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

Early man’s ability to survive in harsh environments was largely determined by their physical development. They had to constantly avoid threats such as weather and predators while seizing opportunities for survival, which led to the instinctive practice of practical and adaptable movement skills. Unlike modern times, their strength and mobility were not developed through structured workout programs or schedules.

However, the rise of civilization and the agricultural revolution greatly changed the level and types of physical activity. The ability to grow and raise food increased the use of repetitive tasks which negated the need for complex movements used in food hunting and gathering.

From 4,000 BC to the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, civilizations rose and fell through war and conquest. Ancient cultures such as the Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans imposed physical training on boys and young men to prepare them for battle. Although the movements of ancient military training were similar to those used by early man, they were more structured with a different end goal in mind.

Civilized populations also valued physical culture for sports. Records of athletic competitions exist from ancient Egypt, and the Greeks famously created the first Olympic Games. These early sports were based on practical, natural movement skills and were fundamentally related to the preparedness needed for war. Running (sometimes with armor and shield), jumping, throwing (javelin or discus), and fighting (striking and wrestling) were fundamental skills practiced by young men.

Modern Options

Throughout history, treadmills have been utilized as instruments of torture. Prisoners in labor camps were often compelled to walk long distances on a treadmill that operated a wheel and ground grains or executed some other farming tasks. However, prisoners were also frequently forced to utilize the treadmill as a punitive measure.

In the pursuit of achieving physical fitness, people have resorted to various forms of exercise over time. While early humans were farmers, hunters, and gatherers with little need for structured exercise, the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century is often cited as responsible for the initial decline in physical activity. This is because many of the everyday tasks that required manual labor were replaced by automation.

The earliest fitness equipment, aside from barbells and stationary bicycles, was created by Gustav Zander, a Swedish doctor. In the late 19th century, Zander designed a mechanical horse that functioned similarly to today’s Stairmaster, as well as a machine that pummeled the stomach with a pair of mechanical boxing gloves, which could be compared to a contemporary ab cruncher with a more forceful impact. No pain, no gain! Although Dr. Zander was not the only one to recognize the demand for machines that would help with exercise – and although exercise equipment has existed since long before the Greeks and their gymnasia – it was Dr. Zander who made the connections between physical exertion and overall well-being more popular.

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 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.


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.


Kettlebells have become increasingly popular in recent years, but many people are still unsure of what they are and how they can benefit from using them. A kettlebell is a cast-iron weight that resembles a cannonball with a handle. They come in various sizes and weights, ranging from a few pounds to over 100 pounds.

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.

In Summary

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.

Exercise is essential for maintaining and improving overall health, fitness, and well-being. Regular exercise can provide physical health benefits such as preventing chronic diseases, improving bone density, and maintaining a healthy weight. Exercise can also provide mental health benefits such as reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, improving cognitive function, and reducing the risk of cognitive decline in older adults. Exercise can also provide social benefits such as building social connections, improving self-esteem and confidence, and providing a sense of community and belonging. Finally, exercise can improve sleep quality and reduce the risk of sleep disorders. Incorporating exercise into our daily routine is crucial for living a healthy and fulfilling life.

Leave a Comment