The Treadmill: From Dark Age to Digital Age

This week, one of our favorite “fitness” videos came to mind: the alternative-pop band, OK Go, performing “Here It Goes Again.”  This music video, which has earned nearly 20 million hits on YouTube,  is an elaborate performance of the band dancing on treadmills in a single continuous take.  If you’re thinking of hitting the treadmill for a short, effective, high-intensity workout, this will undoubtedly motivate you to get it done. (But please, do not try this at home…)

Why were we thinking about this video? Well, we learned where treadmills came from, and it isn’t a pretty story.

Tread-wheelIn 1818 Sir William Cubitt, and English civil engineer, invented the “tread-wheel” – built for the sole purpose of “reforming stubborn and idle convicts.”  Yikes. Prisons throughout Britain and the United States invested in Sir Cubitt’s invention and subjected inmates to punishing 8-hour shifts.  Prisoners would step up on the 24 spokes of a large paddle wheel and climb for what probably seemed like an eternity.

Over time, the machine became known as the “treadmill” and was used to pump water or crush grain.  As prisons turned to other ways of keeping inmates active, like picking cotton, breaking rocks or laying bricks, it seemed that the treadmill would become a thing of the past.

In the 1960’s, the treadmill made a triumphant comeback.  Thanks to the work of Dr. Kenneth Cooper, Americans discovered the health benefits of aerobic exercise. Dr. Cooper brought the first home exercise treadmill to market, and its popularity has grown into what is now a multi-million dollar industry.

Today’s treadmills – with interactive touch screens, customized programs, heart rate monitors and data tracked with every step — are a far cry from the “torture” contraptions of yesteryear. So, we thank Sir Cubitt, Dr. Cooper and  the innovators who brought our beloved treadmill from the dark ages to the digital age.  And, we thank Ok GO for this week’s inspiration to get out there and use one.

Michael Wood, CSCS
Chief Fitness Officer, Koko FitClub

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About Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer
Michael Wood, CSCS, is Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, driving the development of integrated strength and cardio training and nutrition programs for Koko members nationwide. A nationally acclaimed fitness expert, Michael has conducted research as a Senior Exercise Physiologist at the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at the Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and has lectured at Boston University and the University of Connecticut. He has been named Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” Personal Trainer, and made the Men’s Journal “Dream Team” list of the nine best trainers in the U.S. Michael and his family live in North Attleboro, MA.

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