History of Exercise Equipment

The history of exercise equipment dates back to the time of early civilization. Before that, the need for survival kept people in pretty good shape regardless of whether they were hunters, gatherers, or farmers. When they started living in large groups and specializing, their day-to-day workload changed and for many, the need for exercise was born. Fitness training began with the early Greeks when Hippocrates wrote “that which is used develops, and that which is not used wastes away.” In other words, use it or lose it.

Physical training was introduced by way of two kinds of competition that arose between groups of people — games and war. Military conflict and athletic competition between city-states created the need for gymnasiums, calisthenics, strength training and exercise equipment.

Early exercise equipment consisted primarily of weights and tools for gymnastic training. Stones, sandbags, water jars, various yokes and bars made up the components of early weight training equipment. Early gymnastic tools were precursors of modern equipment consisting of swings with bars, ropes and rings. A variety of solid balls were used for coordination and strength training as well. Running and calisthenics were commonly used to develop coordination and stamina. Extra power and speed was developed by running up and down hills and mountains.

Much later, the Greek physician Galen described strength training using an early type of dumbbell. But the history of exercise equipment doesn’t really begin until the late 19th century with the appearance of the barbell. Early barbells were made with hollow globes filled with water or sand. About the same time, modern gymnastic training equipment came into being in Germany with Friedrich Jahn’s equipment that included wooden horses, balance beams and parallel bars.

Serious exercise equipment started appearing in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The first stationary bicycle was produced in the 18th century and was a large machine that worked both the arms and the legs. The first rowing machine appeared in the mid 19th century, and looked like the midsection of a boat.

Later in the early 20th century came machines to improve physical fitness. Many of the machines were adapted from earlier applications. The treadmill, for example, was initially invented with industrial applications in mind, during a time when steam engines were not practical and before electric motors were in widespread use. Later it and other weight and pulley systems were adapted for use in gymnasiums as exercise equipment and as features to improve safety for strength training. By 1933 the treadmill was in widespread use and in 1952 was being used in medical applications.

Also in the 1950s, Jack LaLanne created several new exercise machines including the cable pulley machine, the Smith machine, used in weight training, and the leg extension machine.

The step treadmill hit the market in 1983. It was a revolving staircase, similar to an escalator and called the stairmaster. Modern step machines with individual foot platforms came shortly afterward with the development of the stairmaster 4000 in 1986. These machines provided an excellent cardio workout along with lower body strength training.

Finally, the history of exercise equipment comes to the development of modern home gym equipment including universal machines like the Solo-flex and Bowflex, along with devices like the mini-stairstepper. The mini-stairstepper is a device that provides all the advantages of the step treadmill in a small portable device that can be easily moved and stored.

After the Bowflex and the mini-stairstepper, what new wonders will be added to the history of exercise equipment? No doubt, there is a cadre of inventors all working diligently to show us, and to take their place in history.

Fitness Equipment Glossary

There are dozens and dozens of different type of fitness equipment out there so keeping track of them can be quite the task, even for an expert. The constantly influx of new type of innovations and equipment also do not help and can intimidate newcomers to the fitness world. We have compiled a list of the most common terms regarding fitness equipment and break them down to simple to understand, non-jargon explanations. We have also detailed which body part the equipment targets, if applicable. If words like ergometer, P80 console and smith machine baffle you, this list will be your friend. We have gathered up all the fitness equipment names that we could find and we are constantly adding to this list.

Ab Bench

Category: Strength

Body Parts Targeted: abdominals

An ab bench is a fitness bench that is generally at a decline, usually with padded leg rollers to hook your legs or foot around to perform a crunch or sit-up. There are also adjustable versions of these where you can perform different exercises on.

Adjustable Bench

Category: Strength

Body Parts Targeted: N/A

Similar to a flat bench, but they are adjustable to either become a flat bench, an incline bench or a decline bench.

AMT

An abbreviation for the Precor AMT (Adaptive Motion Trainer) which is an all-in-one elliptical machine. It is able to change strides and adapt to the user without any manual adjustments.

Arc Trainer

Category: Cardio

Body Parts Targeted: hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteus maximus, core (if it includes upper body: triceps, biceps, back)

A cardio machine created by Cybex that closely resembles an elliptical, but the independent floating pedal mechanism further reduces impact on your lower joints.

Assisted Chin Dip

Category: Strength

Body Parts Targeted: triceps, deltoids, pectorals, abdominals, biceps

An assisted chin dip machine is a tower with two protruding rods. Some machines will have the user either kneel or stand on a weighted platform. The user starts with their arms at a 90 degree angle and extends their arms to perform the exercise.

Crosstrainer

See entry for elliptical.

Curl Bench

Category: Strength

Body Parts Targeted: N/A

Also sometimes called a preacher curl. This bench resembles a seat with a padded section in front. The user places their arm over the padded section of the bench and can perform curls with proper form.

Cybex

One of the leading manufacturers of fitness equipment. They mainly specialize in producing strength equipment with over 150 unique pieces. Cybex is also known for their innovative Arc Trainer cardio machines.

Decline Bench

Category: Strength

Body Parts Targeted: N/A

A weight bench where the user’s legs are higher than their head. It is used for bench presses that target the lower portion of the chest.

Elliptical

Category: Cardio

Body Parts Targeted: hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteus maximus, core (if it includes upper body: triceps, biceps, back)

An elliptical is a stationary cardio machine that simulates running or climbing. Users stand on pedals which allows for a low impact workout. Some elliptical also have movable arms which will also allow for an additional upper body workout. Also sometimes referred to as an elliptical crosstrainer or a crosstrainer.

Ergometer – This is quite the confusing term. Sometimes an ergometer can refer to the device inside your exercise machine that tracks your statistics like heart rate, calories burned, distance run, etc. An ergometer can also be referring to an indoor rowing machine. See rowing machine for further definitions on the term used in that context.

