The Humble (but Amazing) Treadmill Beginnings


The Humble (but Amazing) Treadmill Beginnings

You wont believe the history of the treadmill. From prisons to health clubs and home gyms, the treadmill is so ubiquitous that for it to have such a checkered past will leave you beyond confused. Well, if you’re ready to turn back time and get into the bottom of how the most popular cardio machine became what they are today, and if you’re curious as to what their first uses were, then you better read its story.

Did you know that treadmills were first used in prisons to punish offenders and use their power for productivity?

William Cubitt, an engineer during the Victorian Era, invented the first prison treadmills, which were designed and installed to employ convicts to work the wheel and become productive by way of using such ‘tread wheels’ in grinding corn or pumping water in England. At this point, he did not anticipate its use for fitness, but as an effective punishment for troublesome prisoners.

treadmill-prison_6This device was used to force prisoners into climbing the spokes of a huge paddle wheel referred to as an ‘eternal staircase,’ and which the resulting energy pumped water that could drive mills to crush grain and so came the name ‘tread wheel.’ So, how was the feel of climbing and walking onto the first treadmills? Users claimed that it was a terror due to its monotonous steadiness, not severity.

But then in 1889, the Prison Act abolished hard labor among prisoners and started recognizing that labor coming from them should have a constructive rather than a punishing purpose.

In 1875, the first treadmill was put into operation and introduced but not for exercising rather was for using animals to work devices, such as spinning wheels, butter churns and water pumps. A direct adaptation of William Cubitt’s prison tread wheel. And then there were also bigger treadmills (threshing machines) operated by horses.

And then University of Washington’s Robert Bruce and Wayne Quinton have been the ones credited for the use of treadmills in the medical industry, particularly in the diagnosis of heart and lung disease in the 1950s. And because of its effectiveness, its popularity spread from health clubs and homes.

Doctor Bruce conceptualized an idea of putting treadmill into use so that people could walk on to determine their stress level. How it worked was that a patient was put on moving treadmill while being hooked up by electrodes, which is attached to an electrocardiograph, monitoring their vital signs even if the speed was increased. The resulting data was then used for diagnosing any heart problem.

This purpose of the stress test machines had caught the attention of the manufacturers, thinking it could be a great way of putting people on the floor to work out, except that it should NOT be stressful. And so in the 1960s, the machine became an essential piece in any home gym or health club. During this time, people would normally see George Jetson running on a treadmill with Astro, his dog, and saw that this machine could become a part of future development and life–and indeed it is. Now instead of users leaving home, running or walking outside and facing outdoor elements, they can train in the comfort of their home, at their own their pace and time.

And aside from prison treadmills that started the revolution of this important icon of fitness equipment, there are other types of treadmills, such as agricultural tread wheels, which worked as if animal engines powered by humans and they resembled water wheels in appearance. Such can be operated by paddles found in the tread wheel’s circumference, while a person was treading; on the other hand, it could also be that an animal or person could be standing inside and moving within this machine. It was used to grind grains, power cranes and/or raise water.

Both the early Greeks and Romans called a similar machine the reverse overshot waterwheel (for dewatering purpose). And for another use, this tread wheel also had underwater applications (1851) that it was used by a submarine so it could rise or dive due to pumping air in altering buoyancy.

In 1968, Dr. Kenneth Cooper published the book ‘Aerobics’ that made the public realize of preventive health through exercise and in the following decade, the people became aware of the risks associated with obesity and smoking. Later, gyms started offering bikes and treadmills into their training centers.

In the fitness industry, Tunturi, a shop that was originally known in the bike manufacturing, was the first to launch a treadmill design and by the 1960s, they became the premier maker of exercise machines. In the US, Aerobics was the first to make treadmills and NASA noticed the advantages of developing its technology and using it as a tool in their space program. So in 2000, they installed one on the space station so that astronauts could stay fit even in zero gravity conditions.

There were several efforts to further develop and improve this fitness equipment. The ideas were the same and several features were added, including heart monitoring and varying intensities and speeds.

Now treadmills have been developed to be a part of an aerobic workout because it encourages walking and running, eventually strengthening the heart and lungs, aiding in weight loss and building up endurance and stamina, whether for athletes, recovering patients and fitness seekers of all ages. Treadmills are low impact cardio trainers with varying features depending on model, and at the very least, these machines have different speed and intensity levels, some have incline features, heart rate monitoring features and other awesome, effective functions that let trainees achieve their fitness goals in no time, depending on the time they spend and the intensity they use.

At, we’ve witnessed how treadmills have evolved and developed, all for improving the quality of lives of the thousands from around the world. Through the years, we uphold the great reputation of these cardio trainers that offer the best workout results to users of all levels by offering them the best cardio trainer brands, including Precor, Life Fitness and TechnoGym, among others. Whether you’re looking to upgrade your treadmill/s or aiming at finding their best deals online, feel free getting in touch with us and we’ll be more than happy to serve you.

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