In this week’s blog, we’re going to answer one of humanity’s most existential questions: where do treadmills come from? And I don’t mean from the shops. I mean what is the history of the treadmill?
The treadmill was discovered by Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes in the 16th century. Cortes was sent to Mexico by the king of Spain to convert the Aztec civilisation to weight training. Cortes offered to trade their solar-powered treadmills against European iron-cast dumbbells. The Aztecs invented the treadmill because its was too dangerous to run in the forest due to snakes and spiders. Upon refusal from the Aztecs, Cortes and his men, much bigger in size thanks to their dumbbell training, decimated them all and brought the treadmills home.
Origin and etymology
The author of this article may have taken certain liberties with the historical accuracy of the story above. The reality is a little bit less exotic. The word treadmill is made up of the verb ‘tread’ and the noun ‘mill’. Treading means walking, stepping or running. A mill is a piece of equipment or a building equipped with machines that grind grain. That's the boring stuff out of the way.
The ancestor of the treadmill is the treadwheel. The treadwheel was an animal or human powered mechanical device that was used in farming and construction to transport water, move heavy objects or to grind grain. The treadwheel dates back to Ancient Greece and was used until the invention of the first fossil-fueled machines.
Pain but no gain
At the beginning of the 19th century, a British engineer named William Cubitt thought it would be a good idea to put prisoners’ energy to good use and have them walk on treadmills as a form of labour. The monotonous aspect of walking on a treadmill soon became a source of punishment for prisoners.
In the 20th century, treadmills started to be used in the medical field to monitor patient’s heart health. Today, treadmills are the number one selling piece of exercise equipment. Treadmills are everywhere. There’s even one inside the International Space Station. Maybe they'll bring a bench and a squat rack next.
I enjoy running a lot because in addition to improving my cardio, running allows me to clear my head and refocus on my goals. That said, I can’t stand spending more than a minute on a treadmill. I feel like a hamster on a wheel, no offense to those cheeky little fur balls. Nothing beats the feeling of soft grass or hard sand under my feet with the warm sun on my face.
Treadmills can be extremely handy in environments where running outside can be difficult or when the weather is really bad. I travelled to Tokyo, Japan a few years ago (there's actually another place named Tokyo in Papua New Guinea). Running in Tokyo wasn't practical as it was raining forever and I would have definitely got lost in the city.
Now that you know where the treadmill comes from, you can show off your newfound knowledge at the gym, bore your friends to death or stop random strangers on the street to tell them.