines today, the 19th-century machine was a template for all modern cardio fitness equipment.

Fist electronic piece of workout equipment

In 1968, the first piece of electronic exercise equipment was introduced by Dr Keene Dimick. His Lifecycle Stationary Bike provided users with simple information like their heartbeat rate, distance and calories burned per hour. Even though priced at $4, 000 (at that time, one could buy a Corvette for that money), Lifecycle was still a great success. Lifecycle soon became Life Fitness, and their newest line of stationary bikes called Integrity Series, is equipped with a digital Discover SE3 console, detailed workout data and results, TV programs, internet, interactive courses, Bluetooth connection and many other high-tech things that make working out much more interesting and effective.

First treadmills

In 1975, the company named Woodway made the first electric treadmill. Their machine was quite funny looking, covered with green carpet—it was an interesting sight to see. The user could see their speed displayed on a speedometer and it could be adjusted with an accelerator cable. Another interesting thing about Woodway treadmills was the running surface made with aluminum slats and synthetic grass. Modern treadmills we see today have a different running sufrace for smooth and safe running, as well as displays for entertainment.

As you can see, workout equipment had an interesting past and has managed to develop quickly and efficiently. Modern fitness lovers are in for a world of amazing fitness machines to help them with their progress.

About the Author:

Diana Smith is a full time mom of two beautiful girls interested in topics related to home improvement, DIY and interior design. In her free time she enjoys reading and preparing healthy meals for her family.

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2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Fitness Trivia: A Brief History of “Old School” Fitness Equipment

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  1. Actually resistance bands pre-date the 1980s by a considerable margin if you count the “Jiffy Gym” from the 1950s. It differed from today’s resistance bands in being a single flat rubber strap with enlarged ends for gripping. It could be had with or without handles. It required considerable strength to extend it. Neither I nor any of my schoolmates could. I just saw one identical to the one I had paid one dollar for about 67years ago selling for $30.90 on eBay!

    1. $30? That’s your next investment piece! Haha. I agree with you about pre-dating. I think I’ve even argued elsewhere here that strands were precursors to resistance bands and then we have later products like Jiffy Gym.

      On not having the strength to expand/extend the band, I once saw someone snap a resistance band through overexertion – it was brand new and a powerlifting band. I have never been so impressed!

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