Burpees, dumbbells, kettlebells, jumping jacks, deadlift or landmine press are exercises and pieces of equipment you are most likely familiar with if you have ever stepped foot in a gym. Have you ever wondered where their names came from? Wonder no more, for you are only paragraphs away from uncovering some of your gym’s greatest mysteries.
Dr Burpee and Mr Hyde
The burpee was named after Doctor Royal Burpee, an American doctor in physiology. Dr Burpee developed the burpee as a simple test to assess physical fitness in the 1930s. Also called squat thrust, the original burpee did not feature the pushup as we do it today. By he 1940s, the burpee had become a staple of the US army fitness test. The world record of burpees in one minute is 47.
In the 18th century, people started to lift small church bells to increase their strength. The clappers were removed, turning the bells into mute bells, or 'dumb' bells (the original meaning of 'dumb' was 'silent'). Dumbbells predate barbells and it is fair to assume that barbells were the result of some enlightened lifter sticking a bell at each end of a pole.
Dumbbell-like equipment has been around for more than two millennia. Ancient Greeks used stone weights with a hole for a handle. China's Shaolin monks trained with heavy padlocks to get stronger. Scots used handheld weights that they threw over a bar during the Highland Games. They still do. The design evolved over time to become the dumbbell we know today.
Kettlebells, another type of handheld free weight equipment, are made of cast iron and look like tea pots that lost their spouts, hence the name. Kettlebells were originally used by Russian farmers as counterweights. Farmers then started to use them at fairs during which they would compete in feats of strength.
Jumping Jack and the beanstalk
Jumping jacks were named after a popular wooden mechanical toy whose arms and legs move up and down together when you pull on a string attached to its back. The original toy was known as 'pantin' in France and 'Hampelmann' in England and Germany. The world record of jumping jacks in one minute is 103.
Deadlift is one a the few exercises that starts with the concentric phase (as opposed to the eccentric phase when you lower the weight first such as bar squat). In plain english, this means lifting weight with no momentum; lifting dead weight off the ground, hence the name, deadlift. The world record for one repetition is 500kg.
The movement of the barbell moving up and down during a landmine press is reminiscent of that of a land mine exploding form the ground up. A land mine is a military device that detonates when soldiers step on it. For the anecdote, a land mine costs as little as AU$4 to produce but up to AU$2000 to remove from the ground.
Other exercises such as pushups, pullups, lunges, rows or squats are self-explanatory since they derive from the verbs that describe the movements performed. I already covered the history of the treadmill in a previous blog so I invite you to check it out if you haven't read it yet. In my next blog I will tell you the story of Steven Seagal, the man who invented aïkido in his first movie. Just kidding.
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.
Everybody likes a good deal on their gym membership. Everybody likes a good deal on anything they buy, let's be honest. Joining a gym is a serious financial commitment. Parting away with your hard-earned cash can be a daunting experience. Yet there are ways to shave off big dollars of your membership if you are ready to shop around and be patient.
Do your homework
First you want to find the best gym for you. There's a gym in almost every street in Australia, so once you find a couple of contenders, it's time to compare what they offer and decide which one fits your bill, Bill. Location is paramount: the nearer your gym is, the more likely you are to actually go there. Look up the opening hours, the variety of classes available, parking facilities and any other services you may be interested in such as a swimming pool or a creche for your kids.
Check with your workplace or your insurance provider if you are eligible for any discounts at the gyms you like. Look up their websites, Facebook pages and Google reviews. Some gyms offer free trials so you can get a feel before you sign up. What's the atmosphere like? How clean are the facilities? How busy is the gym at peak hours? You can also sign up for Groupon and, if you're not in a hurry, you can wait for seasonal offers such as New Year’s or summer deals.
Cash is king
Wether I'm paying for my gym membership, my fitness equipment or my mechanic bill, I always pay cash. Cash works better with smaller family-owned gyms. You can bargain for an extra month free or a cheaper price than the gym's cheapest advertised price. Big chain gyms are less likely to bargain much since they already offer cheap-as-chips memberships.
Above all, paying cash allows you to stay away from gym contracts, meaning no sharing of your bank details, no cancellation fees and no hassle when your membership is over. The downside is that you won't be able to get a refund should you leave the gym unexpectedly. You also need to have enough savings to pay for your membership in one go.
Bribe your way in
When I lived in Scotland, I used to train at a small independent gym only minutes from Glasgow. I trained there twice a week and I soon became friend with the manager. When I returned from a trip to my home country of France, I brought him a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon wine (for the connoisseurs) and a smoked salami. He was so pleased he let me in for free every single time after that.
This may not be the most entertaining of stories but the takeaway here is that showing appreciation for the staff pays dividends. Remember that everything has a price. Gyms are a bit like coffee. You can get a $1 coffee from any petrol station in the country, but if it tastes like engine oil, that's not really a bargain, is it? At the end of the day, you want to find a gym that you like at a fair price.
'French, free-thinker and promoter of social justice.'