Flat Bench

Category: Strength

Body Parts Targeted: N/A

A flat bench is designed for users to lie flat on top of. It is designed to support users while they are performing bench presses.

FreeMotion Fitness

A fitness equipment manufacturer that produces both strength and cardio equipment. They are best known for their FreeMotion Functional Trainer, which uses pulleys and cables to allow a more dynamic range of motion.

Functional Trainer

Category: Strength

Body Parts Targeted: Entire body

Functional trainers are all-in-one fitness machines that usually look like one large tower. Many of them utilize cables or pulleys in order to accommodate a wide variety of different exercises. Functional trainers target upper body, lower body and the core. The type of exercise varies depending on the model.

Hoist Fitness

Hoist Fitness is a San Diego based company that produces strength-training and indoor cycling products for commercial and home markets.

Incline Bench

Category: Strength

Body Parts Targeted: N/A

A weight bench where the user’s head is higher than their legs. Generally used in bench presses and curls.

Incline Press

Category: Strength

Body Parts Targeted: pectorals (upper chest), deltoids, triceps

The incline press machine is a weight machine that consists of a seat with two handles located in front of the user that are attached to weights. The user extends their arms and slowly brings them back to starting position to complete a repetition.

Indoor Cycle

Category: Cardio

Body Parts Targeted: hamstring, quadriceps, calves, gluteus maximus, abdominals, tibilais anterior, core

An indoor cycle is a stationary bike that is similar to an upright bike, but is generally smaller and uses a weighted flywheel. It is commonly used in indoor cycling classes where riders ride the indoor cycle in a group in a group, following an instructor and music.

LeMond Fitness

LeMond Fitness, powered by Hoist Fitness, is a fitness company formed by Greg LeMond that specializes in creating stationary cycles.

Life Fitness

Life Fitness is one of the largest and most respected fitness equipment manufacturers. They manufacture every type of equipment including cardio and strength machines.

Matrix Fitness

Matrix Fitness is a commercial grade fitness equipment manufacturer. They are known for their industrial design and contemporary look.

Olympic Bench

Category: Strength

Body Parts Targeted: N/A

Olympic benches are slightly larger than standard benches and are generally made of composite steel for maximum durability. Olympic benches are also more padded since they’re designed to be able to withstand larger weight loads and heavier lifters.

P80 Console – Precor’s newest consoles for their cardio fitness equipment. It has a 15″ LCD capacitive touchscreen. It is also iPod/iPhone compatible.

P30 Console – Precor’s older style console. Includes large LED display and motion controls.

Power Rack

Category: Strength

Body Parts Targeted: N/A

A power rack is a machine with four vertical bars and two movable horizontal bars used to catch barbells. Many power racks also come with additional horizontal bars to perform chin ups and pull ups on in addition to barbell exercises. They are usually wide enough for a person to easily fit inside, along with a fitness bench.

Preacher Curl

Category: Strength

Body Parts Targeted: N/A

See entry for curl bench.

Precor

Precor is a worldwide leader in the home/commercial exercise equipment due to their emphasis on superior quality, creative innovation and overall performance. They specialize in both strength equipment and cardio and are probably most well known for their innovative AMT (Adaptive Motion Trainer).

Recumbent Bike

Category: Cardio

Body Parts Targeted: hamstring, quadriceps, calves, gluteus maximus, abdominals, tibilais anterior

A recumbent bike is an exercise bike that places its user in a reclining position with the pedals out in front of them. The recumbent bike is great for users with back problems because there is

less pressure on the lower back due to the laid-back position.

Smith Machine

Category: Strength

Body Parts Targeted: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, back

A smith machine is a machine usually consisting of a vertical steel rails that is used in weight training. It is primarily used with a barbell and as a self-spotting machine. There are slots on the smith machine that you can hook a barbell onto with only a twist of a wrist. There are also usually safeties which can be placed at a minimum height to catch the barbell and prevent injuries. Smith Machines usually only also vertical movement and are primarily used for squats.

StairMaster

A fitness company established in 1983 and known for their stair climbing fitness equipment. Their most famous products include the stepper and stepmill.

Star Trac

Star Trac has been manufacturing exercise equipment for both home and commercial use since 1979. Their main specialties are their Pro Treadmill lines, their complete lines of selectorized strength equipment and much more.

Stepmill

Category: Cardio

Body Parts Targeted: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, hip flexors, calves

A stepmill resembles an escalator in the sense that it is an endless set of rotating steps. These steps are attached to a belt that revolves with every step. Stepmills are meant to exactly simulate stair climbing and uses your own body weight as resistance, which can increase the amount of calories burned.

Stepper

Category: Cardio

Body Parts Targeted: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, hip flexors, calves

Steppers are machines that have two side by side pedals that you pump up and down to simulate stair climbing. Since steppers rely less on bodyweight, they are more effective for lighter individuals who may not have enough mass to properly move the stepmills. Generally, steppers allow you to adjust resistance level to adjust intensity and difficulty of the workout.

Upright Bike

Category: Cardio

Body Parts Targeted: hamstring, quadriceps, calves, gluteus maximus, abdominals, tibilais anterior, core

An upright bike is an exercise bike where the user sits in an upright position, similar to a road bicycle, with the pedals almost directly below the seat. The upright position helps to simulate real road bike riding and engages the core more than a recumbent bike.

Weight Bench

Category: Strength

Body Parts Targeted: N/A

A weight bench (sometimes called a fitness bench) is a padded board supported by legs and its primary purpose is for weightlifters to sit or lie down on. There are various types of weight benches, including an incline bench, a decline bench, an ab bench, a preacher curl/curl bench and an Olympic bench.